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Michigan Tourism Group Receives National Honor

The National Association of State Park Directors today announced its annual award recipients for contributions and support of state parks and state park systems across the United States. “It is always great to recognize the amazing supporters that give of themselves to America’s State Parks,” commented Dominic Bravo, NASPD President. NASPD recognized the contributions of Michigan Cares for Tourism with a President’s Award for a statewide organization. The award was presented Thursday at NASPD’s annual meeting at French Lick Resort, French Lick, Indiana. Michigan Cares for Tourism, a 100 percent volunteer, 100 percent give-back partnership was created by Patty Janes, PhD, a professor at Grand Valley State University, and forged between Michigan tourism organizations Travel Michigan (the Pure Michigan brand manager), Indian Trails, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). The mission of Michigan Cares for Tourism, known on social media as #MC4T, is to unite groups to help restore Michigan’s historic attractions, learn about the state’s tourism destinations, and network across industry segments, ultimately to enhance visitors’ experience, and to be more involved professionals.

Since 2014, nearly 900 tourism professionals from Destination Marketing Organizations, attractions, lodging properties, transportation organizations, parks and recreation sites, professional associations, universities and others have volunteered time and talents to support Michigan cares for Tourism “voluntourism” events. These efforts provide $307,000 in labor and supply savings for MDNR at four historical locations, including Waterloo Recreation Areas’ Historic Mill Lake, Belle Isle Park, the Sturgeon Point Lighthouse, and Fayette Historic State Park. Based on the national non-profit Tourism Cares, the group offers a multi-day event that includes experiencing the highlights of the host community, followed by a full-day volunteer event. Each participant pays $50 to participate in the experience, as well as paying for his or her lodging. Food, entertainment and volunteer materials are provided, as well as a free T-shirt. Indian Trails’ motor coaches with stops along routes from the four corners of Michigan provide travel to and from the event at no charge to riders. When they arrive, participants enjoy the food, beer and wine, and hospitality of the most unique places in the region, all planned by the host community, most often the local convention & visitor’s bureau, as a way to show off what makes their place special. In the past, this has included trout farm and glass bottom boat tours, free tickets to a Detroit Tigers game, visits to museums and a maple syrup farm, and private pace car rides at Michigan International Speedway.

After a busy day of adventure in Michigan’s hidden tourism gems, the participants stay at the host lodging option, which provides a special Michigan Cares for Tourism rate. The next morning, teams are randomly assigned and given their project for the day. Each host venue is responsible for creating the scope of work for the project, as well as the associated materials list and total volunteer capacity. This plan determines what each team will do for the day, and what MC4T needs to be donated prior to the event, as well as how many participants can register. The last two events have been sold out, with waiting lists. Volunteer work may include basic manual labor tasks, such as brush clearing, painting and staining, but has also offered hand-on experience in plastering, archaeology and invasive species identification and eradication. This year’s group will work on the Felt Mansion in Saugatuck Dunes State Park. The 98-year-old mansion and carriage house are popular tourist destinations and need the extra care that Michigan Cares 4 Tourism volunteers can provide.

Patty Janes’ foresight and organization in creating Michigan Cares for Tourism has made a significant difference. These historic sites are no longer degrading because of the lack of attention and upkeep and these projects will keep them in good shape for many more years. The added benefit of networking and partnering between Chambers of Commerce, Tourism Businesses, hospitality students and Michigan State Parks is one worth repeating in other states. The mission of the Association is to promote and advance the state park systems of America for their own significance, as well as for their important contributions to the nation’s environment, heritage, health and economy. Collectively, America’s State Parks include more than 10,250 areas encompassing over 18.3 million acres, and received 760 million visitors in 2015.