Not surprisingly, flocks of visitors have been arriving in the area to celebrate a long-delayed spring and summer. That is a good reminder that it is important to put our best foot forward. There is a very simple reason for that: it has been noted that people will retell a bad experience seven times for every once they retell a good one.

About 10 years ago I wrote about this same topic, but I feel it is one of which we have to be constantly aware. What I said then, "Every town that is competing for our tourist trade has certain physical amenities, such as beautiful scenery, a nice trail, shops, and restaurants." What can make us stand out can be our friendly and helpful atmosphere - our stellar customer service - because, after all, when people talk, it is our best advertising.

Also quite a few years ago, I proposed that we create what at that time would have been a unique service. It could be called something like R2/V2, Root River Valley Volunteers, or R Squared V Squared. These people would wear t-shirts or sweatshirts, depending on the weather. On the front could be the small logo with the full name, plus in big letters "ASK ME." Then on the back would be "I CAN HELP!" Or, of course it could be "Ask me" on the back and "I can help" on the front.

These volunteers would be everywhere present, on street corners, strolling in the park, making stops in the city's campgrounds, on the trail, wherever there were visitors. They would have knowledge and information - or at least know where and how to get it quickly - about almost everything around here.

At the big airline that was known as the friendly skies, the employees had to know what "friendly" looked like in order to fulfill that very successful advertising slogan. So we had what was called an operational definition of friendly: "Offer to help before you are asked." Of course there were other behaviors added to the definition, such as always have an opening and a closure to every transaction (saying "good morning" and using the customer's name where possible, and saying "thank you" or "have a good trip" at the end). And of course the employees had to be comfortable with smiling with their entire faces!

For whatever reason, that long-ago proposal for R2V2 did not "take off." Well, it did not occur here, but last year I read that at least two other Minnesota cities that rely on out-of-towners for their major business incomes have created such a service. We can actually still do it, and without formal shirts or anything else, because we are a fairly friendly town. All we need to do to become better recognized as such is to add the strangers in our midst into our circle of attention!

There are always people wandering around our lovely little towns, often looking for something, or even an idea. Not everyone does online research before arriving in Bluff Country. And even if they have, they might want to hear opinions such as which direction out of town is the easiest (or hardest) bike riding on the trail, or things they forgot to find out, such as whether there is a gas station in town.

Most people who might want to ask a question won't always do so, unless the person they might ask looks very approachable and open to a stranger asking questions. It is so easy to approach them instead and ask if we could help them find something! If nothing else, we can always point them to the tourist office at the old train depot. It costs nothing, it is enjoyable, and it feels good to help out a stranger.

It isn't just the businesses in town that help project this area as a very desirable destination and more fun than our competition. It has to be the efforts of the whole town's population. It's our people that can make this the most special place.

Our town seems to be much like the little train that thought it could: "I think I can, I think I can" it said as it labored up the long steep hill. I'm not sure where the little train is right now, but surely close to "I knew I could, I knew I could." Maybe all of us serving as community-wide greeters are that final push to the top.

Imagine people going home after a trip to Bluff Country and telling others about being approached by a local, who told them about good things to see and do and answered some questions. Or even had a local person come up to them just to say "thanks for coming!" They'd go home and say "Great people, great town!" That is the best kind of advertising there is, and it is free.

And best of all, our visitors are here now, so let's all help make them feel like the very welcome guests that they are.