LANSING, Mich. (WLUC) - Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Wednesday gathered with state, retail and nonprofit representatives of Michigan’s outdoor recreation industry to showcase the industry’s value and preview the move, this October, to officially join the Confluence of States. The Confluence is a growing national effort to build public awareness about the economic, social and public health benefits of outdoor play and provide a unified voice for the diverse businesses and organizations that make up the industry.
Representatives of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Council, Woosah Outfitters and recreation industry leaders joined Whitmer at the Outside Coffee Co. in Grand Rapids for an “Afternoon for the Outdoors.” It was an opportunity to talk about the state’s booming recreation economy, the changing industry landscape and next steps to ensure Michigan is helping to drive the national discussion on outdoor recreation.
“From the Great Lakes to our expansive forest lands to a vast network of trails, Michigan boasts unparalleled natural resources and countless opportunities for outdoor recreation,” Whitmer said. “Our state is well positioned to be a leader in this new effort to support and promote the outdoor recreation economy. By partnering with a consortium of states dedicated to promoting the outdoor recreation industry, we will make sure that our work aligns with others who share our values in prioritizing conservation and stewardship, health and wellness, growing our workforce and strengthening our economy.”
Chris MacInnes is president of Crystal Mountain Ski Resort and co-chair of the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Council. She described the move to elevate the state nationally as “on target.”
“As owner of an outdoor recreation-based business whose value is tied to the character and quality of the natural environment, Michigan’s decision to sign on to the national Confluence Accords is a big deal that we enthusiastically support,” MacInnes said. “We believe it will give Michigan access to best practices of other members, who also value outdoor resources and understand their connection to a thriving state economy and quality of life.”
New director named
During Wednesday’s event, Whitmer introduced Brad Garmon as the new director of Michigan’s Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry. Garmon most recently was the interim CEO of the Michigan Environmental Council in Lansing. Before that, he served as the council’s director of Conservation and Emerging Issues, a role created specifically to support and build stronger alliances between outdoor recreation, economic development and natural resource stewardship.
Garmon also has served on Michigan’s State Parks and Outdoor Recreation Blue Ribbon Panel; advised the state on its public land strategy, water strategy and tourism strategic plan; and been a member of the Michigan Heritage Leadership Council and the state’s Pigeon River Country Advisory Council.
"Historically, Michigan has been a national leader in conservation and recreation issues – from inspiring a young Ernest Hemingway to creating the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund that's become a national model for recreation funding,” Garmon said.
“Now it's time to apply that tradition of national leadership to the outdoor recreation economy, which is 2.2 percent of the national GDP already and growing faster than the economy overall,” he said. “Michigan has several major outdoor vehicle, gear and apparel manufacturers headquartered right here that need workers, and lots of small or startup businesses in this space that are positioned to grow. This office will help make that recruitment and growth happen."
Chris Lampen-Crowell, co-owner of Gazelle Sports and member of the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Council, said the hiring of Garmon as full-time director for Michigan’s Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry is a critical step for integrating, aligning and supporting the state’s diverse outdoor economy.
“As a small business owner with great love for our state’s outdoors, I feel strongly that we not only promote and protect the outdoors, but support the business communities that passionately provide the tools, knowledge and guidance to experience Michigan’s vast outdoor experiences,” Lampen-Crowell said. “The businesses that make up Michigan’s outdoor economy now have the ability to play a larger role in how the State works to support us, but even more important will be how we will build on the emerging opportunities to grow our businesses through an amplified effort together.”
What are the Confluence Accords?
The Confluence Accords were drafted in January 2018 in Denver, and then finalized and signed by eight original states: Colorado, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming. Michigan and Maine expect to sign the accords in October, and the consortium effectively has issued an open invitation to every state in the nation to join the Confluence of States.
In order to be eligible to join the Confluence of States, a state must do the following:
• Establish an outdoor recreation advisory council. (Michigan was the first state in the Great Lakes region to establish such a council, in 2018.)
• Create an office of outdoor recreation. (Michigan’s office was announced in May, also a first for the region.)
• Have a dedicated operating budget.
• Appoint a director to manage the office of outdoor recreation.
Outdoor recreation in Michigan
Michigan offers more than 8 million acres of publicly accessible lands, 12,000 miles of state-designated trails, and enviable Great Lakes, rivers and streams. These resources provide nearly endless opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy nature, contribute to a better quality of life for residents and help anchor the state’s economy.
Every year, 63 percent of Michigan residents participate in some form of outdoor recreation here, supported by the knowledge and expertise of thousands of industry manufacturers and retail and service-sector businesses that make quality outdoor experiences possible. According to the Outdoor Industry Association’s 2017 National Outdoor Recreation Economy Report, in Michigan this industry annually generates $26.6 billion in consumer spending and $7.5 billion in wages and salaries, and contributes to 232,000 direct jobs.
Michigan’s move to join the Confluence of States this fall is an important next step in ensuring Michigan brings a unified “outdoor voice” to the national conversation surrounding outdoor recreation.
"For generations, Carhartt has been the preferred brand for outdoor enthusiasts, conservationists and sportsmen," said Linda Hubbard, president and COO at Dearborn-based Carhartt and member of the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Council. "The great outdoors is an integral part of Carhartt's brand DNA, and it has been for more than 130 years. We look forward to this latest effort by the state of Michigan to improve and expand the region's outdoor recreation industry."
Learn more about Michigan’s Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry at Michigan.gov/MI-OutdoorRec.