Sustainable tourism discussed
NMU workshop addresses environmental, social, economic impacts
MARQUETTE — With increasing awareness of the Upper Peninsula’s natural beauty, tourism related to outdoor recreation has been a growing industry in Marquette and Alger counties, along with the U.P. as a whole.
While the economic impact of tourism is significant, “one issue is that this tourism and outdoor recreation is growing throughout the country — particularly in places like Marquette and the Upper Peninsula — and the industry has not necessarily been well planned for,” said Scott Jordan of Northern Michigan University’s Outdoor Recreation Leadership Management Program.
“This is a rapidly growing industry. It is recognized, even by the government’s revenue, as the third largest industry in the U.S., but typically industry is associated with metropolitan areas, and outdoor recreation takes place in rural communities,” Jordan said. “So that becomes problematic when we think about control of tax bases in rural communities, control of natural resources, and, of course, control over the sense of place for people who live in these rural communities.”
So how can rural communities in the U.P. protect environmental, socio-cultural and economic assets when they become tourist destinations for outdoor recreation?
“We are in the process of trying to work to develop a sustainable model for nature-based tourism and outdoor recreation, keeping money in communities, protecting the natural environment, and decreasing that cultural impact and keeping people happy where they live in Marquette,” Jordan said.
This makes it important, he said, to start conversations about “what people in communities want.”
One part of that conversation took place April 5 at NMU during a workshop titled “Designing a Sustainable Tourist Economy for Marquette City and County” that was held by Jordan and David Kronk of NMU’s Sustainable Ecotourism Organization.
Participants in the workshop explored the environmental, economic and cultural impacts of tourism in the community and spent time brainstorming ideas to make tourism more sustainable in the area, using maps and photos to lay out their thoughts.
Multiple issues and potential solutions were discussed during the workshop, ranging from congestion and erosion at Presque Isle Park, to making Marquette more walkable and bike-friendly year-round and addressing litter, organizers said.
Jordan, who has worked with Kronk in the Munising community over the last four years to promote more sustainable ecotourism practices there, gave examples of how similar issues were addressed in parts of Alger County.
“Similar problems were associated in Pictured Rocks and the Munising group brought Leave No Trace in,” he said. “And Leave No Trace has created some rules or principles to minimize the impact on natural lands. And they came into Munising and spent a week and talked to citizens and community leaders and parks officials about how to train the visitors to decrease the impact.”
A key part of the process, Jordan said, is “defining some problems and getting some ideas for productive solutions,” which the Munising group has done over the past couple years.
This allowed them to develop and undertake “small tangible tasks” that give residents a “sense of control over the situation,” he said.
“We’ve been very successful in Munising by holding meetings with community members, business owners and government officials,” Jordan said. “And they have divided themselves up into groups associated with problems they feel they need to resolve, and these groups go out and start getting things done.”
While the group has primarily worked in Munising and is getting started in Marquette, their real goal “is to focus on the entire Upper Peninsula,” and develop a model “that anybody could implement anywhere in the U.S.,” Jordan said.
Jordan and Kronk plan to continue the process in Marquette through further sessions, Jordan said, noting that they hope to organize another meeting later in the year to continue working with area residents and officials.
Jordan said the workshop and work he and Kronk have done in Marquette and Alger counties has been supported by a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council.