The Chokecherry Festival was just beginning to be a gleam in the Williston eye when Amy Krueger became the new director of the Williston Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Shepherding that new signature event, and revitalizing the already existing standby, Band Day, were among her first tasks.Both have grown tremendously under Krueger’s leadership, and remain near and dear to her, as she counts them among her first wins for the community.
Krueger has since helped bring about a number of new events for Williston, as well as saving some that were in peril. She was just recognized for that long-standing record of success, earning the Governor’s Legend Award for Travel and Tourism Industry Leader. Krueger was one of five receiving awards statewide.
“It’s our pleasure to recognize these exceptional leaders who work hard every day to showcase our state to travelers, making tourism one of North Dakota’s leading industries,” Gov. Doug Burgum said. “Their creativity and commitment play an essential role in attracting visitors to our great state. We’re deeply grateful for their vision for creating first-class destinations and their outstanding service to our visitors.”
Krueger said she was humbled to receive the award, particularly as she considers the many who have helped mentor her both locally and statewide.
“It’s just such an honor,” she said.
Band Day got a big boost from an idea that began with bringing in professional guest bands and NFL drumlines. These groups often also take the time to conduct master classes with area youths while they are in town.
Challenges, however, began just as quickly for Krueger as successes. The boom was heading toward full speed about the same time she came on board. In one blink of the community’s collective eye, Williston hotels exploded from six to 22.
“Managing those things for both the community and hotels and the events using those hotels was a challenge,” she said, “but there’s a great satisfaction in growing our community from a tourism standpoint.”
Then, after all that explosive growth, there was a big and sharp downturn to get through as well. This dramatically and suddenly reduced revenue to CVB programs, but Krueger did not let that kill off new and vibrant community events.
Krueger kept a business-minded approach to it all. She made some internal and external adjustments to cut expenses and bring the budget in line with what the CVB would be able to do, preserving as much as possible. She also took a look at the revenue side of things, looking for ways to boost that.
The CVB added Bingo in October of last year, which is now offered on Friday nights in the winter and will switch to Wednesdays in the summer. And they added new flexibility to their sponsorships, so that companies could sponsor all of the CVB’s annual events in one large donation, instead of each individually.
Despite the downturn in revenue, Chokecherry Festival, Band Day and many other events were able to go forward more or less as usual.
The chainsaw carvers, who gained acclaim the year before, also came back last year to transform more dead tree stumps in Harmon Park. These were casualties of Dutch Elm disease, which many believe was brought in by firewood from out of state during the boom. The statues have since become a tourist stop in Williston, with many stopping by to take selfies with Alice in Wonderland figures.
Krueger said a big key to the Williston CVB’s success goes back to the creative and dedicated efforts of her team.
“It takes an army,” she said. “And I really appreciate all my mentors both community and statewide who have helped me in the industry, as well as my staff and board. And I appreciate my husband, of course. I would not be where I am today if he didn’t allow me to be a little crazy.”
Krueger added that she particularly appreciates her board members. They have kept an open mind, allowing her CVB team to develop unique events designed to turn Williston into a popular destination.
“Not every CVB board does that,” she said. “So I appreciate our board letting us do that in our community.”
The Bakken X-Trek is among recent examples. The event takes advantage of the topography of Spring Lake park to put on an out-of-the-box obstacle course that challenges hardcore runners everywhere. The event is becoming increasingly popular.
This year, the CVB is looking at sponsoring a walleye tournament for the first time, and they are getting ready to kick off another paddle fishing season.
Last year anglers from 37 states and Canadian provinces and 190 communities in North Dakota purchased more than 3,300 paddlefish licenses and converged on northwest North Dakota for the annual paddlefishing season.
That season might have gone much differently than in previous years, but for Krueger and her team. North Star had decided it could not continue the fish-cleaning service, where paddlefish eggs are collected each year from the fish caught during the season.
Fish and Game officials annually use the paddlefishing season to collect biological data about how the fish are doing. The 1,000 fish harvested for that purpose were cleaned by North Star Caviar, which was allowed to collect the eggs to sell. The proceeds from the sale of the caviar made from those eggs helped fund quality of life and wildlife habitat grants throughout the region.
Krueger, working with her board, multiple contractors and the North Dakota Game and Fish department, ensured that the service, which has become integral to the season, would continue as usual.
Krueger has recently finished the Certified Destination Management Executive program; served on the Upper Midwest CVB board; served as president of Destination Marketing Association of North Dakota; and serves on the Downtowners Association Board of Directors in order to better market Williston’s historic downtown as a destination.