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Michigan's Outdoor Ecosystem is Evolving - and the Headlines are Following

This is not an April Fool's joke! After years of purposeful investment in Michigan's recreational ecosystem, major publications are finally recognizing our state's emergence as a world-class outdoor destination. The best part? We're still just getting started.

"Come on, Dan, Michigan just isn't Colorado..."

Staring back at me with a slight grin on his face was one of my oldest mentors. I had just finished presenting the 30,000 ft. pitch of my latest business idea - a "TBD" project informally titled "Expedition Detroit" - for a small group of outdoor enthusiasts.

Although he was merely playing devil's advocate, I can admit that he had a compelling argument. As if to accentuate his point, we were sitting in a rustic Colorado ranch with a 360º view of snowcapped mountains. We had spent the day riding ATVs through the San Isabel National Forest. Truly an adventurer's paradise.

"Yeah, but Colorado also isn't Michigan."

I turned to make eye contact with the only other Michigander presiding over our mini episode of "Shark Tank." A Grand Rapids-born, personal wellness coach that now resides near Colorado Springs. Our conversations about the outdoor opportunities in Michigan prompted this impromptu business discussion. She gave me a wink after delivering this rebuttal, as if to say "Don't worry - they have no idea what they're missing out on."

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Well friends, someone, somewhere, spilled the beans on America's best kept outdoor secret.

Since that June 2022 discussion, Michigan - and the Detroit region specifically - has been featured in several high profile publications as a hotspot destination for sustainable travel. From the Detroit Riverwalk's three-peat title as USA Today's "Best Riverwalk in America" to Condé Nast Traveler naming Detroit as one of its "Best Places to Go 2024," the Motor City's headlines have been driving in the right direction.

Our favorite aspect of these honors? They explicitly name Detroit's recreational ecosystem as a fundamental reason for the city's resurgence and arrival on the international tourism trail. The specifically-mentioned highlights include the Riverwalk's adjacent parks and natural areas, the highly-anticipated Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park project, and the region's general initiative to "give more Detroiters access to the outdoors."

But wait, there's more! Just within the last two weeks, Outside Magazine - the most infallible media juggernaut on all matters outdoor adventure - delivered TWO MORE crowning titles to our region. First, Michigan's LOWER peninsula (yes, you read that correctly - the L.P.) was named one of Outside's "23 Best Places to Travel in 2024" for adventure travel. Here's their #1 reason for the Lower Peninsula's inclusion:

The Detroit Riverwalk, the city’s crown jewel, now connects to nearby Belle Isle, the southern terminus of the nearly completed 2,000-mile Iron Belle Trail. The statewide project, with hiking and biking paths to the Upper Peninsula, is over 70 percent ready following new route additions in 2023. . . The expansion of the Detroit Riverwalk—a 3.5-mile riverfront promenade voted one of the nation’s most beautiful—means easier access to Belle Isle, a 982-acre park.


Don't worry, Yoopers - Outside gave you all plenty of fair credit within their supporting arguments for ALSO naming Michigan within its "8 Most Adventurous States in America," specifically claiming top prize in the Midwest. The listed "Wow Factors" include 13.6 million acres of public land, 1 national park, 2 national lakeshores, 103 state parks, 5,292 miles of hiking trails, 9,345 miles of mountain-bike trails, 3,288 miles of pure Great Lakes coastline, 51,438 miles of rivers, and 43 ski areas - the second most in the U.S.

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As exhilarating as these recognitions are, anyone actively or recreationally involved in Michigan's outdoor ecosystem shouldn't be surprised by them. As early as 2011, Michigan shocked the recreational world by "Good Morning America" naming Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore the "Most Beautiful Place in America." The skiing world received a similar shock this past December when the U.P.'s Mount Bohemia was voted as the "No. 1 Ski Resort in North America" by USA Today.

The truth is that decades of tireless, risky, and unassured hard work has been methodically invested into Michigan's outdoor industry. From large government bodies like the Department of Natural Resources and Huron-Clinton Metroparks to volunteer organizations like the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and Motor City Mountain Biking Association, our parks, trails, and waterways have been meticulously cared for by countless service hours.

Just like every other aspect of our great region, these accolades weren't bestowed upon us by chance. The Detroit region's outdoors, while stunningly beautiful, do not contain the postcard-ready vistas of snowcapped peaks, tropical beaches, or colorful deserts of America's "Instagram-ready" outdoor destinations. We have had to demonstrate grit in curating our environment: preserving our parks, re-envisioning our trails, healing our rivers, and repurposing our blighted spaces. All while enduring national stigmas so unjustly bequeathed to us.

The end result of our region's perseverance? We get to enjoy an internationally-celebrated outdoor ecosystem located right here in our own backyards. The fruit of consistent investment into the recreational economy of "The Trails State." An increasingly more unified, collaborative, inclusive, and sustainable outdoor industry.

This article is already jam-packed with feel good headlines, but one last one to leave you with: we're still only getting started. As underlined during the 2023 Michigan Outdoor Summit, our state's outdoor recreation leaders are dedicated to establishing Michigan as a national leader in inclusivity and connectivity initiatives. We are building proverbial bridges across communities through outdoor infrastructure and outreach initiatives, while simultaneously building actual bridges connecting world-class trail networks.


If you're reading this and have volunteered any amount of time toward's Michigan's outdoor industry - from trail angels to ski patrol, community organizers to philanthropists - thank you. Sincerely, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Your hard work is paying off.

And we're here to support you every step of the way.


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