Boosting the profile of outdoor recreation is a priority for Sara Meaney, Wisconsin’s new secretary-designee for tourism.

The timing is good because of new and major awards that shine a global spotlight onto the state’s Driftless Area, whose dynamic hills, valleys and rock formations exist because the area is unglaciated.

The area is a nature lover’s delight, and we’ve historically been pretty modest about it.

“Decoding the Driftless,” about the geological diversity and beauty, won Best Picture and Best Cinematography in the documentary feature category during the recent Los Angeles International Film Festival.

Jonas Stenstrom of Sweden, “Driftless” director, is co-founder of Untamed Science, whose aim is to make science videos that are both educational and fun.

Devil’s Lake near Wisconsin Dells, Popp’s Cave near Richland Center and Maiden Rock at the Mississippi River are among the areas that get attention in the documentary.

The awards mean the film and this part of western Wisconsin “will become known throughout the world,” asserts Meaney, who presented a two-minute trailer of “Driftless” during the recent annual state tourism conference.

Gov. Tony Evers wants a new Office of Outdoor Recreation in the state tourism department, working in collaboration with the Department of Natural Resources.

The annual state tourism conference is a great place for folks like me to sniff out what’s new and intriguing with rural to urban attractions.

For example:

• New Life Lavender and Cherry Farm is a fragrant new agritourism stop in Wisconsin, on 40 acres near Baraboo.

Owners Aron and Laura McReynolds used to operate a pharmacy in Kansas. They moved to Wisconsin in 2016; she is a Waupun native.

On their farm is a commercial kitchen for making lavender-cherry pie, lavender ice cream, lavender and cherry lattes and more. The items are for sale in the farm store, which also sells jams, teas, spices and mixes for brownies to breads. Personal care and handcrafted products contain lavender too.

Arrange a guided tour of the farm on a tractor-pulled wagon. Afternoon teas, workshops and farm-to-table meals are possible too.

Upcoming events include a three-course Mother’s Day tea on May 4 and the sale of lavender plants on May 24, 25 and 27.

For more information, visit

• A new hiking trail near Trempealeau and the Mississippi River identifies and explains the area’s ancient archeological history. Little Bluff Mounds Interpretive Trail signage describes the mysterious, long-ago settlement where a trio of temple mounds still stand.

A widespread, blufftop view of the river is another good reason to make the hike. The new, half-mile trail is part of the Trempealeau Interpretive Path.

For more information, visit

• Under development in Manitowoc County is the 13-stop Wisconsin Coastal Food Trail, a best-of project that identifies local producers of smoked fish (Susie-Q’s, Two Rivers), chocolates (Beerntsen’s, Manitowoc), cheese (Henning’s, Kiel) and more.

• The Howard, Oshkosh, is a former Eagles Club that has been revamped into a music, café and event space. The landmark has a 10-lane bowling alley with a 1920s vibe in the basement too.

Stained glass, vaulted ceilings, crystal chandeliers and hand-carved crown moldings are among the building’s restored architectural features. For sale in the café are teas to smoothies. Booked entertainment ranges from yoga with brunch to duets of folk-pop with a buffet dinner.

Who gave a new life to the three-story, 1927 Tudor Revival mansion? Owners are children of U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, says Amy Albright, Oshkosh tourism bureau director. The owner-sisters, Carey Sharpe and Jenna Golem, named the property after their grandfather.

For more information, visit

• Kalahari Resorts, Wisconsin Dells, is more than doubling the size of its convention center, and the addition opens in September. Almost one-half of the project is a new ballroom that will be in addition to the resort’s two existing ballrooms.

New at the Kalahari’s spa is halotherapy, also called salt therapy. Himalayan salt turns into a vapor that reportedly boosts the immune system and improves respiration.

For more information, visit

• Meeting and convention room upgrades at The Abbey Resort, Fontana, are newly completed and part of a yearlong project that next involves the lobby and Porto dining area that faces Geneva Lake’s harbor. The 90-acre, A-frame resort was built in 1963.

For more information, visit

• Seeking an insider’s guide to the biggest city in Wisconsin? Check out the new Milwaukee Hub, an online media company of students from UW-Milwaukee.

Founder Martin Solo and his crew are in search of the best, be it axe throwing or vegan dining.

For more information, visit

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