Depending on the season, attendees convening in East Central Wisconsin should prepare for getting into the great outdoors by packing their sunblock and swimsuits, or their parkas and snow boots.
While warm-weather waterborne activities, from kayaking to fishing, are most popular with groups convening in the meetings-friendly destinations of Green Bay, Door County, Lake Winnebago and Sheboygan, wintertime pursuits such as ice fishing and snowmobiling are also intriguing options that make for memorable events.
No matter the time of year, East Central Wisconsin’s outdoorsy activities and off-site venues offer lovely natural views and will stand out on any meetings itinerary.
Green Bay’s access to its bay of the same name, Lake Michigan and the Fox River allows for events and excursions that take attendees out on the water to enjoy the community from a whole new perspective, according to Denise Humphrey, convention sales manager at the Greater Green Bay CVB.
“Foxy Lady Cruises’ yacht accommodates up to 149 people and tours the Fox River and the bay of Green Bay for sightseeing, cocktail and dinner cruises,” she says, citing one option.
In 2011, Green Bay was named among the 10 Best Places to Live and Boat by Boating magazine. Boating and fishing are favorite activities here year-round, even during the winter—when the bay and the river freeze and fishermen are able to ice fish in shanties.
“Local fishing charter captains love taking large groups out to fish,” Humphrey says. “When the Medal of Honor recipients visited Green Bay, groups went out on several boats and caught walleye and salmon on what proved to be a memorable adventure.”
Area properties get into the game as well, Humphrey adds, citing Little Creek Lodge as a contender in adding a little “bang” to any corporate event.
“Choose from shooting clays or pheasant hunting for novice to expert,” she says. “Equipment rental is available, and so is the clubhouse that accommodates up to 300 with catering on-site.”
There is also no shortage of outdoor off-site venues for group gatherings, including Green Bay Botanical Garden, which has a space overlooking 47 acres of gardens and multiple themed gardens; Lambeau Cottage, which sits on the bay of Green Bay and is well-suited for retreats or team-building events with beautiful sunset views; and CityDeck along the Fox River in downtown Green Bay, which is within walking distance of the KI Convention Center.
“It runs for several blocks along the shore of the Fox River and can be used for private events,” Humphrey says. “With amenities like concert, dining and lounging spaces, CityDeck can be set up for an elegant or casual event.”
With 300 miles of shoreline, the list of recreational water activities for groups in Door County is quite long.
“Whether it’s a guided kayak tour of Lake Michigan sea caves, a scenic boat tour along rugged coastlines to view cliffs and lighthouses, a sailing excursion aboard a 62-foot wooden schooner past islands and bluffs, a relaxing sunset dinner cruise or a cruise to one of the islands that lie off the tip of the Door Peninsula, there are all sorts of ways to experience the scenic beauty of Door County on the water,” says Jon Jarosh, spokesman for the Door County Visitor Bureau.
Boat tours of all types, from sailboats to larger motor-powered cruise boats, are also fun, Jarosh adds, explaining that groups enjoy getting out on the water for beautiful views of surrounding islands, bluffs, rugged shoreline and lighthouses.
“Visiting one of our lighthouses is extremely popular,” he says, citing Eagle Bluff Lighthouse and Cana Island Lighthouse.
Area waters provide ideal fishing ground, Jarosh adds, explaining that local fishing charters offer groups the opportunity to reel in a trophy catch throughout the year.
On land, groups also have multiple outdoor recreation opportunities, from biking, hiking and golfing to zip lining and Segway tours during the warmer months. During the winter, Jarosh adds, the options include cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, ice fishing, sledding and snowmobiling.
Interested planners could also check out all five of Door County’s state parks, where they’ll find off-site waterfront venues such as shelters, pavilions and other flexible open spaces on or near the shoreline.
Wisconsin’s largest lake is enjoyed by several meetings-friendly communities, including Fox Cities, Oshkosh and Fond du Lac.
The Fox Cities area, including Appleton, which was recently named the No. 1 town in the U.S. for sportsmen by Outdoor Life magazine, is located along Lake Winnebago and the Fox River, a position that gives visiting groups numerous opportunities to enjoy nature in an urban setting year-round, according to Pam Seidl, spokeswoman for the Fox Cities CVB.
“Here in the greater Appleton area we have four distinct seasons that give groups the opportunity for diverse activities like biking, fishing and swimming in summer, hikes to view the beautiful fall colors, and cross country skiing and ice fishing in winter,” she says.
Among the key outdoor attractions for groups convening in the area, Seidl adds, are High Cliff State Park, situated on the shores of Lake Winnebago with limestone cliffs sacred to Native Americans; Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve, an 8.5-mile trail system for hiking, jogging, bird watching and cross-country skiing; and disc golf courses located in Pierce Park, Telulah Park, Grignon Park and Plamann Park.
