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Policy & Government

Michigan gets official Outdoor Recreation Council

Following the growing trend of outdoor recreation offices across the country, Michigan creates a council to form new partnerships and improve outdoor recreation opportunities.

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Amidst the cow herds and flat cornfields of the Midwest, there is a land plentiful with rivers, streams, forests, and even a mountain range. Michigan is an oasis of outdoor activities, and the state just took a step to make it even better.

On Wednesday, Michigan announced a new Outdoor Recreation Advisory Council, composed of business owners, store managers, CEOs, and conservation leaders.

The council will advise the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Michigan Natural Resources Commission on ways to improve access to the outdoors, encourage economic growth, and build partnerships for business and conservation.

“This effort will create partnerships that can grow the outdoor recreation economy, as well as increase recreational opportunities and access for everyone – residents and visitors alike,” said NRC Commissioner Chris Tracy, who will chair the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Council. “It’s a win-win situation.”

Tracy isn’t the only one who thinks so. Outdoor recreation offices and task forces have popped up in state governments across the nation. There are lots of reasons why they’re needed: They bring more tourism dollars directly to local communities, they increase collaboration on recreation and conservation, and they help collect new data.

Map of states with outdoor rec offices (updated as of June 1, 2018)
As of June 2018, seven states have government offices and four other states have task forces or advisory councils.Infographic by Kristin Hostetter and Jackie McCaffrey

Michigan is the first state in the Midwest to hop on the bandwagon, and it’s no surprise—outdoor recreation there generates $26.6 billion in consumer spending each year and supports 232,000 jobs, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

“We’re keenly aware that many of our communities in Michigan rely on outdoor recreation for their prosperity,” said Marc Miller, the DNR deputy director for regional initiatives. For him, that’s what makes Michigan special, with four Great Lakes at the doorstep and 4.5 million acres of state-owned land. “We have a very strong quality of life here and it’s connected to that open, accessible space,” he said.

When the DNR drafted its last Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan in 2017, they were searching for ways to form better partnerships with the outdoor recreation business. “We really saw that other states had a good model for how to bring that about, so we have been working on this [council] for many months since the end of last year,” Miller said.

He’s right: the model has worked well for other states. Utah, the first state to add an Office of Outdoor Recreation in 2013, has gained new trails, revitalized a mining ghost town, and brought in substantial business hubs from over a dozen outdoor brands.

Improvements that large are a few years down the line for the Michigan council. It will start off by identifying better ways to collect data about outdoor recreation and find opportunities for infrastructure improvement.

The Michigan DNR is meeting with the council soon to discuss priorities. It will also conduct a public listening tour over the summer and fall months to collect feedback from businesses that aren’t represented in the council. “We’ve got a lot of fertile ground here. It might take us awhile to sort out what to tackle in the first year,” Miller said.