I-69 Thumb Region focuses on ecotourism initiatives to strengthen regional attractions

Seven county partnership decides to strengthen tourism by emphasizing the importance of ecology first by inviting local and regional organizations to share research, programs, and events across Michigan’s Thumb.

In May 2017, the I-69 Thumb Region hosted its very first ecotourism symposium. The one-day event was hosted at the Willows Ecology Center in Lapeer County with morning and afternoon education sessions led by presenters from across the region. The program ended by offering a kayak tour to highlight local ecology and waterways within downtown Lapeer.

A variety of workshops offered during the event were led by representatives from St. Clair County Metropolitan Planning, Blue Water Audubon Society, Friends of the St. Clair River, Michigan State University Extension, Cass River Greenway, Michigan Department of Natural Resources-Wildlife Division, National Parks Service as well as Recreation Consultants. Several topics highlighted initiatives and events across the I-69 Thumb Region as examples of ecotourism, such as the Sturgeon Festival offered each year in Port Huron, Cass River Greenway, and the Blue Ways of St. Clair. Additional education focused on available annual reports, such as the Outdoor Industry Association Report on the Outdoor Recreation Economy and The Case for Responsible Travel and Statistics.

The symposium topic was identified in an earlier process under the region’s tourism subcommittee chaired by MSU Extension tourism educator, Andy Northrop. Members of the tourism subcommittee not only identified ecotourism as important but also communities’ digital presence as well.

Globally, tourism accounts for 1 in 11 jobs, $1.5 trillion in exports and 6 percent of the world’s exports. In Michigan, we received 113.4 million visitors in 2014, which helps sustain the 214,000 jobs in the industry annually. All of the tourism activity in Michigan generates approximately $2.4 billion in state and local taxes. In the absence of these taxes, each household in Michigan would have to pay $640 to fill the gap. More information on these statistics can be found in the MSU Extension article, International tourism continues to climb without interruptions.

The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “Responsible travel to areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” The Nature Conservancy states, “Ecotourism is distinguished by its emphasis on conservation, education, traveler responsibility and active community participation.” Both organizations recognize ecotourism principles that help minimize impacts to local ecology and communities.

For questions related to this event or ecotourism, please contact Michigan State University Extension tourism educator, Andy Northrop at (810) 989-6331 and/or northro5@anr.msu.edu

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