Outdoor Recreation in Michigan

By: John Melcher, Associate Director of the CCED

The pandemic kept us indoors for more time than most of us wanted and when we got the chance to go outdoors, we went in large numbers to places near to our homes as well as throughout the state. We craved for if not needed the outdoor experience to wake up our senses to the vitality of life all around us. Michigan’s outdoor recreational facilities went from near dormancy to full capacity in a matter of months. Some of the visitors were veteran outdoors people, and some were newcomers, but all were wanting to enjoy what Michigan has to offer in outdoor recreation and with that came the added benefits of reduced stress and improved health and wellness for the visitors but not so much for the host communities.  

Beyond contributing to personal health and wellness outdoor recreation in Michigan is a $10 billion industry including sectors such as manufacturing, product design and development, marketing, hospitality, conservation and parks management. Just this past March the US Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA) announced a $2.7 million grant to the Great Lakes Boat Building School in Cedarville, Michigan matched with $689,595 of local funds to construct a 10,000 square foot training facility and train 270 individuals. US Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo said, “This EDA investment will support Michigan’s marine industry, including recreational boating, throughout the Great Lakes State- all while building resiliency in the region’s economy for decades to come.” 

The abundance of recreational opportunities adds to the quality of life in Michigan as well as serves as a powerful draw for others to come and experience our state from all parts of the country and the world. But with this increasing opportunity it is important that our communities are prepared to manage and grow with the increased demand put on our outdoor recreation facilities. For instance, nearly half of Michigan counties (44.6%) have parks and recreation departments responsible for managing, maintaining, and expanding county outdoor recreation facilities and programs. It should not be a surprise that it is our most populated counties that have parks and recreation departments while our lower populated counties which have some of our most significant outdoor recreation amenities do not.  

The Center for Community and Economic Development has recognized the challenges faced by our communities and has reached out to partners to help find solutions. As an example, Benzie County is exploring the possibility of conducting a feasibility study for the establishment of a director to lead the counties efforts in parks and recreation management. We are working with the Benzie County Parks and Recreation Commission, Benzie County Conservation District and Networks Northwest to explore creative opportunities to support such a position in the financially constrained county.   

CCED is also working with Brad Garmon, Director of the Michigan Outdoor Recreation Industry Office to develop a Higher Education and Michigan Outdoor Industry Workshop. In partnership with Land of Outsiders and the Michigan Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, CCED is assisting in planning an inaugural workshop to bring together and connect schools, colleges and universities throughout the state that train and prepare the Michigan outdoor recreation economy workforce.  

The outcomes of the session are to learn, connect and coordinate with higher education programs across the state that provide the employment pipeline to jobs in the outdoor recreation economy. The workshop will provide schools and programs an opportunity to learn about this full range of outdoor recreation career paths and identify their role in supporting students and employers in connecting to the opportunity represented by outdoor recreation industry. This first convening will primarily serve to map and connect with the educational and workforce development programs offered by the state’s system of schools, colleges and universities, and learn more about the outdoor industry employers and their needs, in the hope of building and expand the pipeline of career opportunity. 

(These activities and initiatives at the CCED are enable with financial assistance from EDA.)   

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