Michigan expands recreation industry with Detroit Outdoor Adventure Center | Best States

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The Federal Bureau of Economic Analysis published a report earlier this year revealing the impact of the outdoor recreation industry on the US economy. According to the analysis, the industry accounts for more than $373 billion, or approximately 2%, of the country’s GDP, making it a biggest contributor than industries such as agriculture and mining – and is growing faster than the rest of the country’s economy.

State officials are responding to these numbers and stepping up efforts to get residents outdoors and into nature. But they face key issues: 80% of the US population lives in urban areas, many of which are far from their state’s greatest natural treasures, and many people don’t participate in outdoor activities. for lack of experience.

In Michigan, officials believe they have found a way to help reduce these barriers: the Detroit Outdoor Adventure Center. The center, operated by the state Department of Natural Resources’ Parks and Recreation Division, aims to house examples of all of Michigan’s natural wonders in one building so visitors can develop an interest in the outdoors. , learn how to do different outdoor activities and find out where they can go to do them.

“We’re trying to squeeze the wonder (of the state’s natural resources) into 40,000 square feet,” says director Linda Walter, describing the center’s exhibits, which include an indoor waterfall, fishing simulation, snowmobile simulation , a bear den and an archery range.

But many of these natural resources are found north of Detroit, while 84% of Michigan residents live in metropolitan areas concentrated in the southern region. For many people in these areas, the nearest state park is an hour’s drive away — a hike that’s just not realistic for those without a car, Walter points out.

The center informs visitors about Belle Isle Park, the more rugged of the city’s two state parks, located just seven miles from the building. Walter says they host events there, such as “Ladies Nights” where women can kayak together, and they also offer a separate kayaking opportunity each month. The center also offers opportunities for outdoor camping and other events, which sell out quickly.

The Detroit Outdoor Adventure Center features a swing bridge on the second floor. (David Kenyon/Ministry of Natural Resources)

Walter says one of the goals of the Outdoor Adventure Center is to raise money to provide transportation for “field trips” to different parts of the state. So far, the majority of its corporate funding comes from ITC Holdings Corp., a Michigan-based power transmission company.

But even Michigan residents who have transportation have a familiar reason for not getting out to explore.

“Today’s young parents grew up in a basement playing video games, then they had screen time, they had phones,” says Walter. “So if nobody took you when you were young camping or fishing or biking or hiking, then you don’t know how to do it.”

She hopes visitors who have never been exposed to outdoor recreation will take an interest. And for those who haven’t been camping or kayaking because they were never taught how to, she hopes they’ll be confident in their abilities after visiting the center.

“(We want) to take away some of the mystery of some of the activities you never engaged in,” says MNR Parks and Recreation Chief Ron Olson, who developed the idea for the center.

The kayak display, for example, allows visitors to climb inside and learn how to use it.

“We inspire you to love kayaking because you walk into it and you’re like, ‘Well, maybe I could balance, it’s not as bad as I thought,'” Walter said. “And then we show you how to paddle and how to change direction, and then you get excited and you know a little about it.”

School groups make up a large percentage of visitors, but Walter says the Outdoor Adventure Center aims to expand its opportunities for adults. In a recent course, a group of adults learned how to become beekeepers. Walter says this activity aims to promote environmental stewardship by teaching the importance of pollinators, and the hope is that after participating in the gardening class, participants will use their newfound knowledge to help pollinate their own gardens. .

The center has yet to collect data showing how successful its efforts have been in attracting visitors to state parks. But Walter says park attendants told him people come after experiencing the outdoor adventure center.

Olson says he’s not aware of an adventure center on the same scale as Detroit’s anywhere else in the country. State park officials in Wisconsin and Minnesota have expressed interest in creating a similar facility in their states, he says.

At a recent meeting of governors, Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder touted the outdoor adventure center and also mentioned the state’s work to become a “trail state.” Michigan is building the Iron Belle Trail, with 2,000 miles of biking and walking trails under development. He highlighted how states can improve their quality of life by expanding their outdoor opportunities.

“It’s wonderful to have this great outdoor living environment,” Snyder said, encouraging other heads of state “to go for it.”

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