Two locals join helm of new Outdoor Recreation Advisory Council

Last week the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Michigan Natural Resources Commission announced the formation of an advisory body to identify and advocate for outdoor recreation and natural resources stewardship within the state. The group followed up the recent announcement and held its first meeting hosted by Rock Ventures at One Campus Martius in Detroit on Wednesday, June 6.

Two Great Lakes Bay locals were named to positions on the council and will help in the effort to put a structure around the outdoor industry in Michigan and its role in the state’s economic prosperity. Bo Brines, owner of Little Forks Outfitters in Midland, and Jonathan Jarosz, executive director of Heart of the Lakes based in Bay City are two of the 18 member council, with more to be added in the future as the council matures.

The group will first tackle the charge of the Council’s main efforts as it relates to economic development and prosperity, conservation and stewardship, recreation access and enhanced health and wellness. As follow up, the DNR will also be holding regional listening sessions with outdoor recreation businesses, parks as well as recreation and conservation stakeholders.

Recreation spend in Michigan’s 4th Congressional District was $1.7B last year.

Catalyst for the Midwest
The Outdoor Recreation Advisory Council is modeled on similar efforts in eight other states. The Michigan council is the first of its kind in the Midwest. Brines and Jarosz join many notable leaders throughout the state, including Linda Hubbard, president and COO of Carhartt, Inc., Lindsay Struve, store manager, Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) in Ann Arbor.

“This council comes at a critical juncture for Michigan and continues to harness the power of the outdoor recreation industry in our backyard. Michigan recreation isn’t just an economic asset, we hold some of the greatest aspects to a high quality of life right here in our communities as well,” says Brines. “It’s an honor to serve in this role with so many national outdoor brands and local businesses that truly understand the power of our natural assets here in Michigan and the importance of preserving them.”

Bo Brines of Little Forks Outfitters in Downtown Midland

Michigan’s actions have drawn some national attention in the industry, notably from the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), the national voice of the outdoor recreation industry. “It’s exciting to see Michigan step up and take a leadership role in the Midwest by creating an Outdoor Recreation Advisory Council. They are joining a growing movement, now 10 states strong, that recognizes state-level partnership and policy can support a growing outdoor economy and improve recreational opportunities for all,” said Cailin O’Brien-Feeney, state and local policy manager for OIA.

Colorado as a blueprint
As Catalyst recently reported, several Michigan stakeholders hosted Colorado’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office (OREC) director Luis Benitez recently to discuss Michigan’s potential. Benitez share specifically on the education portion of Colorado’s efforts. In aiming for higher education and longevity, Benitez detailed on how Colorado has invested in workforce training, with 28 institutions of higher education offering programs supporting the outdoor recreation and tourism industries.

Luis Benitez, Director of Colorado's Outdoor Recreation Industry Office (OREC)

Benitez shared his enthusiasm for Michigan making progress in this important effort after his visit earlier this year. “The efforts of states to create an outdoor recreation industry office is a clear reflection of the importance of not only the economic impact of our industry, but also the mandate to protect the natural resources that drive such an economy,” says Benitez.

A regional leader, Benitez noted this move now equips Michigan to properly advocate for the industry. “The efforts that Michigan has undertaken to capture this moment and redefine their position within this conversation as the first state in the Midwest to create an outdoor recreation industry office clearly shows the passion your state has about the great outdoors,” says Benitez. “We at the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office congratulate you!”

Why it matters
Recent Colorado transplant, and Michigan native Greg Yankee, executive director from the Little Forks Conservancy commented that in his previous role in Colorado, he saw firsthand the power of uniting the conservation and outdoor recreation community under one ‘big tent’.

“Before coming back to Michigan for my current role, I was heavily involved in Colorado’s outdoor recreation and conservation efforts and witnessed the leaps and bounds the state made in prioritizing this industry,” says Greg Yankee, executive director of Little Forks Conservancy. “The Outdoor Industry Association estimated the annual recreation spending in Michigan’s 4thCongressional District, which encompasses Midland, was nearly $1.7 billion last year and that comes from a broad base of activities. So I am very proud that Michigan was the first state in the Midwest to form a council and the Mid-Michigan region has such strong representation.”

Luis Benitez, OREC Director, Greg Yankee of Little Forks Conservancy and Bo Brines

Next on the horizon
With just wrapping up their first meeting on June 5, the Council will advise the DNR and Natural Resources Commission on strategic partnerships, policies that advocate for Michigan’s outdoor economy and conservation of those assets. A voice for growing Michigan’s recreational assets and impact, the Council will make recommendations to further the impact of the state’s outdoor economy, and eventually plans to advocate for the creation of an outdoor recreation task force with a director and staff as other states have done.

The Council will be taking their new shop on the road this July with members meeting other outdoor industry advocates from across the country in Asheville, North Carolina for the Confluence Summit. The summit will continue building a multi-state vision for connecting Americans with the outdoors. Michigan's delegation will include up to 10 of the members of the ORAC including Jonathan Jarosz from Heart of the Lakes in Bay City.

Jonathan Jarosz, executive director of Heart of the Lakes, a Bay City nonprofit

Discussing the role of conservation, Jarosz notes protecting the places that we love in Michigan is key. “It’s a simple connection to conservation and we believe that the precedent exists for the adventurers of today to become the fiercest defenders of wild places tomorrow," says Jarosz. "The common narrative of outdoor recreation and conservation is one of relevancy. How we address issues of outdoor access, stewardship, and next generation leadership are all key to the future of Michigan's natural resources. The places we protect, the organizations we support, and the communities we call home — all say something — about who we are, our values, and our passions."
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