STURGEON BAY, Wis. (NBC26) — Door County tourism leaders are expecting a busy summer season.
Jon Jarosh, director of communications and public relations for Destination Door County, said direct tourism expenditures added to around $374 million in 2019. The organization is still waiting on a study for 2020 numbers, which Jarosh expects will be less than the previous year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, Jarosh said they anticipate a similar outcome in spent tourism dollars this season as in 2019, if not more.
“As we look at some early indicators in terms of talking to innkeepers and looking at advanced reservations, an increase that we’re getting both on DoorCounty.com and some other place that we track, numbers are looking very, very promising.”
Jarosh said the organization will encourage people to continue mask wearing, social distancing and good hand hygiene as area businesses prepare for the upcoming season.
The Door County Maritime Museum is making some preparations of its own.
Paige Funkhouser, community engagement manager of the Door County Maritime Museum, said staff spent Thursday at Death’s Door Maritime Museum in Gills Rock, getting the facility ready for its opening at the beginning of May. They are also preparing to open Cana Island Lighthouse on May 1.
Another long awaited project will make its debut in May: Three of the 11 stories in the brand new Jim Kress Maritime Lighthouse Tower will be open to the public in about a month. People will eventually be able to explore ten floors of interactive exhibits that highlight maritime history and view Sturgeon Bay on an observation deck.
This is all exciting news for the museum, as they continue to survive the pandemic like many other organizations and businesses.
"The museum in 2020 definitely saw fewer admissions," Funkhouser said. "We didn't have group tours. We didn't have the school groups we often do."
To date, the museum has received upwards of $400,000 in state and federal assistance. Funkhouser said the funds have kept the museum's doors open and workers employed at their regular rate.
Meanwhile, visitor numbers are going back up.
"Based on the phone calls we are getting and the reservations that we have for our Lighthouse Festival the second weekend of June, I think it's going to be a busy tourism season," Funkhouser said. "We're ready for it."
There is a way for similar organizations to get some financial help locally.
The Door County Community Foundation and the United Way of Door County announced the Door County Emergency Response Fund, originally open for human service charities, is now available to arts organizations, environmental groups, historical societies and other non-profits. The fund is intended to provide relief for charities struggling during the pandemic.
"In Door County, the arts groups, the environmental groups, the historic preservation groups aren't just charities: They're apart of our economic engine," said Bret Bicoy, president and CEO Door County Community Foundation. "They're a big part of the reason people come here. So we need these organizations to survive and to thrive, because they bring tourists in and that creates jobs."
Bicoy said so far they've distributed about $750,000 to relief efforts in Door County, including rent relief and feeding programs.
People can visit the Door County Community Foundation online to apply or donate to the Emergency Response Fund. There is no deadline for charities to apply.
In honor of Earth Day and to promote tourism in Door County for years to come, Destination Door County launched a sustainability pledge to encourage residents and visitors to preserve the county through responsible behaviors. People can read more about the pledge and sign it here.