HOUGHTON — Visitors to the Copper Country can attest to the area’s natural beauty, and the many recreation opportunities offered by its rugged terrain.
While locals are partial to the Copper Country, there are world-class recreation areas across the state of Michigan — which boasts 8 million acres of public land, 12,000 miles of trails, and access to four of the Great Lakes.
With all of these resources, Michigan a vast array of recreation activities are available, including hiking, biking, camping, ORV riding, kayaking, foraging, fishing, hunting, skiing, snowmobiling, and more.
In addition to providing entertainment, inspiration, and solace to Michiganders, outdoor recreation is also a significant tourist draw and an important part of the state’s economy.
Each year, the Michigan outdoor recreation industry generates $9.5 billion in economic impact, 108,673 jobs, and $4.6 billion in wages and salaries, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).
Among U.S. states, Michigan ranks No. 6 in recreational vehicle use and No. 8 in hunting, shooting, and trapping. Michigan is tied with New York for the most ski areas per state, and draws more than 2 million skiers each winter.
While the COVID-19 pandemic forced a slowdown in many industries, outdoor recreation has flourished as people sought adventure and tranquility in Michigan’s wilderness.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, unprecedented numbers of people have ventured into the outdoors in both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas.
According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), annual visits to Michigan state parks climbed from 28 million before the pandemic, to an all-time high of 35 million visitors in 2021.
State park visitation increased by 25-30% during the summer of 2021 alone, and the DNR tallied 1.4 million camping and lodging nights on public land over the course of the year.
From 2019 to 2020, the sale of fishing licenses climbed by 10%, while hunting license sales grew by 5%. Off-road vehicle trail use increased by 20% from 2019 to 2020, and another 13% in 2021.
This surge in public interest presents economic opportunities for the state’s tourism and recreation industries.
Even before the pandemic, Michigan was working to grow and develop outdoor recreation. In 2019, Governor Gretchen Whitmer created the Michigan Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry in an effort to expand the state’s outdoor recreation economy.
This office is part of the DNR, and partners with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) to support and grow existing outdoor businesses, and attract new ones to the state.
The office also works to spread awareness for outdoor recreation businesses, promote all manner of outdoor activities, anticipate emerging recreation trends, and build support for natural resource stewardship.
Under the leadership of Director Brad Garmon, the Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry spent its first two years meeting with hundreds of outdoor recreation businesses across the state and designing an economic development program.
The office also promoted Michigan’s outdoor lifestyle and recreation offerings through the “Pure Michigan” campaign and the newer “Pure Opportunity” business marketing campaign.
The hope is that cultivating the industry will help to create high-wage jobs, in both outdoor recreation services and in the manufacturing and production of outdoor equipment and gear.
The office recently launched the “2022 Northern Michigan Outdoor Recreation Pitch Competition”, an initiative that aims to identify and provide support to outdoor businesses and entrepreneurs.
Outdoor recreation businesses with innovative and sustainable services or products are encouraged to apply before Feb. 14. Winners will receive support from the Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry in the form of consulting services, trade show participation and prep, and branding and content marketing assistance.
More information on the Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry and other DNR programs is available online at michigan.gov/dnr.
As snow continues to fall in the Copper Country, outdoor recreation opportunities abound in the new year.