Bike, paddle and stroll: Midland's part in Michigan's outdoor economy

If you have a trip planned this summer to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Sleeping Bear Dunes, or there is a kayak or bicycle in your garage, you’re a significant part of the outdoor economy. Regardless of what type of outdoor fun lights your fire, have you ever stopped to think what those activities mean for your state and local economy?

Midland is home to great fishing and other water recreation.

Often enjoyed but not often thought about is the extent to which outdoor recreation contributes to the national, state and local economy. It’s an industry that often goes overlooked, but globally, tourism is responsible for one in 11 jobs. Nationally, the industry contributes $887 billion dollars in the form of consumer spending annually, a powerhouse that provides more impact than both the automotive and pharmaceutical industries and is responsible for 7.6 million direct jobs.

For Michigan, that looks equally significant, with nearly $27 billion in consumer spending annually. Supporting 232,000 jobs, the outdoor industry drives $7.5 billion in wages and salaries and $2.1 billion in state and local tax revenue. The gear in you garage and your summer vacation begins to look a little different under that light, doesn’t it?

One of the many trails at City Forest in Midland

Over the past couple of years, there has been a significant trend in prioritizing recreation as an industry and recognizing the impact it has on state and local economies. A handful of states have embraced the outdoor community and the economic development that comes with it by designating an Office of Outdoor Recreation, a position that reports directly to the governor. While this is a position is a fairly new office for the states with the designation, early results are paying off for Colorado, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, North Carolina, Oregon and Montana.

While priorities vary from state to state, the offices all strive to promote the outdoor recreation industry, prioritize education and conservation to ensure that natural spaces thrive to allow for enjoyment and promote and attract new and existing investments within the state.

Colorado expanded the state’s outdoor presence in 2015 by starting the state’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office (OREC). Since then, the state has attracted one of the biggest conferences in recreation with Outdoor Retailer, which attracts upwards of 50,000 attendees and creates approximately $45 million of economic impact annually. Recently, a local Michigan group of non-profits, government staff and state and local businesses hosted Colorado’s OREC Director, Luis Benitez in Midland and several areas around the state to discuss how Michigan can further it’s outdoor economic reach.

During the trip, Benitez talked to some of Michigan’s stakeholders 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.

One of the many hiking trails in Midland

Locally, your dose of fun — whether it is a bike ride, hike or Mitten State vacation — drive several initiatives in Midland and around the region.

The Fun Stop — Ray’s Bike Shop
Ray’s Bike Shop has stores in Midland, Bay City and Clare and are your local resource for new bikes, gear and tune ups for your ride.

Cory Christener, manager of Ray's Bike Shop in Bay City

“I love riding and want everyone to be able to share in that enjoyment,” says Cory Christener, manager of Ray’s Bike Shop in Bay City. “Plus its healthy to get out in the fresh air and be active riding a bike, so it is something that helps people too.”

From giving beginners tours on new equipment, to organizing weekly community rides, to bikepacking trips, to advocacy-based races, Ray’s aims to provide fun for everyone. The race, known as Clarabella Groad, is a varied course that winds through nearby northern Isabella County. Sponsored by Ray’s Bike Shop and Heart of the Lakes, a collective voice for Michigan’s land conservancies.

Riders prepare for Clarabella Groad, a bike race in Isabella County

“We like to give people many different opportunities to experience the outdoors on two wheels,” says Christener. “The race is something that we put on with a few partners and aims to help support conservation and stewardship of Michigan’s land, so cyclists of all kinds can enjoy the outdoors for years to come.”

The Global Brand — Scientific Anglers
A Midland brand with global reach, Scientific Anglers makes some of the world’s best fly fishing line in our backyard. Founded in 1945, Scientific Anglers practices what they preach — quite literally — testing product in the moat that surrounds the building.

Scientific Anglers headquarters features an on-site testing facility that surrounds the building.

“Coming from Colorado, I was blown away with the amount of outdoor resources that are at within our reach in Michigan,” says Brad Befus, President of Scientific Anglers. “From an angler’s perspective, we can test different cold water and warm water aspects for our lines here and from Midland, there are so many diverse small-mouth species to fish for within a 1-hour radius, it’s truly remarkable.”

Brad Befus, President of Scientific Anglers

Describing both Midland and Michigan’s outdoor assets, Befus says that he loves showing fishing representatives around for angler events. “I get to show fishing guides from western states known for their fishing resources our region and they are always shocked by what Michigan has to offer,” says Befus.

“As part of a broader outdoor industry, Michigan has some outstanding opportunities and adventures to embark upon at our doorstep, from hiking, biking, camping and everything in between and Scientific Anglers is happy to also call it home,” adds Befus.

The Gear Shop — Little Forks Outfitters
On Main Street in Midland, you’ll find Little Forks Outfitters, your local stop for adventure gear, a Yeti cooler or a Patagonia jacket, but the shop aims to not just outfit your adventure, but better your experience.

“At Little Forks Outfitters, we have always tried to create an experience for our clients and give them the best gear to support their adventure.”

Bo Brines, owner of Little Forks Outfitters in Downtown Midland

That adventure supports a huge quality of life for Michiganders and tourists alike, stresses Brines and its one of the things that the state needs to develop. On a larger scale, Midland’s Main Street outdoor entrepreneur thinks there is the opportunity to put the state’s resources to good use.

“We’re at a critical juncture as a state when it comes to supporting the outdoor recreation industry — both as a sleeping economic giant and as key to quality of life in our communities,” says Brines. “We have the natural assets, our Great Lakes shorelines, public lands and forests, local trails and parks supported by many national outdoor brands and local businesses.”

Anglers of all ages participating in a fishing demo in Midland

“Across our state and Midland in particular, we’re trying to attract a generation of talented workers that are seeking an active outdoor lifestyle,” adds Brines.

So stay active, stay outdoors and stay tuned for what’s next for Michigan’s outdoor economy.
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