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Bergin travel column: Wisconsin Dells prepares for 2014 tourism season

3:14 PM, Feb. 28, 2014  |  Comments
A two-story laser tag arena and maze open this month at Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells.
A two-story laser tag arena and maze open this month at Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells.
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In the Wisconsin Dells area are more hotel rooms (8,000) than year-round residents (5,600). No Wisconsin city contains more accommodations for tourists, and that is one indication of the locale's popularity.

What's the big deal? Families with children know best. They head to indoor and outdoor waterparks: No other place in the world has a larger concentration.

Kelli Trumble, state tourism secretary from 2007-10, is a Dells native who was a key player in spurring waterpark growth. Now, she and husband Ben Borcher are expanding boutique shopping in the Dells as owners of Alpha Beta Karma, juniper + cliff (inside Chula Vista Resort) and Winnebago Fine Goods and Gift Shop.

"Tourism has always been in my blood, and I love fashion, so it really is the perfect marriage for me," Kelli says. "For me, retail isn't about 'things' - it's about contributing a little bit of transformation in a person's life," from apparel to "artful home décor."

The Wisconsin Dells has long earned widespread attention for its natural beauty and, since the 1990s, waterparks. What's next? Kelli predicts "a resurgence of the original downtown district," which she calls Uptown.

New to the area is Robin's Nest Restorations, whose owners sell vintage furniture and gifts and use recycled materials to create many of these items.

A neighbor with similar upcycling sensibilities is MACS - Macaroni and Cheese Shop, where retro décor includes reclaimed barn wood for tabletops. On the menu: sandwich melts and a dozen Specialty Macs, suiting kid to adult tastes.

Dozens of other changes and additions happen in the Dells from year to year, thanks to the competitive climate for attracting tourists and repeat business. Here are a few more examples.

? Opening this month at the 600-acre Wilderness Resort is a two-story laser tag arena and maze, big enough for 30 players. Also two stories high is the resort's curvy, indoor go-kart trail with electric cars. It opens this summer.

A new swim-up bar, big enough for 88 adults of legal drinking age, will stretch through indoor and outdoor waterparks at the Wilderness. www.wildernessresort.com, 800-867-9453

? Replacing the DJ-fueled Kahunaville dining and drinking spot at Kalahari Resort is a high-end steakhouse whose menu for meats and seafood rivals the Morton's and Ruth's Chris national franchises. Décor at the dinner-only Double Cut Charcoal Grill invites quiet lounging, especially during winter, because of fireplace hearths. www.doublecutgrill.com, 608-253-7637

? Dells Boat Tours introduces a new night tour that begins Memorial Day weekend. "Ghost Boat: Journey into Haunted Canyon" involves a canyon walk and storytelling of local lore. www.dellsboats.com, 608-254-8555

? A new recreation area for Woodside Sports opens this summer, adding 10 soccer fields and six baseball diamonds (with synthetic turf) to the area. Baseball tournaments begin in April. The business is based in Mauston, and this is an expansion in Wisconsin Dells. www.woodsidesportscomplex.com, 608-316-1556

? Under development at JustAgame Fieldhouse is the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, with exhibits with basketball history to stretch back to 1916. www.justagamefieldhouse.com, 608-253-6787

? Sundara Inn and Spa, which continues to rack up national attention and high rankings in consumer polls, has added a meditation trail that ends with hammocks that hang from trees. www.sundaraspa.com, 608-253-9200

? Limo Kings is introducing a 26-passenger trolley for transporting groups on tour or in the Dells for a wedding or other event. www.dellslimokings.com, 608-254-4040

? At Yogi Bear Camp-Resort, you can rent a tent that's already set up instead of pitching your own from home. The cost includes mattresses but not bedding. The campgrounds also has added two Glamper Yurts; each has pillowtop mattresses, wood flooring, cushy seating indoors and a private hammock outdoors. www.dellsjellystone.com, 800-462-9644

? The new Red Beard Bowfishing offers guided Wisconsin River tours and bowfishing instruction, using bows, crossbows and spears to catch fish. Trips resume in April. www.facebook.com/redbeardbowfishingtours, 608-369-1669

Not all that is notable is new, of course.

"Visitors are rediscovering and, in some cases, discovering for the first time the natural beauty that I've cherished all my life," Trumble says. Boat tours of gorges, sandstone cliffs and the Wisconsin River were a draw when the area was settled in the 1850s, and that remains a popular attraction today.

For more about tourism in Wisconsin Dells: www.wisdells.com, 800-223-3557.

? My colleague Melanie Radzicki McManus of Sun Prairie describes the Dells as the Midwest's No. 1 tourist destination in her travel app, which is available at sutromedia.com.

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