EAST LANSING, Mich. – Think about kayaking in Michigan and one undoubtedly thinks about the pristine rivers, lakes and forests as a setting. Researchers at Michigan State University (MSU), however, say think again.
Though the Detroit River has a far-reaching history of industrial usage, a recent survey conducted by the MSU Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies (CARRS) and Michigan Sea Grant Extension finds that the river offers much more.
Kayaking enthusiasts now enjoy an urban paddling experience among freighter traffic, skyscrapers and industries as the Detroit River emerges as an important natural resource and provider of ecological services and benefits to the state.
“The leadership and collaboration toward water trails and paddling sports in the downriver area is terrific and forward-thinking,” said Christine Vogt, professor in the Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies. “This recreation and tourism activity can put Michigan on the map with all our Great Lakes and rivers in urban, suburban and rural areas.”
The two-year water trail survey, done in conjunction with the Downriver Linked Greenways Initiative,Riverside Kayak Connection of Wyandotte and the National Park Service, was conducted from July 2009 through December 2010 to learn more about people who participate in paddling programs on the Detroit River.
Respondents to the survey gave their opinion on whether they viewed the Detroit River as a desirable paddling destination. They also were asked about their spending habits when paddling on the river as a potential economic indicator influencing the Detroit Heritage River Water Trail region. The survey found that respondents recognized the connection between urbanized Detroit and the more natural downriver areas of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge,Huron-Clinton Metroparks and Pointe Mouillee State Game Area, and concludes that the Detroit River is a draw for paddling enthusiasts.
“This survey has implications for coastal tourism efforts throughout the region,” says Mary Bohling, MSU Extension educator, Urban Southeast District. “As more coastal communities explore implementation of water trails, it becomes important to understand potential trail users and how to effectively attract them to a variety of recreational options.”
Broader marketing through social media and email discussion group lists has led to an increase in visitors from outside of Wayne County. In 2009, nearly one-third of the paddlers participating in kayaking programs on the Detroit River were from outside Wayne County. By 2010, two-thirds of participants came from areas including Ohio, Illinois and Canada.
With an increase in the number of paddlers on the river came positive economic impacts. Spending for kayak equipment was the most common expenditure that included small dollar purchases to larger purchases of more than $1,000.
“Our business has been thriving and growing as users realize the wonderful natural resources available in southeast Michigan,” says Anita Twardesky, public relations and marketing director of Riverside Kayak Connection LLC.
Restaurants and lodging were also popular sources of spending, showing that new paddlers are attracted to new boats and accessories as well as water trails where a day or overnight trip can be staged and enjoyed.
“Other areas of Michigan should be following the program innovations of Anita and Mary, and creating even more paddling opportunities,” Vogt said. “The research shows how natural resources and people are connecting and finding urban areas attractive.”