2020 Tourism Counts Award
The Fort Atkinson Area Chamber of Commerce “Tourism Counts” Award is presented to an individual, business, or organization who, by their leadership and efforts, have made a difference in the promotion and development of tourism in our area. The name of the award reflects the tourism commissions’ desire to impress upon the community that tourism does count in the bigger economic picture, and that it does impact the vitality of our city.
In a year when outdoor recreation is taking center stage, this year’s recipients can be credited with increasing tourism along Fort Atkinson’s waterways. With 10,500 acres of boating, fishing, birding, hiking, and cross country skiing available, the Rock River and Lake Koshkonong attract a steady stream of visitors all year long. We sometimes forget what a treasure we have in these recreational resources, but if your business relies upon them, you pay close attention to things like dam repairs, water levels, and shoreline restoration. You get very involved in the preservation of those waterways because they are truly part of your livelihood.
The same can be said for Jim and Christa Bowers, proprietors of Island Bar & Grill on Blackhawk Island. Having lived along the Rock River for the past 15 years, purchasing this waterfront restaurant just made sense and in 2016, they added an outdoor tiki bar and stage for live music, as well as finger piers and a gas station for boaters. They also own the adjacent nine-acre campground where visitors call the 25 camp sites home each summer. Blackhawk Island has a vibe all its own, and might even be a little obscure if it weren’t for the 6,000 Island Bar & Grill fans seeking cold drinks and fun in the sun. Stephanie Von Alven was the very first employee the Bowers hired, and says the culture Jim and Christa have created is what brings people back time and again. “They are just so friendly,” she says. “They enjoy meeting new people and making new friends, and they fully support other restaurants in the area. You feel like one of their family working for them.”
Vicki Stephan agrees. She’s been with the Bowers for the last three years. “There is nothing that is asked of staff that Jim or Christa wouldn’t do right along side us,” she says. Two of my children work at the Island, and Jim and Christa have been amazing mentors, offering them opportunities for growth in knowledge and skills.”
Jim and Christa are great community and chamber supporters, also. They sponsor the Generals Baseball team and have held fundraisers for local people in need. They organized the winning Lemonade Day team last year, helping the kids build their stand; and they’ve been a food vendor at Rhythm on the River.
Managing one waterfront restaurant would be plenty for most people, but Jim and Christa decided last year to purchase the North Shore Inn, upgrade the interior, and host a ribbon cutting just as restaurants were tentatively reopening from the COVID-19 shutdown. Now known as the North Shore ChopHouse, this is a place where steak and seafood-lovers can enjoy beautiful lake views and indulge their tastebuds. In just four months, their Facebook page grew to 2,300 followers, and five-star customer reviews started pouring in.
Rochelle S. said, “This is just what Lake K needed. Great food and wonderful service!”
Lisa T. said, “Now in my top 5 places to go, out of everywhere!”
Now, managing TWO waterfront restaurants would be plenty for most people, but Jim and Christa decided this year to start a collection when they purchased The Bridge, formerly known as The Soulful Toad, located along the Rock River on Fort Atkinson’s Main Street bridge. That’s three businesses catering to boaters and fishing enthusiasts! It’s a tourism windfall in a town where water plays such an integral role in the community’s identity.
Never mind that all three restaurants sit in flood plains. Frequent guest and fan Rochelle Mitchell says, “Fort Atkinson is very fortunate that Jim and Christa saw the enormous potential in the business properties they purchased and remodeled. Their energy and passion for what they do propels them in an industry that is already tough without adding flooding issues and a pandemic. Their strength and perseverance are a testament to how much they care.”
Tourists have long enjoyed dining destinations in communities on the other side of Lake Koshkonong. Now, finally, Fort Atkinson can claim some of those visitors at the Bowers’ businesses, and benefit from the economic impact of four-season, recreational tourism.
Congratulations to Jim and Christa Bowers for being selected as the 2020 recipients of the Fort Atkinson Tourism Counts Award!