The Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce had its annual meeting Sept. 25.

Keynote speaker was Joe Henry, executive director of the Lake of the Woods Tourism Bureau. Chamber President Butch De La Hunt introduced Henry as a jack of all trades.

“As a destination marketing organization, my job is to get outside markets to come to Lake of the Woods,” said Henry. For example, they hosted this year’s World Ploughing Championships, a global event that the United States only hosts once every 30 years.

There were a lot of challenges with planning, staffing, funding and hosting the event, Henry said, but it ended up paying off for the entire community.

His message for the Park Rapids area was to think outside the box and find a way to bring people into the area. He also emphasized identifying and working with stakeholders – typically the businesses and organizations whose clientele overlap and can mutually benefit from cooperation.

“I work very closely with many different aspects of the DNR,” said Henry. “I have these guys calling me all the time. Now, is that a role of tourism? Perhaps it’s not a role of driving people to our market, however, anything I can do to help our tourism industry work better is going to be a plus.”

De La Hunt noted how the Park Rapids area came together to form the Heartland Lakes brand. “It’s not just Park Rapids, it’s our entire area. So we have to recognize that,” he said.

The Heartland Lakes rebranding campaign is a new process, and it’s evolving via some new marketing mediums. “All of these partnerships coordinate back and forth to different platforms so if our visitor wants to find it, they can quickly find it at all of these places,” said De La Hunt.

During the awards portion of the meeting, the Shining Star Award went to Brian Skinness of the Terrapin Station in Nevis. Cynthia Jones said the award recognizes “a member whose leadership and willingness to contribute indeed makes our Heartland Lakes community shine ever so brightly.”

Terrapin Station might have been the beginning, she said, but Skinness also delved into Muskie Days, Ethnic Fest, Paul Bunyan Days, Second Street Stage, and a myriad of other music and art related activities.

Bill Bennett with Nevis Trailblazers presented the Tourism Award to Steve and Connie Warner, along with their son Derek. They opened Stompin’ Grounds, north of Akeley in the Paul Bunyan Forest, in 2004 and have expanded their business ever since.

Ambassador of the Year was awarded to Daniel Pike of Edward Jones Investments. De La Hunt explained that the award “recognizes your commitment to the ambassadors as an outstanding representative of your Chamber of Commerce.”

The Business Excellence Award went to Knute Nelson Crystal Brook. “Through their innovation, this business built a multi-room facility to meet growing needs within our community,” said De La Hunt.

The Exceptional Individual Award was tweaked this year to recognize a couple, Christine and Kevin Byer, who own and operate Byer’s Market and Byer’s Liquor in Osage.

The liquor store was destroyed by a fire in October 2018. In four months, it was rebuilt and reopened for business.

“I can tell you the Byers have what it takes to be successful in business ownership,” said presenter Molly Luther.