The Governor’s Awards for Travel and Tourism are given annually to recognize the passion and dedication of North Dakotans who have contributed to growing travel and tourism to support a diversified economy. These awards honor the people, organizations and communities that create valued destinations and experiences across North Dakota. 

2024 Winners announced on April 10, 2024


2024 Award Winners

Sakakawea Award for a Behind-the-Scenes Tourism Employee

Kim Schmidt 
North Dakota Dept of Commerce

This award recognizes an individual who provides outstanding service behind the scenes in visitor-focused businesses.

As Commerce's Communication Manager, Kim adeptly manages multiple responsibilities in a fast-paced environment, which resulted in an 891% increase in media coverage for North Dakota tourism’s offerings in 2022. Kim's strategic vetting of influencer campaigns has led to partnerships, expanding our reach, and promoting communities across North Dakota as travel destinations. Her proactive behind the scenes work connecting North Dakota story tellers to media not only elevates the awareness of our state but also empowers others to enhance their outreach efforts. Like Sakakawea, Kim helps tourism partners across the state navigate their communications to effectively showcase our state's unique qualities and this award is a testament to her impactful contributions. 


Heritage Award for a Front-line Tourism Employee

Robert Branting
Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site

This award recognizes an individual who provides outstanding customer service to visitors daily.

Rob's passion for Cold War history shines through in his work, making this complex subject engaging and interesting for visitors. He has grown the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Sites reputation, and attendance at the site continues to grow yearly. In 2023, the site had its highest visitation, just shy of 10,000 people. He leverages social media and other tools to spread the story of the RRMMSHS nationwide, attracting a broader audience. He is also dedicated to preserving history through his work collecting oral histories from veterans and securing artifacts for the site. Rob's willingness to go the extra mile, like solving complex logistical challenges to acquire a Huey helicopter for the site, is a testament to his dedication. His efforts extend beyond the RRMMSHS, with Rob volunteering his time and expertise to help other historic sites across North Dakota. Thanks to Rob's hard work, the RRMMSHS is a thriving historic site that brings Cold War history to life near Cooperstown, ND.


Trailblazer Award for Tourism Innovation

Gary Greff
Enchanted Highway

This award acknowledges the spirit of perseverance and creativity in developing unique North Dakota offerings and is given to an attraction, event, person, group, company, or organization that has been innovative in improving visitor experiences in North Dakota.

Gary Greff, the visionary behind the Enchanted Highway, has transformed the small town of Regent, North Dakota. Nearly four decades ago, he dreamt of attracting visitors and defied doubters by building the world's largest metal sculptures along a 32-mile stretch of highway. From welding and painting these massive artworks himself to establishing the Enchanted Castle hotel and gift shop, Gary has poured his heart and soul into the project.  Even today, he welcomes guests, cooks meals, and maintains the sculptures.  His dedication doesn't stop there, a fire-breathing dragon and knight are his latest creations, and Gary is always willing to share his story with media across the globe. Gary's tireless innovation has secured the Enchanted Highway's place as a must-see attraction, boosting tourism, and breathing new life into Regent.

Amplifier Award for Marketing Excellence

Jamestown Episodes
YouTube programming

This award will be given to a stand-out marketing initiative. The honor may go to a marketing project, a specific campaign, a marketing team or cooperative project or a marketing guru who uses innovative ideas to attract more attention and thus visitors to North Dakota.

Jamestown Episodes award-winning achievement involved creating a ten-episode video series amplifying Jamestown's hidden gems and iconic sites, from the National Buffalo Museum to the Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge. This project not only expanded their digital influence and social media reach, but also drew record numbers of visitors to Jamestown's key locations in 2023. The National Buffalo Museum had a record number of paid admissions, the Frontier Village and World’s Largest Buffalo hosted over 150,000 people, historic sites saw an increase in visitors, and occupancy taxes were at a record level.  The success of the "Discover Jamestown Episodes" exemplifies the power of storytelling and strategic marketing in attracting visitors and boosting a destination's profile.


Flint Firestarter Award for a Tourism Development Project 

Matt Schanandore 
Mandan Progress Organization

This award recognizes a new offering that has opened in a downtown district that has the potential to attract visitors and enhance the Main Street experience by offering improved amenities and spark future development in the core of a community.

Matt Schanandore, as the Executive Director for the Manan Progress Organization, spearheaded the creation of the "Holiday Lights on Main" attraction in Mandan with remarkable ambition and vision. From its inception, Matt aimed to create a vibrant holiday experience that would draw visitors and families to Mandan, encouraging community engagement and fostering a winter draw to downtown Mandan businesses. Through initiatives such as non-perishable food drives and volunteer opportunities for local nonprofits, the event not only provides entertainment but also gives back to the community. With its impressive growth and popularity, marked by doubled attendance at 48,000 people in its second year and significant community impact, "Holiday Lights on Main" stands as a testament to Matt's leadership and dedication to enhancing Mandan's appeal as a holiday destination for years to come.

Legend Award for Travel & Tourism Industry Leadership

Sheri Grossman
Bismarck Mandan Convention & Visitors Bureau

This award recognizes an individual who has demonstrated legendary leadership in the tourism industry statewide and beyond. This individual's long-term leadership in the areas of destination development must be proven by a significant impact in visitor spending and/or creating differentiated communities.

Sheri joined the Bismarck-Mandan Convention & Visitors Bureau in 1997, rising through various roles to become Executive Director in April 2015. With a career marked by leadership, marketing prowess, and advocacy, she's highly respected within North Dakota and beyond. Sheri's influence extends through her involvement in several tourism organizations, where she leverages her expertise to enhance travel and hospitality. Notably, she achieved the prestigious Certified Destination Management Executive (CDME) designation, demonstrating her commitment to excellence. Currently, Sheri is serving another term as chairperson of Destination Marketing association of North Dakota (DMAND) and is working to establish a new collaborative organization dedicated to advancing travel and promotion across North Dakota.