WisBusiness: Springtime marathon a boon for Eagle River tourism

By Brian E. Clark

EAGLE RIVER – It’s not the Boston, Chicago or Mad City marathon, events that draw thousands of runners.

But for those who love the Northwoods, the Journey Marathon – a leafy, 26.2-mile jaunt through the Northern Highlands American Legion State Forest – is a good time, a challenge and a respite from urban runs.

It’s also a significant economic shot in the arm for the Eagle River area, thanks to the spending of the 750-plus runners who are expected to show up for Saturday’s event.

Those athletes, along with family and friends who accompany them to the race, will leave about $1.5 million behind before heading home to Milwaukee, Chicago, Minneapolis, New York – and in the case of one runner – Japan.

“It’s a big deal moneywise,” said Kim Emerson of the Eagle River Chamber of Commerce.

“Spring is the shoulder season for us and we came up with this event nine years ago to bring in people when we’re not as busy.

“We get people up here all year round and we are a top winter destination for snowmobilers,” she said. “But summer is the busiest period when our population grows from 1,400 to around 35,000.”

Participants in the Journeys Marathon stay in motels, lodges, “executive” lakeside homes that can cost $400 a night or – if they are so inclined – rough it in tents.

Emerson said she figures about 90 percent of the runners come from outside the Eagle River area and that each runner will bring several others to cheer them on. Some stay for only a night, but many make a long weekend of the event.

“We estimate that a family of four will spend between $2,000 and $3,000,” she said. “It starts to add up pretty fast.”

Emerson said runners, some of whom will compete in Boston, come from 18 states and abroad. Not everyone runs the full marathon. Some choose the half (13.1 miles) or other lesser fractions. There is also a fun-run for kids.

Emerson the first event drew about 100 runners and the popularity has grown since then. Last year, 709 people participated and she is counting on at least 41 more this year.

“We’re hoping those people who are coming here for the first time will come back during another season,” he said. “And we figure that some of the runners are our summer visitors.”

Emerson called spring a great time to visit the north woods.

“We’ve got wildflowers, hiking, cycling, fishing, canoeing and most of the other things you can do in the summer,” she said.

“It’s also a lot less crowded. The temperatures are lower, but that’s not always a bad thing,” she said.

For more information on the Journeys Marathon, look up the www.journeysmarathon.org or contact the Eagle River Chamber of Commerce at (800) 359-6315. The full marathon begins at 8 a.m. The forecast is partly cloudy with temperatures from the middle 50s to lower 60s – ideal for running.