By Brian Jewell
The folks in Wisconsin know how to do tourism well. This state has been a longtime favorite destination in the Midwest, attracting visitors with its Great Lakes waterfronts and inland vacation hot spots.
Wisconsin also excels with group tours. Groups that visit the state find an array of attractions that draw on history, global culture, the outdoors and other influences to help create a great tour itinerary.
And destinations throughout the state continue to renew and refine their offerings with new exhibits, new ideas and new experiences that draw visitors back year after year.
This year, in Milwaukee, the Harley-Davidson Museum will be honoring the timeless black-leather jacket, and the Kenosha Public Museum is honoring baseball superstar Reggie Jackson. A new museum that will be opening in Alma will display 2,000 years’ worth of historic armor and weapons.
In the middle of the state, O’So Brewing Company is giving visitors a new view on Wisconsin’s favorite beverage. And waterfront destinations continue to evolve as well: There are new resorts opening in the Apostle Islands, and the Wisconsin Dells continues to add to its impressive water park resume.
Bikers and black leather
Milwaukee’s Harley-Davidson Museum brings a rebellious, cool side to the city’s cultural institutions. The museum has everything you would expect from a motorcycle museum — bright headlights, polished chrome and hundreds of Harleys — along with a dose of history that outlines the creation and evolution of America’s most famous motorcycle company.
This summer, the Harley-Davidson Museum is partnering with Seattle’s EMP Museum to create an exhibit called “Born To Be Wild: The Black Leather Jacket.” The exhibit follows this iconic piece of clothing from its roots as a protective item for pilots and motorcyclists through its adoption by Hollywood celebrities, musicians and young rebels.
The new exhibit will feature more than 100 artifacts, including numerous black-leather jackets with interesting provenance. Visitors will see jackets worn by the likes of Elvis Presley, Harry Shearer of “Spinal Tap” and Taylor Lautner of the “Twilight” film series.
Baseball legends and more
A short drive south of Milwaukee, the city of Kenosha operates the Kenosha Public Museum. Established in 1933, the museum focuses on natural sciences and fine decorative arts and has grown to encompass some 70,000 artifacts, including 1,000 works of art.
Over the next year, the museum will feature a trio of special exhibits. The headliner is “Home Run! Reggie Jackson and the Original 500 Club,” which runs through October. This collection of private memorabilia features game-worn jerseys, bats, gear, photographs and documents and explores the career of Jackson, who racked up major league baseball records in the 1970s and 1980s. The exhibit also includes bats from the 12 members of the “Original 500 Club” — the first players to hit 500 career home runs.
Other special exhibits at the museum include “Midwestern Treasures: Pickard China and Its Contemporaries,” which displays hand-painted china reflecting both traditional and modern styles. “Zoltan Szabo: Land That I Love” features the watercolor work of a Hungarian-born artist who paints to express his love of America.
Wisconsin Dells has become one of the state’s leading destinations for family vacations and attracts a large number of tour groups as well.
The area first drew attention for its rivers, and the canyons and rock formations they have carved. Groups can take in the natural beauty of the area on a number of boat tours and other outdoor excursions, or soak up the excitement at some of the dozens of hotels and attractions that have sprung up around the Dells.
Over the past 30 years, Wisconsin Dells has become known as the world’s premier water park destination, with more than 200 waterslides at 20 indoor and outdoor parks.
This year brings new developments at some of the area’s most famous parks. Kalahari has added three new waterslides to its indoor water park, as well as two of the country’s first Super Loop waterslides.
At Noah’s Ark Waterpark, the staff is busy readying its new ride Quadzilla, which pits four groups of riders against each other in a 323-foot race.