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Our view: Let’s make the northernmost buoy a destination for experiential tourism

We consider the northernmost buoy an untapped tourism resource, and one that could be developed into a must-see destination along the U.S.-Canada border.

Herald pull quote, 9/24/22
Herald graphic
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Along a point in southwest Florida is a cement marker, painted red, yellow and black. Located in Key West, it marks the southernmost point in the continental United States.

It is considered to be among the most photographed attractions in the nation. Nearby is The Marker Key West Harbor Resort, a four-star hotel. A webcam captures live views of the marker year-round.

In northern Minnesota, along its border with Canada, is a buoy similar in shape and size, painted gold, blue and green. It signifies the northernmost point in the Lower 48 states.

They are some 2,300 miles apart, but the difference isn’t just in geography. While the Key West buoy is a destination for tourists, the buoy in northern Minnesota is generally quiet and mostly void of traffic. Perhaps that could change, if a recent event held there is any indication.

The first-ever “Buoy Bash” was held Sept. 14-17 at the Northwest Angle, home of the northern buoy, and included such events as a hotdish contest, burger and beer sampling, a walleye dinner and a presentation by Lake of the Woods historian Joe Laurin, who lives on Flag Island. Jerry’s Bar and Restaurant, the only establishment of its kind on the Northwest Angle mainland, hosted the Buoy Bash and reportedly had its busiest days in 30 months, dating back before the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Among the attendees were Paul and Crystal Menta, entrepreneurs from Key West, Florida, who learned about the northern buoy earlier in the year.

“The buoy’s cool, but look where it’s at,” Paul Menta told the Grand Forks Herald during the event. “You know it’s going to be an adventure.”

That kind of adventure is what is so important nowadays in attracting visitors. It’s called experiential tourism, and – as we have written in this space before – it’s a vital part of drawing visitors and their debit cards to our region.

We consider the northernmost buoy an untapped tourism resource, and one that could be developed into a must-see destination along the U.S.-Canada border.

Think about it: The buoy in Key West has been the subject of an estimated 237 million photos since it was constructed in 1983. After viewing the live webcam of the Key West buoy for a short time Thursday morning, we believe that estimate.

In the span of about five minutes, three different groups of visitors posed for photos in front of the buoy. As they did, a replica train passed along the street, pulling several cars filled with tourists. It appeared most of them snapped photos as they breezed by.

These days, many people are interested in seeing things and documenting their travels in photographs. They seek cheap and interesting experiences – hikes, scenic views and interesting street scenes.

The popularity of Key West’s buoy, of course, is that region’s year-round warm weather and beaches. But the northern buoy has something unique, too – a beautiful lake, forests and relative obscurity, away from crowds.

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But not everybody knows about it, and that’s where tourism agencies – including Explore Minnesota – could help.

We suggest a new campaign in the coming year to try to take advantage of the momentum that was gained at last week’s inaugural Northwest Angle Buoy Bash.

Minnesota should make the northernmost buoy a destination, one that offers an affordable experience for those who seek adventure away from the crowds and in the solitude of that unique region.

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