Recreation Alliance of Winona hopes to develop outside rec financial system


The Sugar Loaf towers over the Winona countryside. Hikers can take a path up the cliff for a bird’s-eye view of the city.

Rachel Mergen, Winona Daily News

The nonprofit Recreation Alliance of Winona said in its presentation to City Council this week that there is so much potential here to attract visitors.

The group supports outdoor recreation in Greater Winona with the intent to improve the quality of life, protect public lands, and achieve economic growth, whether through hiking, ice climbing, mountain biking, or other activities.

“The outdoor recreation economy for Winona is largely the least developed and most sustainable economy in Winona,” said Ben Barnard, a member of the all-volunteer board of directors, during the meeting. “It’s the fact that we have these raw materials in Winona – we have the river, we have the cliffs, we are an island, we have the lakes.”

Statistics shared by Barnard and the Recreation Alliance of Winona at the meeting included the fact that 70% of Minnesotans participate in outdoor recreational activities. Because outdoor recreation generates $16.7 billion in consumer spending annually, it also directly creates 140,000 jobs and $1.4 in state and local tax revenues.

People also read…

“I think a lot of times when we talk about outdoor recreation, people don’t understand the value. The outdoor recreation economy is massive,” Barnard said in an interview. “It’s an $887 billion economy in the United States. It’s basically the equivalent of the automotive industry and the pharmaceutical industry combined.”


The Sugar Loaf towers over the Winona landscape. Hikers can take a path up the cliff for a bird’s-eye view of the city.

Rachel Mergen, Winona Daily News

Barnard said that because Winona is surrounded by public lands, with the great majority of the cliffs owned by the city, and not only the Mississippi River but also Lake Winona being within the city, the City of Winona has an opportunity to expand its outdoor recreation economy a people would travel far to experience it.

“I would say we’re still in our infancy in realizing just how far our outdoor recreation can go as a travel destination,” Barnard said. “Now that we are the second largest ice park in the country (recreational ice climbing), we think this could be the year that we really gain popularity. Now we are starting to see that international outdoor equipment companies want to support Winona Ice Park.”

The ice park will bring economic growth throughout Winona, Barnard said. He’s seen people come from Texas to climb the Winona Ice Park and pay to stay in town for a week, eat at Winona restaurants, shop at the stores, and spend money when they travel to experience the city’s outdoor recreation offerings.

“We have all of these different population densities in fairly close proximity — Chicago, the Twin Cities, Des Moines, Milwaukee, Madison — that allows us to be set up for all of these different touchpoints with these different communities that come here,” said Barnard. “If you have a $5,000 mountain bike, you’ll drive hours on a weekend to ride it. If you have $800 worth of ice climbing shoes, you probably go where there is good, consistent ice to climb—that’s what we did as volunteers to help prepare the park.”

In addition to maintaining the Sugar Loaf Trail, the Winona Ice Park, installing Levee Park Climbing Boulders, and expanding Winona’s outdoor recreation economy, the Recreation Alliance of Winona has many projects on the horizon. Projects like updating disc golf tees, the Bluff Traverse project, which would create a path through Winona’s bluffs due for completion in spring 2024, and adding stairs for the Sugar Loaf Trail, Barnard said.

“The first award of excellence the city ever received from the Minnesota Parks and Recreation Association was for the Ice Park. And her second was for Levee Park Climbing Boulders,” said Barnard. “So we are very happy that we could help the city and that is a sign of a good partnership.

Najib Azad starts his lecture with a welcome. Azad presented on the campus of Winona State University on November 14 to kick off the university’s International Education Week.

Jacob Schaefer

The Winona Fire Department raises a large American flag with a fire truck before the Winona Veterans Day ceremony November 11 at Veterans Memorial Park

Jacob Schaefer