The Gateway Communities Initiative, a collaborative economic development group in Southeast Michigan, unveiled a new brand and website Sept. 28 to promote outdoor recreation in the area.
The project, titled "The Big 400," identifies an area of nearly 400 square miles of Southeast Michigan connected by public lands, waterways, and the communities in Washtenaw, Jackson, Livingston and Ingham counties, which includes Dexter, Manchester and Chelsea.
It’s a collaborative effort between the Department of Natural Resources, local governments and schools, several chambers of commerce, convention and visitors bureaus, the Legacy Land Conservancy, Dahlam Conservancy, the Michigan United Conversation Clubs, and area businesses.
"Working with our marketing experts, and the convention and visitors bureaus, we will promote the area for outdoor recreation and tourism," Bob Pierce, executive director of the Chelsea Area Chamber of Commerce said. "We also plan to identify business strategies that will help the communities grow their local commerce based on the natural assets of this area."
Dexter Township Supervisor Pat Kelly said she is excited to see the results of the marketing initiative.
"As a local government official, the economic development portion is certainly a large part of why I am concerned with the program," Kelly said. "In Dexter Township, about 33 percent of the land is publicly owned. This kind of partnership will let those parks be known and will hopefully draw people into our urban centers that can provide visitors with what they need when they come to town. It just all grows and grows eventually."
Sue Lackey, executive director of the Legacy Land Conservancy, said that by marketing and promoting recreational areas, “The Big 400" enhances the economic vitality of the local communities.
Paul Cousins, a resident of Dexter Village, agreed, stating: "All of these wonderful natural resources have been important to me all my life."
With the recent opening of Mill Creek Park and the border-to-border trail in the village, Cousins said he hopes more people will take advantage of the outdoor recreation opportunities.
"This is not just for us. It's wonderful to be able to introduce our parks to many people from the Detroit area, or Ohio and Indiana. That's what really excites me," Cousins said.
The economic strategy for the region is modeled after The Conservation Fund’s program “Balancing Nature and Commerce in Communities that Neighbor Public Lands,” according a press release. The project was lead by Mark Lantz of The Mark Lantz Project that developed the Pure Michigan campaign.
Pierce said the "Big 400" website will serve as an information hub for area parks and upcoming events in local communities.
"Our aim (with the website) is to aggregate the information that is already out there and drive traffic to local sites that do a good job of promoting events in our towns," he said.
One upcoming event, "Cranes, Colors and Cabernet," which celebrates the migration of the Sandhill cranes, is already featured on the site. The event is Oct. 19-21 and serves as a fundraiser for the Haehnle Bird Sanctuary.
For more information, visit www.thebig400.com.