EagleHerald staff writer
MARINETTE—Allow yourself a moment to imagine an arbitrary morning in mid-July. An entire and unexpected day, free of work or other obligations, awaits. And the hankering to escape the shackles of pandemic cabin fever baits your inner sense of adventure.
The engine idles as you sit in the car at the end of the driveway, a thermos of fresh coffee in the cup holder, and a map of Wisconsin in your lap.
A single day. What to do? Where to go? How long to drive there?
Your brain agonizes over the possibilities as the day rapidly unfurls. Your thoughts stumble over ideas for that one event or destination that to put it simply, is “Worth the Drive …”
The July issue of the Fox Cities Magazine might provide just the answer you seek, prompting you to power down the car, toss aside keys and step out to explore the hidden gems right here in the City of Marinette and surrounding areas.
Each year in July, Fox Cities Magazine puts out one of its most sought-after editions of the year, the “Worth the Drive” issue. This year the magazine will feature the City of Marinette, one among three showcased communities. The annual special edition aims to highlight the City of Marinette area as a worthy excursion destination. And as the special issue reaches upwards of 60,000 readers of the monthly lifestyle publication, it promises to provide a boost to the area tourism business.
Fox Cities Magazine, a monthly publication that also distributes other special issues throughout the year, is well-regarded by its readers and advertisers. If you ask Fox Cities Magazine Account Executive Cheryl Kaczmarek her favorite issue to work on, her answer comes without hesitation.
“Worth the Drive, because it’s so fun to go out and explore these communities, talk to the people and have them tell the story of their community,” Kaczmarek said. “And learn about the enthusiasm and the passion that people have for their community and what they want us to say about them.”
Traditionally, the highly popular special edition features communities that reside within a relatively short drive from the Fox Cities area. It explores the unique and unrecognized treasures spread across the region allowing an individual or family to fit an enriching and fun mini-vacation inside a single day. The cities of Princeton (in Green Lake County) and Cedarburg (near Milwaukee) represent the other two worthy destinations this year.
“It is such a widely distributed edition so, for Marinette to be feature is astronomical,” said former Marinette Marketing & Tourism Director Melissa Ebsch. “It puts us on the map, it shows people what we are about and what we can do and what (visitors) can do here.”
Each year, the special issue explores everything from history, museums, nature centers, activities, local dining, bars, festivals, people and other attractions within those showcased communities.
In the months leading up to July, the magazine begins the thorough process of emerging its writers and photographers into the towns and cities selected. They reach out to business leaders, city officials and local experts on tourism, history and other topics. They endeavor to grasp the characteristics, stories and people that define an area and then find a way to encompass traits in the overarching theme of each piece.
“Our story will be about the personality of Marinette,” Kaczmarek said. “What makes Marinette unique and special, if someone were to visit Marinette, what can they expect to do and see.”
The creators of the magazine and more specifically, the “Worth the Drive” edition, strongly believe in highlighting the authenticity of a specific location or area. Kaczmarek further distinguished the approach the magazine takes. She pointed out that it would be a simple task to enter a few search queries into Google to gain an adequate but mediocre history and a few travel and activity tips. However, driving home her point, she emphasized the magazine endeavors to dig much deeper and to connect with those who know the community best.
“We really believe that this (piece) needs to come from the locals,” Kaczmarek said. “We believe in coming into the community and talking to the people that live here and finding out what they say the top things about Marinette are … Where do the locals hang out? Where do they go for a great cup of coffee? Where do they go for brunch on Sunday mornings? Where do they get a good burger?”
BOOSTING LOCAL ECONOMY
For the last few months, Kaczmarek has been making her own trips to the area, conducting research, gathering photos and establishing contacts.
“The (“Worth the Drive”) edition is driven by the story,” she said. “But second to that, we are advertising-supported. The more businesses, business partners and organizations that get involved with the project the more robust the section on Marinette is going to be.”
After meeting with local economic development officials at the city and county level and with the non-profit community & economic vitality organization, inVenture North, a letter was drafted and distributed to area businesses. The letter highlighted the potential that the “Worth the Drive” edition provides to the local businesses. It emphasized the benefits that advertising in the special issue can create for luring travelers and potential customers from an extended and wide region.
