The annual University of Okoboji Winter Games kick off today, bringing a huge winter boost to the Iowa Great Lakes area.

Tourism generated about $286 million for the region in 2017. Blain Andera, CEO of the Iowa Great Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, says the summer season is the main tourism driver, but the winter games run a close second.  “On a typical year, the winter games will draw between 20- and 30,000 people to the area toward the end of January, where we don’t usually have a lot going on,” Andera says. “We’re thought of a summer tourist destination, and there’s a lot more to do here than just the summertime.”

Andera says the games draw people from all over the country and they’ve grown a lot since first being held in 1981.
“It started with some folks who had cabin fever, wanted to get outside, started a broomball tournament,” Andera says. “Now, we’re up to four days of fun events with everything from broomball, to flag football, to softball, to polar plunge.”

Events also include scavenger hunts, ice fishing and a kite festival, which is something new this year. Kiting professionals will fly 16 kites through the air, measuring from 20 to 100-feet long. The games run through Sunday.

(Thanks to Katie Peikes, Iowa Public Radio)