Many Great Lakes communities have reinvented or expanded their economies from logging and fishing to travel and leisure. Tourism revolving around the scenic environment offers multi-faceted economic benefits. It also requires adequate strategic planning and investment to avoid the pitfalls of popularity such as seasonal overpopulation, natural resources degradation and pollution. Two Northern Michigan University faculty members have received additional funding for their continuing efforts to promote sustainable eco-tourism. The project—already underway in Alger County—could lead to year-round economic stability in the region and serve as an innovative model statewide.
NMU Health and Human Performance professors Scott Jordan and Dave Kronk received $5,000 from the Michigan Humanities Council for “Third Coast Conversations: Sustaining and Protecting Clean Tourism in the U.P.”
Kronk retired from his former park ranger role at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which has become increasingly popular with tourists and spawned a ripple-effect business boom in Munising. He understands the importance of developing community education, along with individual and business certification programs, that will enable innovative entrepreneurs to generate revenue while minimizing impacts on the landscape.
“It is an extension of nature-based tourism,” Kronk said. “It focuses on resource limits and conserving local environments, using sustainable products and services, and being cognizant of local needs to improve the well-being of area residents. Creating a successful and sustainable eco-tourism industry is like creating any sustainable activity; it takes vision, planning and effort.”
To raise awareness and promote collaboration in Alger County, Kronk partnered with Jordan to begin separate conversations with three user groups: forest, park and tribal front-line environmental representatives; business owners within and outside the tourism sector; and local community members. The colleagues later united all groups for a “Sense of Place” workshop that generated feedback on what Munising should be like as a sustainable community. They also advocated for a rating/certification system similar to other countries, which demonstrates local businesses’ commitment to sustainable practices and can be used as a marketing tool. NMU would provide the education and certification.
The project is based on the approach used by Costa Rica, whose biodiversity has made it a leader in global tourism. Jordan has led student trips there because the country proves that conservation and economic growth can co-mingle effectively. The government passed legislation that entitles every citizen to a sustainable environment, he said. It also announced an ambitious vow to become the first carbon-neutral destination, according to the International Ecotourism Society.
“Outdoor recreation is an $800 billion industry, but it’s managed largely on non-sustainable business principles,” Jordan said. “We have a great opportunity, with Munising as our lab, to create a working model. Related to that is our academic dream of establishing a Center for Sustainable Tourism within our department and a degree program in the discipline. It would be interdisciplinary, because a lot of what we’re doing related to ecotourism touches on environmental science, business, accounting and communication. It also would support the goals of the NMU Center for Rural Community and Economic Development.”
Citizen action groups in Munising have succeeded in starting a recycling program, developing a plan to increase the local food supply and drafting a “leave no trace” plan to address environmental impacts on local resources associated with increased tourism. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics has declared Munising a “hot spot”—an area that has suffered from severe impacts of outdoor activities, but has the capacity to thrive again with site-specific tools in place.
An NMU-produced display on ecotourism is being showcased at the Pictured Rocks Interpretive Center in Munising.