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Balancing act between industry and tourism

April 9, 2008
Sean Harkins
Fifth in a series

To those concerned with the impact new energy sources may have on tourism, the sturgeon may serve as a cautionary tale.

Before the Thunder Bay River was dammed, the river’s rapids were the ideal ecosystem for sturgeon.

“They were the spawning destination for the sturgeon in Northeast Michigan,” Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Jim Johnson said.

The sturgeon died out 50 years after dams were built on the river, and have not returned. Johnson said the chief impediment to the rehabilitation of the fish is the dams.

He said the disappearance of sturgeon was one overlooked aspect of what looked like a new, green form of energy.

”Hydro power seems green in that it doesn’t use oil,” he said, adding it affects fish populations.

If the sturgeon was still in the area, more tourists may be here to fish for it, Johnson said.

Rick Craner, maintenance manager for North American Hydro, said with the dams already in place there isn’t a major threat to the fish population already in the river.

Craner said North American Hydro, the company that owns the dams on the river, conducted a study with the Great Lakes Environmental Center that determined 95-99 percent of fish that pass through the dams do so without being harmed.

He said they work with the DNR and Audubon Society to minimize the dams’ impact on wildlife.

Since the dams have weakened the river’s rapids, Johnson said the region’s potential to be a white-water rafting destination has been lost.

“(People) don’t realize we have some of the best white water for rafting in Northeast Michigan,” he said. “But it’s under the dams.”

The Audubon Society has its own concerns with Northeast Michigan’s latest green energy interest, wind turbines.

Thunder Bay Audubon Society President Linda Klemens said if wind turbines take hold in the region - there currently are test sites in Rogers City — it could affect the migratory pattern of birds.

Klemens said if turbines are placed in the usual migratory route of birds, the birds will simply choose a different route.

“They will reroute. They will avoid whatever that disturbance is, so if they avoid that disturbance, they are leaving the area.” she said. “You won’t see them again.”

She said bird watching is the second most popular recreation in the country behind gardening.

A festival in Roscommon to view the Kirtland Warbler draws many tourists, as does viewing the osprey on Fletcher Pond in Alpena County, Klemens said.

U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak said he didn’t foresee any major issues with the use of wind energy with tourism. He said he has heard some people are worried the wind turbines will be eyesores, but he said it is unlikely they will be on popular lakeshore properties because it is too valuable.

“If it’s done right, you don’t have to worry about it affecting tourism,” he said, adding that zoning ordinances also would keep wind turbines out of certain areas.

Alpena Mayor Carol Shafto said zoning likely will keep wind turbines out of the city, but the environment is something she feels affects tourism in the city.

She said local factories have made an effort to be more environmental and air pollution and odors from the factories have been reduced, which she believes is better for tourism.

Alpena Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Deb Pardike said green energy could have a positive impact on tourism.

“If going green helps preserve the state’s natural resources, that’s a bonus for everybody right there,” she said.

Pardike said if going green is economical and creates jobs in the state, an increase in tourism revenue likely will follow.

“If all of these initiatives work toward improving our economy, then that means the people that live in the state of Michigan are going to have more money in their pockets and have more discretionary money for travel,” she said.

In-state travel is a very important source of revenue in the tourism industry, and has been lacking with a weak economy, Pardike said.

She also said hotels and places of interest may attract eco-conscious tourists by going green.

“(Tourists) may actually choose to stay in one place over another because it calls itself green,” she said.

Shafto said she isn’t sure if people will visit the area because it has green communities, but the lack of green initiatives could push visitors away.

“I don’t think somebody is going to come here because we have a green building, but if we didn’t have things in our environment and something happened to our air quality or water quality that would detract,” she said.

Sean Harkins can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 358-5688.


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