Great Lakes
The Marquette waterfront is pictured. A former industrial area (the Upper Harbor ore dock is visible in the background) has evolved into a recreational venue with light business uses. (Journal file photo)

Great Lakes - Small coastal towns love the water but ‘don’t want to be Traverse City’

MARQUETTE — The relationship between residents of coastal communities and their local water heritage can advance restoration efforts, create recreational opportunities and promote tourism and economic growth, a new study says.

At the same time, that relationship can create tensions between environmental and economic interests, it says.

“Widespread deindustrialization has changed the landscape and character of many Michigan communities,” according to researchers from Michigan State University and the Office of the Great Lakes in the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

“In response to these often-devastating changes, natural resources agencies have invested in restoration projects along waterfronts to facilitate a shift from an industrial past to new recreation and tourism development,” they wrote in the Journal of Great Lakes Research.

They based their findings on community engagement interviews and focus groups.

One element of the research was designed to measure the socioeconomic impacts of waterways restoration projects, such as construction of boardwalks and kayak launches, removal of invasive species and beach cleanups. It was carried out in Alpena, Manistee, Sault Ste. Marie and Port Huron, four small cities with waterfront industrial heritages.

The other element involved interviews with visitors to a Smithsonian Institution Water/Ways traveling exhibit in Harrisville, Big Rapids, East Jordan, Niles, Owosso, Beaver Island and Detroit. The questions there focused on the roles of water in visitors’ lives.

Participants described water as a place to both feel something special and do something special. They agreed that “water is for enjoyment,” including “spiritual fulfillment, recreation and family/social sharing,” and that “water identity is a feature that binds groups across communities,” the study said.

Even so, it said participants reported a difference between their individual values — for example, the environmental benefits of water resources — and community water values, such as economic and tourism benefits.

Lead author Lissy Goralnik said, “Everyone mentioned they don’t want to be Traverse City. People from there can no longer afford to live there.”

Residents interviewed in Manistee, Alpena, Sault Ste. Marie and Port Huron understand the Traverse City experience where tourism has had a positive impact in terms of good health care and young people with new ideas moving in “but they don’t want it to explode,” said Goralnik, an assistant professor of community sustainability at MSU.

Read more.