Sustainable stepsTraverse City encourages tourists to volunteer to help the environment

Every year millions of tourists visit Traverse City to enjoy the region’s wealth of outdoor activities, everything from hiking and biking along designated trails to fishing and boating along the city’s waterfront, rivers, and Lake Michigan.

That impact on the landscape has not gone unnoticed by visitors, many of whom are cognizant of reducing their footprint and want to leave “something good behind,” says Whitney Waara, COO of Traverse City Tourism.

Now, thanks to a new program launched by Traverse City Tourism, visitors can do just that.

The Green for Good Challenge encourages visitors (and locals) to volunteer at one of six northern Michigan nonprofit organizations focused on some aspect of the outdoors or the environment. The tourism agency will donate $20 to the organization chosen by the volunteer. 

Another volunteer option is to help remove garlic mustard along the Betsie Valley Trail. “It can be as simple as picking up trash along one of the popular trails, or helping to remove invasive plants,” says Trevor Tkach, president of Traverse City Tourism. “We are attempting to give real financial help to organizations that work tirelessly to protect the incredible natural resources that make the region so special.”

What’s happening: Traverse City Tourism has launched the Green for Good Challenge, encouraging residents and visitors to volunteer at six northern Michigan nonprofit organizations. In turn, the program will donate $20 to whichever environmental organization the person volunteers for. There are more than a dozen eco-friendly projects to choose from. Participants are able to volunteer for more than one organization.

How it works: The Green for Good Challenge is available through a free mobile passport. The Challenge will make a $20 donation to one of six environmental organizations for every person who volunteers their time and shares their experience online. Participants are asked to share their volunteer activity on Instagram or Facebook page, tag the nonprofit and use the hashtag #GreenForGoodTC. Donations are limited to one post per participant per nonprofit.

Maple Bay Natural Area straddles U.S. 31 between Traverse City and Elk Rapids.
Participation is free and registration is online. Information: Go to Green for Good Challenge. The program will wrap up at the end of October for this year.
Participating organizations: FLOW (For the Love of Water), TART Trails, Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, Grand Traverse Conservation District, Friends of Betsie Valley Trail, and SEEDS. In all, Traverse City Tourism will donate up to $50,000 between the various groups. 

Volunteer activities: The possibilities include clearing trash at the Arcadia Dunes Baldy Trailhead, on the TART Trail, along the Boardman Lake Loop Trail, and at the Traverse City waterfront. Other volunteer opportunities include removing Garlic Mustard along the Betsie Valley Trail, pulling invasive species at Historic Barns Park, and trimming overgrown plants at the Boardman River Nature Preserve.  The activities take place at a variety of locations and are coordinated by nonprofit organizations.

What prompted the Green for Good Challenge: Stewardship of the land and surrounding water as well as preservation have long been priorities of Traverse City Tourism. The organization has long advocated Leave No Trace principles (though not a member of the national program).

“We know that what makes us a special community and what makes the area a special place to visit is the water and land,” Waara says. “Protecting the land and water is at the core of what we try to do.”

Helping out at Arcadia Dunes Baldy Trailhead is an option for volunteers. There has also been a growing interest in volunteerism across the country, with tourists looking to lend a hand. “That’s something we wanted to tap into,” she says. “The Green for Good Challenge is something that is accessible to everyone, interesting and beneficial to our local community.” 

The tourism agency did not have a specific model for the program. A number of destinations across the country have been promoting volunteer programs for visitors.

The passport: The mobile passport is not new. Traverse City Tourism uses the program to promote a variety of events and offer discounts throughout the year, including the upcoming Traverse City Beer Week, which is Nov. 10-17. 

What’s next: Waara says the nonprofit partners have been excited to participate and have been very receptive to the program. To date, Waara has heard only positive feedback. “We’d love to see more people get excited about this and come and give it a shot,” she says. “It’s an ongoing opportunity.” The hope is to make the Green for Good Challenge an ongoing program.

“Green for Good Challenge is intended to be an introduction to the ways people can get involved with a range of different organizations,” Waara says. “We see it as a gateway to a deeper volunteer experience.”
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