“It has become an extremely popular issue,” said the magazine’s Managing Editor & Publisher Ruth Ann Heeter. “From a sales point of view it doesn’t matter which communities are being featured … the different businesses know that people are reading it and hanging on to it so they are advertising their businesses and their communities every single year.”
Moreover, last year’s economic and social impacts of the pandemic reverberated throughout the nation, curtailing many people’s plans to take long-distance and elaborate vacations. The pandemic redefined how consumers choose to spend their vacation time. The letter stated, “more than ever, people are vacationing closer to home,” partaking in activities like kayaking, fishing, boating, ATV/UTV and others excursions. The City of Marinette and Marinette County offer the perfect getaways for those travelers seeking close-to-home diversions.
“This is a great opportunity for (the local area) to tell people in the Fox Cities area—who are very likely to drive up here—that Marinette is a great destination,” Kaczmarek told the EagleHerald on a recent research visit to the area. “(And the Fox Cities Area) is a good audience to reach.”
Judging by the Friday afternoon and evening traffic along U.S. 41, and the numerous vehicles towing campers, boats and ATVs up the highway, Marinette already receives a sizable number of day-trippers and weekend visitors from the Green Bay and the Fox Cities area, according to Marinette County Development & Tourism Director Jennifer Short. She pointed out that the solitude and serene escapes of camping, hiking, fishing, waterfalls, big fishing tournaments, water recreation and other tourist attractions in the area, lie a straight shot north, an easy and logical escape for those urban dwellers of the Fox Cities.
“I see this as a great opportunity for (the area) … and for our advertisers to showcase their businesses to the 60,000 plus readers of the ‘Worth the Drive’ edition,” Short said. “I think it has been a great opportunity, and an economical opportunity, for us to showcase the City of Marinette and Marinette County.”
Executive Director/CEO of the Marinette Menominee Area Chamber of Commerce Jacqueline Boudreau, agreed with Short, pointing out that such exposure, especially through advertising, creates a positive trickle-down effect for the local business scene.
“I think that if you are a tourist-related industry, hotel, restaurant, antiques, boutique or festivals, to advertise in (the magazine) would be great exposure for (those businesses),” Boudreau said.
She offered more insight on the economic and development impacts that such a feature like “Worth the Drive” can seed in a community. She explained that tourism sometimes serves as a way for individuals to “test an area out,” providing the initial persuasion for someone considering a move to the community.
“This is a tourism piece more than anything else,” Boudreau said. “But we certainly understand that it is a benefit to our businesses because if people visit as tourists and they like the area and there are job openings, they may want to move here.”
THE MAGAZINE AND OTHER JULY FEATURES
Going strong for 37 years, as a monthly lifestyle publication, Fox Cities Magazine reaches a regular audience from Green Bay to Oshkosh with a much wider readership for the “Worth the Drive” issue. While the publication is free off the stand, over 4,000 of its loyal readers pay for annual subscriptions that deliver the magazine to their mailbox each month.
In addition to featuring local communities, “Worth the Drive” also features three focused topics. This year’s topics include wineries, boutique hotels and urban legends.
So if, after reading the July issue, your brain still racks with “what to do” and “where to go” on your day of freedom, just relax at home and enjoy some mysterious tales about regional urban legends ... and take comfort in the fact that you already live in a worth-the-drive destination, aka Marinette.
MARINETTE—With a deadline approaching next month —and potential monetary sanctions looming—Marinette County still has not found a place to house a Wisconsin Chapter 980 violent sex offender.
County Administrator John Lefebvre Thursday gave an update to the Administrative Committee on the lack of progress that is being made. He said last month the county took ownership of five properties that were in tax foreclosure.
“Of the five, three just don’t make it (as a place to house a sex offender),” Lefebvre said. “They are either too close to a church, a school, a daycare. Of the other two, one is a dilapidated old cabin in the woods, and the other is on Trellis Road (in Middle Inlet) that appears to meet the requirements.”
