Every “Mitten” has a thumb!

Thumb Tourism Summit brings communities together to discuss tourism strategies for development and more.

Michigan State University Extension and Sea Grant organized the first Thumb Tourism Summit last week which was held at the Octagon Barn Museum in Gagetown, Mich. Those in attendance traveled from neighboring Huron, Tuscola and Sanilac Counties, as well as some folks from as far as Wayne, Washtenaw, St. Clair, Midland and Ingham County. The Summit brought together DNR, entrepreneurs, local and regional non-profits, tourism experts, economic development agencies, higher education, staff members of Congress and other leaders within the region to learn about tourism programs and potential collaboration opportunities.

Mary Bohling from the Sea Grant Program at MSU Extension started the morning out with a summary of the Southern Lake Huron Assessment and the results gathered from over 75 Thumb Area stakeholders during the 2009-2012 study in the Thumb’s coastal areas. The results delivered gave participants some target areas they and/or leaders in their community can address to strengthen tourism within the Thumb region.

As a highlight to the morning, Sarah Nicholls, faculty from Michigan State University’s Department of Community Sustainability, delivered an overview of the 2012-2017 Michigan Tourism Strategic Plan (MTSP) and the eight critical goals the plan aims to address. MTSP is currently underway with eight different committees meeting regularly to address the identified objectives within the plan. For more information about the 2012-2017 Michigan Tourism Strategic Plan, please contact Nicholls at nicho210@msu.edu.

Rose Putnam, President of the Octagon Barn Museum, gave an overview of the collective efforts behind regional collaboration between several museums spread around the Thumb. Putnam identified the success of working collaboratively to leverage the museums together, as opposed to working alone for success.

The late morning had three break-out sessions allowing for members to attend based on their interest to the topic. Topics for these sessions were Placemaking, Trail Towns, and Heritage Tourism. Glenn Pape, Extension educator, delivered a statewide signature program on Placemaking-a hot topic for Michigan! Harry Burkholder, Planner for Land Information Access Association, spoke extensively on Trail Town initiatives and what communities can do to leverage their recreational assets for community economic development. Julie Avery, Extension specialist for Michigan State University, delivered on her area of expertise in Heritage Tourism which fit nicely within the context of the event at the Octagon Barn. Participants in all three sessions were presented with various old and new strategies for identifying and capitalizing on ways to foster growth and innovation based on trends in today’s society around tourism and community development.

Event organizers and participants wrapped up the afternoon with a tour of the museum grounds by volunteer staff of the Octagon Barn. Overall, the event built partnerships, spearheaded new ideas, fostered collaboration, and educated everyone on regional and statewide efforts and plans.

“After attending the tourism meeting, I came away with a renewed excitement for the Bike Trail and its Port Hope connection” said Summit participant, Sid Holodnick from Port Hope, Mich.

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