Grant will help fund boating tourism study

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A portion of $471,000 that the federal government awarded to Michigan Sea Grant will help Great Lakes coastal communities capitalize on growth in recreational boating.

Michigan Sea Grant will choose four coastal towns, including at least one on Lake St. Clair, to participate in a one-year study that will help them find ways to attract more tourists to their harbors. The findings will be published so other cities and towns can get ideas for maximizing the advantages of their harbors, the Capital News Service reported.

Officials say the study is needed, in part, because of a shift from solely fishing boats in the harbors to the large recreational boats that now frequent them.

“All over the map, we see some huge boats,” said Mark Breederland, Sea Grant Extension educator based in Traverse City.

“It’s a different crop of boats than it was 20 years ago,” said Breederland, who works in Emmet, Charlevoix, Antrim, Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Benzie and Manistee counties.

That’s changing the services harbors need to offer, including larger slips, different kinds of dock rentals and better electrical outlets.

Alpena recently began to offer month-to-month slip rentals to attract more boat-cruising tourists. Slip occupancy last summer was up 8 percent from the previous year and diesel sales increased by 35 percent, city manager Greg Sundin said.

Along the Lake Huron coast, that has been an important economic replacement for disappearing salmon fishing, he said.

“Fishing is still there, but I think a lot of it is just recreational boating, and that’s important,” Sundin said. “Even if it’s a short stay, we have a lot of things near the marina for them to do and spend money on.”

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