He said the Trellis Road property is currently being occupied by an individual who lived in the house when it was foreclosed upon and that person would have to be evicted if he/she chooses not to move out.
“That’s a timely process,” Lefebvre said. “This is not high on our list as far as being the location we want to place a sex offender. It may end up in the future as a potential location.”
He said the county is working at trying to find a vendor who will identify a location, purchase a property and work with the Department of Health Services for placement of the offender. He said the county would rather not bring another property to the county board for approval. If a private vendor finds a location, the county is no longer involved.
“Stranger things have happened,” Lefebvre said. “We may not find a vendor who is successful.”
Lefebvre also wanted to silence rumors that the Trellis Road property was going to be the location for the offender. He said a person called him and asked if it was true that Trellis Road had been chosen as the site for the sex offender.
He said when a property is labeled as a potential site, the sheriff’s office then investigates to make sure there are no families with children living nearby.
“The sheriff’s department has to be involved …they go out, they knock on doors, they talk to adjacent neighbors … and that’s where the rumors start,” Lefebvre said.
Supervisor Don Pazynski, the committee chairman, asked how the county measures the distance a property is located from a school, church or daycare facilities.
Lefebvre said the county’s GIS (geographic information system for mapping) can calculate all the separation distances and a map can be created to show all the potential locations to house a sex offender.
He said when a map is made for the City of Marinette, there simply aren’t many locations that meet the distance requirements.
If the county can’t find a suitable location for the offender (James M. Harris, 52), it could be subject to sanctions of $500 to $1,000 per day, with the money going to the offender.
Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison said contrary to what some people are saying, the county can’t apply for any sort of extension.
“This could be a long, drawn-out process and we can’t help it,” Pazynski said.
Mattison said the county had a location (on Mudbrook Road near the borders of the towns of Porterfield and Lake) that met the requirements, but the county board voted it down (28-2 at its March meeting).
She said the county is doing its best to find a location and is maintaining contact with the state.
“There is nothing on the market,” Mattison said, adding that if the county does find a suitable location, it likely will be turned down by the county board based on its previous action.
“We have to find an outside vendor.”
Mattison said it’s difficult finding places that are more than 1,500 feet away from schools, churches, etc., or that don’t have children living on adjacent properties.
“They are few and far between,” she said.
Mattison, Lefebvre and Supervisor John Guarisco, the county board chairman who is a licensed Realtor, all talked about the current white-hot real estate market that makes it virtually impossible for the county to purchase a home.
“If you add a week or a couple of days now to a real estate purchase, you’re adding a lifetime,” Lefebvre said, “because they are selling as soon as they get on the market.”
Guarisco called the situation “a perfect storm” in terms of real estate.
“Our real estate market has never been like this since I’ve been in real estate—that’s going on 40 years,” he said. “I don’t expect it to stay like this forever. You will find houses. They will be available. When you have a limited use property and you have a strong real estate market, there’s so much more competition for it obviously. You don’t get a crack at it.”
The county received notice Feb. 10 that an offender (Harris) from the Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center in Mauston, Wisconsin, will be released to Marinette County. That center houses “Chapter 980” offenders, which according to state statutes are labeled “Sexually Violent Person Commitments.”
Wisconsin Chapter 980, which took effect in 1994, allows civil commitment and treatment for certain sex offenders after they complete criminal sentences. For many years after Chapter 980 took effect, violent sex offenders have faced hurdles finding places to live. In 2017, Act 184 was adopted which required counties where the offenders were convicted to find suitable housing after they have completed their prison sentences.
On March 11, the county’s 980 Committee met in closed session to discuss 980 placement. No action was taken when that committee returned to open session.
The Administrative Committee unanimously approved the motion for the development of a transitional home March 18. That panel also unanimously approved a motion for Mattison and Lefebvre to negotiate a lease with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services Supervised Release Program.
There is another Chapter 980 home in the county—in the Town of Pound—but it is owned by a private entity. There is no room in that house as the home is at the maximum capacity of two residents. No private entity has stepped forward to lease a home for the sex offender that is being released.
Lefebvre said four sex offenders have gone through that location.