“We have an extensive trail system ideal for morning group runs or walks,” she adds, citing Trestle Trail, a converted railroad trestle that spans Little Lake Butte des Morts, as one of the most popular and scenic options.
And if the group is after an off-site venue, Gardens of the Fox Cities and Homestead Meadows offer meeting space.
“A great indoor meeting location would be the Warch Campus Center at Lawrence University,” Seidl says. “The newly constructed, state-of-the-art facility offers scenic vistas of the Fox River from many meeting spaces.”
Centrally located to three major Wisconsin metros—Milwaukee, Green Bay and Madison—and situated on the shores of Lake Winnebago, Lake Butte des Morts and the Fox River, Oshkosh is a great destination for outdoor activity and relaxation, according to Jeff Potts, spokesman for the Oshkosh CVB.
“In the summer, Oshkosh, aka ‘Wisconsin’s Event City,’ is home to thousands of events from monthly gallery walks to annual music festivals,” he says. “But Oshkosh is probably best known for its waterway recreation. Powerboats, sailboats and kayaks all enjoy the waters of Lake Winnebago during the summer, while the winter months are a prime time for ice fishing and cross-country skiing.”
Potts adds that there are dozens of parks where groups can spend the day in Oshkosh enjoying various outdoor activities. Archery, soccer, baseball, rugby, disc golf, fishing, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing are all options at the 270-acre Winnebago County Park.
“Groups are also welcome at Pollock Community Water Park and can explore the free Menominee Park Zoo on the shores of Lake Winnebago,” he says.
Oshkosh has a number of outdoor and indoor venues with great views to accommodate groups of all sizes, Potts adds, citing the Sunnyview Exposition Center, located in Winnebago County Park, the Oshkosh Convention Center, which enjoys a prime waterfront setting overlooking the Fox River and Lake Winnebago, and The Waters, a restored historic special events venue on Lake Winnebago with space for up to 300 people.
Fond du Lac’s proximity to Lake Winnebago makes the area rife with waterborne options, including boating, fishing, water skiing and, in the winter, ice fishing.
For land lovers, Fond du Lac has many area parks to explore, as well as some great golf courses, including the Golf Club at Camelot, Rolling Meadows Golf Course and Whispering Springs Golf Course, which all have gathering spaces for off-site group events.
To the southwest of Fond du Lac and situated on the lakeshore in Green Lake is Heidel House Resort & Spa. The property is a nice example of what planners will find at some area resorts, where on-site recreation is built-in for groups. Here, they can golf, hike, fish, have scavenger hunts, play volleyball or tennis, and enjoy a scenic tour of the lake aboard the Escapade yacht.
As home of Sail Sheboygan, the only U.S. Olympic Sailing Center not located on an ocean, sailing lessons have become a focus for group outings and team-building exercises in Sheboygan, according to George Twohig, spokesman for the Sheboygan Tourism Division.
“With Sheboygan’s large fleet of charter sport fishing boats, many groups have found landing salmon in the open waters to be the perfect group activity,” he says. “But if silent sports are more your group’s interest, there is not a better place to freshwater surf, stand-up paddle or kite board on the Great Lakes.”
Sheboygan’s unique location along Lake Michigan makes it a popular destination for outdoor recreation in all seasons.
“The cold winter months bring the strongest winds and therefore the best freshwater surfing,” Twohig says. “So groups can brave the Lake Michigan waves all year round.”
Guests at the Blue Harbor Resort have a front-row seat to watch the annual Dairyland Surf Classic, the largest gathering of freshwater surfers in the world, held every September.
Blue Harbor also offers a wellness program in which attendees meet in the morning for a three-mile walk along the waterfront with a staff member, and they can even do some yoga on the beach before their meeting.
Additionally, Sheboygan’s coastline, rivers and forests offer unique opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts year-round, including bird watching, fishing, hiking, snow shoeing, cross-country skiing and biking.
In inland Sheboygan County, Elkhart Lake, home to The Osthoff Resort, is an outdoor mecca. The destination’s scenic countryside makes it ideal for biking, and more adventurous attendees can head to the nearby Kettle Moraine State Forest for mountain biking .
Off-site venues that embrace the outdoors in Sheboygan County include Ellwood H. May Environmental Park, a 120-acre public park featuring different types of natural environments, an ecology center with indoor meeting space and on-site naturalists and guides for special programs; Deland Park, centrally located on the shores of Lake Michigan with sandy beaches, green space and pavilions; and Jaycee Quarry Park, where groups will find picnic areas, hiking trails and the oldest 18-hole disc golf course in Wisconsin.
Carolyn Blackburn is a frequent contributor to Meetings Focus MidAmerica.