Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Downtown Dells

I have a handy visitors map of the town of Wisconsin Dells, and it lists no fewer than 69 resort and motels -- not counting 18 waterfront places to stay and 17 campgrounds and three B&Bs -- 75 attractions, 27 retail establishments and 34 restaurants. These places, all eager to tunnel into your wallet, are all over the map (literally), but the majority gather along an irregular y-axis formed by the north-south US 12 and the downtown x-axis, an east-west street called Broadway. I know that it isn't a complete list, either. It doesn't include the Museum of Historic Torture Devices, for example, whose entrance I saw with my own amazed eyes.

Two years ago, we'd spend some time and some money along US 12 (see BTST August 21, 2007), but not downtown. So before leaving on Sunday, we parked in a municipal lot and wandered around downtown. It was crowded, but not as curb-to-wall crowded as, say, a street in Shanghai. Could this be the impact of the recession, or was it because Sunday afternoon is a little past peak pedestrian traffic?

I don't have any numbers on that. The Wisconsin Dells Visitors and Convention Bureau noted a few months ago that tourist spending in 2008 was up about 4 percent over 2007, totaling just over $1 billion last year. That despite the high price of gas last year, and the fact that nearby Lake Delton had drained away in early June (See BTST, June 11, 2008.) The lake has been refilled -- I saw signs welcoming it back -- and gas is cheaper this year, so who knows? The Dells may be a recession-resistant destination.

If I'd been given a free stack of money (and where do they give those out?) in the downtown Dells and told to spend it, I might have visited Ripley's Believe It or Not! or Wizard Quest or the Dells 4D Special FX Theatre or Meet the Beetles (live Beatles Tribute), all of which are right there on Broadway. As it was, we went into a few small stores on the street -- filler material between the major attractions -- and had ice cream at a Dairy Queen.

We also found and walked the entire length of the Dells RiverWalk. One of the rare free sites in Wisconsin Dells, it's a paved footpath on the bluff above the Wisconsin River. It's a pleasant little walk, and note that not very many of the thousands of people on Broadway, just a hundred yards or so away, bothered with it.

Pleasant, but because of tree foliage it mostly didn't offer views of the picturesque stretch of the Wisconsin River that was the mustard seed from which the tourist town grew. The one unobstructed view was of a dam on the river. I wouldn't be for cutting trees down to make a view, but as scenic walks go, this one would be better in winter. When it might be too cold.

Still, I managed to see a slice of the dells from above. Just enough to wonder what it would have looked like 100 years ago, or even 50.

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