If football stadiums can be named after banks and ballparks after superstores, why not sell the naming rights of one of Minnesota's most pristine wilderness areas to a fast-food enterprise that dips ice cream cones in chocolate and blends candy and cookies into milk shakes.
So with their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks, Ely, Minn., officials are celebrating April Fools' Day with another installment in their quirky annual tourism campaign. This year, Ely officials announced they've struck a multiyear deal, selling the naming rights of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to Minnesota-based International Dairy Queen.
"Beautiful unspoiled wilderness doesn't pay for itself," said Ely Mayor Roger Skraba. "And who doesn't have fond memories of a Dilly Bar? It's a win-win. This will usher in an era of great corporate, tourism and environmental partnerships."
So with a big gulp of humor, Ely officials announced Thursday that the million acres of border wilderness will now be known as the International Dairy Queen Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. IDQBWCAW, for short.
Faux news regarding the name change will be launched in a short blitz of radio ads and appear on Ely's Chamber of Commerce website with the hope of having the news parody spread around the Internet.
The annual spring gag is Ely's way of kicking off its summer pitch for tourists from around the country. Ely has attracted tourists to its border lakes since the 1940s, Fryer said. But in the early '80s as mining faded, tourism grew.
"We're not a pass-through community," said Linda Fryer, the chamber's administrative director. "We're a destination in the summer and winter."
In hopes of setting the town apart from other tourist hot spots, chamber officials turned to humor.
With the help of hired marketing wizards, the town grabbed media attention in 2008 with a fake news report that Canada wanted to buy Ely and move it north of the border. Last year's April Fools' gag had Ely officials announcing their intentions to land the summer 2016 Olympics.
"We're way up here where we've got to be lighthearted," Fryer said.
And sometimes the payoff can be priceless, generating national news stories, she said. Last year, the Orlando Sentinel described the pretend play for the 2016 Olympics in one paragraph in a full-page article on Ely as a destination spot. "We couldn't buy advertising like that," she said. "And there's somebody at the New York Times who loves us. ... Minnesota is an important market for us, but we draw from a national market. Our biggest market is Chicago."
So as posters of a canoe paddle emblazoned with IDQBWCAW pop up on lightposts around town, Ely Chamber folks hope their latest April Fools' gag will create a few laughs around the country.
But as in the past two years, Fryer knows to expect that there may be a few people who won't get that the April Fools announcement to re-christen the Boundary Waters is just a joke: The only blizzard on Lake One and Lake Two this spring will be a late-season snowstorm.
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788