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Editor's Note: It pays to be a tourist in your own town

Since I first began working in community journalism in 2005, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “tourist in your own town.”

Local officials would say it in conversations about bolstering the local economy. The directors, staff and volunteers at local museums and cultural centers would say it as they urged locals to pay them a visit.

It may have taken an economic downturn, but it appears more people are listening.

Tourism spending in DeKalb County was up 3.49 percent in 2012, even though hotel revenues were down. Experts attribute the difference to people skipping long-distance trips and taking their vacations close to home.

Illinois welcomed a record 99 million visitors in 2012, according to the Chicago & Beyond regional tourism office. Still, the office estimates a significant chunk of the $81.46 million in tourist dollars spent in DeKalb County last year came from people inside the county or within a short drive of the county line.

“Even if they’re not spending as much or staying as long, there are just more people visiting the area,” Chicago & Beyond Executive Director Bonnie Heimbach told the Daily Chronicle last week.

It is interesting how easy it is to skip tourist sites in one’s hometown. Even before moving to DeKalb in 2001, back when I was a student at Northern Illinois University, I could have pointed out Ellwood House and told you a paragraph or so of its history. But I have to admit, it was 2010 before I actually took a tour of the inside of the mansion.

In fact, in 12 years of living in the DeKalb-Sycamore area, I’m surprised as I write this to realize how many local attractions I have yet to take advantage of. I’ve heard the DeKalb Municipal Band play, but the Kishwaukee Symphony remains on my to-do list. I’ve visited the Shabbona-Lee-Rollo history museum, but have yet to pay a visit to the Hinckley Historical Society museum down the highway. And so on, and so on.

There are a surprising number of cultural attractions here. We have museums dedicated to local history, agriculture and natural history. We have multiple art galleries and performing arts troupes – musicians, actors, dancers. And when it comes to local festivals, there aren’t a whole lot of weekends between May and October when there isn’t something going on.

The fact that we’re bringing in visitors from surrounding areas like Kane, DuPage or Ogle counties is great news. But let me tell you, it’s pretty embarrassing when a friend from out of town is telling you all about some great event or venue they visited in your town and you have to admit you’ve never been there.

So try being a tourist in your own town. You’ll find a lot of events listed in Town Crier, or visit the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau online at www.dekalbcountycvb.com to see if there are local attractions you’ve missed. Send me a picture; I’d love to see if anyone finds a new favorite place.

Have fun, and as always, enjoy your MidWeek.

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