Michigan residents flock outside throughout pandemic

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Detroit – Nearly two years after the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigans are venturing into nature at unprecedented speed.

After Michigan State Parks recorded a record 35 million visitors in 2020, visits rose another 25-30% in the summer of 2021, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Belle Isle drew nearly one in seven visitors to Michigan State Parks in 2020, with 4.9 million visitors, up about 17% from 2019 when it had an estimated 4.2 million visitors.

Long before there was a pandemic and long before Belle Isle was a state park, Carol Rhoades, 70, was a regular visitor. Her visits date back to 1976 when she moved to the West Village.

In recent years, Rhoades has been dismayed that the park was being “marketed” and paved for the Detroit Grand Prix.

And many morning walks near the Scott Fountain were accompanied by the “screeching” tires of Detroit police cars during training exercises, she said.

Even so, Rhoades visits Belle Isle almost every day. Its lures outweigh the factors that turned the park goer and many others like her into activists.

“It’s a natural park,” said Rhoades. “People come here to seek peace and meditation. People come here to relax. This is what people should feel when they come here.”

And it wasn’t just a visit to the state park that swelled, the DNR said. Hunting licenses increased by 5% in 2020 and fishing licenses by 10% compared to 2019. The use of off-road routes increased by 20% in 2020 and a further 13% in 2021, according to the DNR.

Nick Green, public information officer for Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said Michigan’s outdoor heritage “is part of who we all are”.

“The great outdoors in Michigan has something for everyone,” said Green. “Whether you want to catch a fish or see a sand hill crane or a bald eagle, whether you want to visit a lake, river, stream or cave, or ice climbing, we have it all.”

Citing data from the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, the DNR said Michigan ranks fifth for the economic impact of boating, sixth for the economic impact of RV use, and the economic impact of hunting, shooting and hunting Traps in eighth place.

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Green said hunting and fishing numbers are expected to decline in 2021 but remain above 2019 levels (pre-pandemic).

Michigan United Conservation Clubs were formed in 1937 over concerns about overuse of hunting and fishing waters. Too much has been taken, too quickly, with no time to rebuild, Green said.

That is no longer the case, he said, and it has not been for almost a century. The money from hunting and fishing licenses finances conservation efforts.

Hunting and fishing licenses raised $ 62 million in wildlife conservation funds in 2019, conservation clubs said in their study of the economic impact. More than $ 40 million came from hunting licenses.

“We’re not just takers,” Green said of hunters and fishermen. “There’s this huge misconception that taxes pay for conservation. And that’s not the case at all. It’s funded almost entirely by hunting and fishing dollars.”

By the end of its trip to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in February, Detroit Outdoors will have brought about 200 Detroiters to northern Michigan or the Upper Peninsula during the pandemic, spanning seven trips.

Program manager Garrett Dempsey, 47, said the barrier that Detroit youth may face to the “healing power of nature” is a lack of familiarity with nature and its tools.

Detroit Outdoors is an attempt to teach these skills and enable Detroiters to enjoy outdoor experiences such as camping, hiking, and climbing.

It is a collaboration of Detroit’s Department of Parks and Recreation, the Sierra Club, and YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit and has been active since 2017.

Dempsey encouraged people to be open to nature.

“We come from nature as a species,” said Dempsey. “It still supports us even after we’ve managed to isolate ourselves from it. And it’s full of friends, whether they’re plants or animals.”

In February, a group of 20 to 30 people goes to the Michigan Ice Fest in Munising. The front cover of the Ice Festival website shows a man climbing the ice-covered wall of Pictured Rocks with Lake Superior below.

While some climbers will be on the main rock, the Detroit Outdoors crew will assume an icy rock inside, Dempsey said.

Years ago, Detroit Outdoors led the renovation and reopening of a campsite called Scout Hollow in Detroit’s Rouge Park.

While not a state park, it became and remains the only campsite in Detroit.

More: Work begins to reopen Detroit’s only campsite

Green urges seasoned nature lovers to patiently guide newcomers or those who show interest.

“Everyone starts somewhere,” said Green. “Even walking for someone could be a whole new experience for them outside.”

And even if there are camping options in their neighborhood, people may not know about it or what to do if they find them, Dempsey said.

“We spoke to so many people who live very close by … on the west side and in some cases directly across the street from the park, and they had no idea that this little corner of Rouge Park existed,” Dempsey said.

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