This is a story about a Northern Michigan community responding to the economic challenges brought on by changes in the region’s natural resources, shifting public interests, and a changing climate. It’s also a story about cooperation between community leaders and many different organizations to protect critical habitats while diversifying the local economy.
On the north shore of Lake Huron, the Les Cheneaux Community includes the small towns of Hessel and Cedarville in Clark Township as well as a stunning collection of 36 small islands that decorate the coast like emeralds. For much of the last century, the community enjoyed a nature-based tourist economy based on excellent fishing and hunting as well as snowmobiling in the winter. But over the last 20 years or so, things have changed.
Speaking with the Les Cheneaux Community Foundation President, Ken Drenth and Clark Township Supervisor, Gary Reid, we learned that the numbers of people actively involved in fishing and hunting have declined – consistent with a national trend. And a changing climate has meant less snow and shorter winters, resulting in less snowmobiling than in the past.
As described by Eliot Nelson, Michigan SeaGrant Educator and noted bird ecologist, the community has worked with the Little Traverse Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy and several other organizations to diversify the nature-based recreation offerings available in the Les Cheneaux Region. In addition to a new water trail for paddlers and mountain-biking options, the community has launched the North Lake Huron Birding Trail.
Amy Polk, Executive Director of the Les Cheneaux Chamber of Commerce, says that the new trail includes dozens of mapped and well described bird discovery sites extending from the Mackinac Straits to Drummond Island. The Trail helps people access over 4 miles of shoreline area and thousands of acres of land protected by the Little Traverse Conservancy and The Nature Conservancy, filling a growing demand for birding opportunities and eco-tourism.
By diversifying their nature-based recreation opportunities, this community is making an intentional shift toward greater economic resilience. Greater resilience will help this community cope with continuing changes and even unexpected changes in the future.