Denver Post travel writer Kyle Wagner gave Spearfish the kind of write-up that wins Chamber of Commerce directors bonuses. Yet Chamber officials, glossy guidebooks, and fancy city signs and banners don't figure in her account of her wonderful long weekend in the Northern Hills. What made her Spearfish trip awesome was the key to local promotion: knowledgeable local folks recommending businesses and attractions around town.
Welcome to Spearfish, S.D. Population: 10,585. Number of friendly residents with a firm opinion on the best place to fish, bike, eat or find wild asparagus growing along the side of the road: 10,394.
The only reason the other 191 residents didn't have an opinion was that we were too busy trying to find the good fishing spots to chat with them [Kyle Wagner, "Spearfish, S.D.: Friendly Small-Town Getaway Offers Fishing, Biking," Denver Post, 2013.06.09].
Consider how Wagner found her way to the highlights of her trip:
- Les Wolff at Wickiup Village and numerous other folks recommended good fishing holes away from the obvious, scenic, but often fished-out places in Spearfish Canyon.
- Keith Wintersteen of the state Game, Fish and Parks directed Wagner's group to the city rec center to borrow fishing rods for her four-person group.
- When the rec center proved to be short of rods, the "helpful front desk guys" pointed her to the D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery, which also lends fishing gear.
- The D.C. Booth volunteers (these are folks who come from all over the country to work for free at the hatchery all summer, in exchange for free camping in the adjacent city campground) helped Wagner find Nature's Nook, the bait shop, to buy fishing licenses.
- Dave Baker at Nature's Nook recommended Crow Peak Brewing Company and places to find wild asparagus.
- Joe Etzkorn at Rushmore Mountain Sports guided Wagner's group on bicycle from downtown through the city park and out to the canyon. Etzkorn also recommended Crow Peak Brewing and Guadalajara's Mexican restaurant.
- Crow Peak bartender Aric Bakeberg recommended visiting Spearfish Falls and Roughlock Falls.
The casual drive-through visitor would miss a lot of these places. Crow Peak Brewing and Guadalajara's are up on the north edge of town, away from most of Spearfish's commercial development. Nature's Nook really is a green nook on Hillsview Road, between the high school and the university and separate from other business blocks. The Booth Hatchery and the bike path out to the most beautiful bicycle ride in South Dakota are tucked away in the mouth of Spearfish Canyon. Spearfish Falls is right on US Highway 14A, but you can't see it from the road. Spearfish Falls is all the more beautiful for the surprise it still gives me when I park by the Latchstring, cross that precarious metal bridge, drop down into the gully, and whoosh! there it is, pouring off that cliff into the creek.
In one long weekend, Wagner and her group found all of these spots and more, not because of any formal marketing campaign, but because she met oodles of Spearfish folks who were proud and eager to show off their town.
Need some more ideas? Forget the visitor's center — just pop into a shop in Spearfish and ask [Wagner, 2013.06.09].
That's marketing you just can't buy. Les, Keith, Dave, Aric, Joe—well done!