Outdoor Recreation Advisory Council connects with industry stakeholders in Midland across pipeline

Michigan’s visibility as a state with a breadth of options for outdoor recreation (and a significant outdoor industry) has been on the rise since the announcement of the state’s Outdoor Recreation Advisory Council last year and recently when Governor Whitmer announced the creation of an Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry in May 2019.

The effort aims to build on the strength of Michigan’s abundant outdoor recreation opportunities exploring the state’s 3,288 miles of freshwater coastline, more than 8 million acres of publicly accessible land, 12,000 miles of trails and unlimited spaces for adventure.

Governor Whitmer’s announcement for the creation of an Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry is a partnership between the Michigan DNR and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, on behalf of the Michigan Strategic Fund.

The Outdoor Recreation Advisory Council in front of Little Forks Outfitters.

The Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry will be overseen in part by Michigan’s Outdoor Recreation Advisory Council (ORAC), the first such council in the Midwest. The council makes recommendations to the DNR and the MEDC on ways to improve partnerships, attract businesses, and support conservation and public recreation assets in order to support the growth of a sleeping giant of an industry that is responsible for $26.6 billion in consumer spending and 232,000 jobs.

Michigan's model for the creation of an Office in unique in that it takes advantage of existing state agency resources, combining the best of what the DNR and the MEDC have to offer the industry.

“The outdoor recreation economy is a massive industry, accounting for 2.2 percent of GDP in the United States,” says David Weinstein, State and Local Policy Director for Outdoor Industry Association. “State offices of outdoor recreation industry actually create efficiencies within state government by breaking down silos between different agencies that have responsibilities within this sector – from outdoor recreation infrastructure to public health and wellness to economic development and more.”

Businesses like Little Forks Outfitters help make up the $26.6 billion outdoor industry economy in Michigan.

ORAC takes to Midland
The Outdoor Recreation Advisory Council, comprised of executive leaders from the private sector throughout the state as well as from the nonprofit sector appointed by the Governor, met in Midland on Monday, June 3.

The council includes two regional representatives: Bo Brines from Little Forks Outfitters and Jonathan Jarosz, Executive Director from Heart of the Lakes, as well as leaders from Blue Cross Blue Shield, Polaris, Carhartt and others.

Local organizations including the Little Forks Conservancy and Chippewa Nature Center have long ties to the outdoor industry and were key in hosting the state’s newly formed Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry and the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Council.

The ORAC group learning about conservation efforts at Little Forks Conservancy's Averill Preserve.

Greg Yankee from the Little Forks Conservancy commented that “Both of our nonprofits see many positive impacts – including in the areas of economic development, physical and mental health, job and skills training, and instilling a conservation ethic – from working with the private and public sectors in the outdoors.”

Midland was chosen for the Council’s first meeting after the Governor’s announcement due to its ability to showcase the breadth of the entire outdoor industry. In particular, there was an opportunity to highlight the entire consumer product pipeline and the partnerships that exist to support it from manufacturers, retail, consumers, education and conservation.

Exploring and getting input from across the pipeline, Council members started the day at Scientific Anglers and learned about trends in fly fishing and the production of modern fly-fishing line. Scientific Anglers is one of only four companies of its kind in the world, and while they’re a division of Orvis, they work directly with local retailers such as Little Forks Outfitters.

Scientific Anglers is one of only four companies that make fly fishing line.

Scientific Anglers may be owned by Orvis, but you can bet they still operate with the dedication to quality that a company with a long history in the sport can provide. Council members got a behind the scenes look that every inch of fly line produced by Scientific Anglers is inspected by hand for superior performance. That attention to detail and the company’s long history in Midland are both something that customers have historically looked to as a source of pride and demonstration of superior performance.

Brad Befus, president of Scientific Anglers discussed the needs of manufacturers in the outdoor industry and the benefits that locating in Midland has provided the company, which will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year.

“We are fortunate that the state provides us with a number of natural assets in which to test our product and enhance innovation within the industry,” says Befus. “Few states can provide the diverse ecosystem that Michigan gives us, and that is something that also makes for a great outdoor recreation economy.”

All fly line manufactured by Scientific Anglers is inspected by hand.

From Scientific Anglers, the Council visited Little Forks Outfitters’ downtown retail space to hear from owner and ORAC councilmember Bo Brines on the importance of specialty retail in the industry. Brines is a passionate advocate for outdoor adventures and focuses on building long-lasting relationships and equipping explorers of all ages with the right gear.An ad for Reardon Dry Goods, a retail business in Midland that has been in the Brines family since 1869.

While downtown, Brines briefed the group on the importance of placemaking in communities, downtown districts in particular, and authenticity in specialty retail. The history of retail runs deep for Brines, a descendent of the Reardon Brothers Mercantile, a retail brand that dates back to 1869 in Midland.

From there, the Council went on to walk Midland’s Averill Preserve with the staff of Little Forks Conservancy. Owned by the Conservancy, staff discussed the importance of access to nature, and the partnerships with outdoor industry that assist in their work.

The Council capped off their day with a roundtable of outdoor recreation businesses from Midland including Ike’s Mobile Kayaks, Ray’s Bike Shop, BeAlive Inc, and ended with a business meeting discussing their next steps and a hike at the Chippewa Nature Center.

Bo Brines discusses the needs of outdoor retailers.

Next up for ORAC
The Council’s next meeting will be September 25, 2019 in Lansing. One of the first requests the Council made to the newly created office was for the creation of an industry cluster analysis of the impact of the outdoor industry.

While there are several national models and studies available to understand the impact of this sector, the Council is eager to have more locally-focused data to share with their communities and opinion leaders.

Dennis Pilaske of Chippewa Nature Center talking with the ORAC group about education efforts.

Several of the council members will be attending Outdoor Retailer, the largest industry tradeshow of its kind in Denver this month for further engagement, networking and education. Outdoor Retailer is the industry’s largest trade show and conference and pulls in vendors and leaders from across the country exploring the latest trends affecting the outdoor industry.

While Michiganders and understand the value of our state’s outdoor resources both locally and overall, it is exciting to see the state be the first in the Midwest to advance the potential of our outdoor economy on the national stage.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Courtney Soule.

Courtney is a longtime Midland resident and enjoys telling the story of the community's evolution. She ran Catalyst Midland as the publication's managing editor from October 2017 through September 2020. Her favorite topics are interesting people, change makers, outdoor recreation and design. Aside from Catalyst, her published work can be found various places including Elephant Journal, Thought Catalog and a number of other websites, papers, menus and the occasional one-liner.