Visitors spend billions of dollars in South Dakota and Aberdeen officials are trying to attract more of them to the northeast part of the state.
Free admission to Storybook Land in Aberdeen has long been a strong selling point to families looking for a summer getaway. Another draw might be added by next year.
The Sertoma Club is raising $400,000 to add a small roller coaster to the park. More upgrades could follow. The Aberdeen Parks, Recreation & Forestry Department hired a firm to make recommendations to its master plan recently.
"Hopefully, as we make these improvements, we'll see more and more visitors coming to Aberdeen," Doug Johnson, director of Aberdeen Parks, Recreation & Forestry Department, said.
Just as tourism boosts the state's economy, Aberdeen city leaders would like to see a continued boost to the northeast economy. Most of the families who vacation in Aberdeen live within a three to five hour radius of the city, according to the Aberdeen Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Seven-year-old Marlee and six-year-old Trey Baldwin visit Storybook Land regularly and say they already like it.
“Because the balloons go up and down,” Trey said.
That’s one ride currently at the park. There are others, including a carrousel and train.
"It's fun and it has lots of rides," Marlee said.
That said, they wouldn't mind seeing more rides. Planned improvements in Aberdeen will likely appeal to more than kids.
The city wants to expand the campground at Wylie Park and that could have an immediate impact on the number of visitors who come.
"It helps us out at travel shows," Casey Weismantel with the Aberdeen Convention and Visitors Bureau said. "We get the reputation of the campground that's always full. But when they're making those extra efforts to increase those numbers, it gives Aberdeen a bigger selling advantage."
Within the past five years, the park added RV sites and built more small camping cabins. Still, there are waiting lists on weekends, Johnson said. It'll add two larger cabins this year, as the city leaders consider other options to draw more visitors to the northeast.
About a quarter of the campers at Wylie Park in Aberdeen come from North Dakota. Half are South Dakota visitors. But the park usually has people passing though from almost every state.