Paying the Price of Success

Captain Mike SutherlandThere is usually a quantifiable measure of hypocrisy when any commercial operation uses Mother Nature as a resource and believes that there are no negative impacts as a result, and it is humbling to realize The River Outfitters’ contribution in bringing new industry to the pristine Boardman River Valley and West Bay.

In 2009, we annexed our kayak, bike, and SUP eco tour/livery business in a state of entrepreneurial innocence, with just 20 or so pieces of equipment on the old zoo property at Clinch Park. At the time, we were the only federally licensed eco-tour operator in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park on the shores of the sleepy and delicate Crystal River and brought that spirit of eco-tourism to Traverse City with pure intentions (YouTube search “the river glen arbor” and click on the guy wearing the mustard shirt). We then partnered with the City of Traverse City to bring safe and clean recreation and food to what has become one of the most visited tourist locations in all of the Midwest. That location was recently turned over to the highest bidder, and we moved across the street.

Now, just seven years later after starting out at Clinch Park, our “success” has become possibly our biggest disappointment as we and three other late coming business are ferociously competing to get as many locals and tourists alike using and depleting these incredible and sensitive natural and cultural resources. Our entire staff at The River is worried that it is “too much” for the environment as well as the cultural identity of our city. 20 events will be happening summer 2016 with 500 kayaks – at $110 a piece – paddling down the lower Boardman in a five hour period, stopping for a pint of craft beer or cider at seven brewpubs, and finishing at Clinch Park Beach.

Quite frankly, it’s too much and we feel partly responsible.

So, we are going to do something about it: Beginning June 26th, we will be doing weekly clean ups on Boardman Lake, the Boardman River and West Bay as well as the land around each brew pub on Sunday mornings to stem the mess created on Saturdays. We leave The River at 8 AM, return at 10 AM, and 6 volunteers are needed every week. To make it worth your while, we’re offering everyone who signs up a free rental half-day rental of a bike, kayak, or standup paddleboard (subject to availability).

We will also be directly partnering with at least the TART Trails, Boardman River Preservation Society and Grand Traverse Watershed for fundraising and revenue sharing. And we will be working directly with our competitors as well as the brew pubs and restaurants on the river to limit the amount of people that so obviously are saturating the City. Incidentally, the River Outfitters will be limiting group sizes to not more than 20 and always offering a well insured, First Aid/CPR trained guide on all our tours.

We will intentionally be out front and competent in our efforts to maintain a level of altruistic activism that we hope will have a net positive impact on both the environment and culture of “our” City, County, State, Country and Planet. We also hope we’ll be addressing this hypocrisy without being dorks about it.

So please stop in for a free cup of fresh brewed Higher Grounds Coffee to learn more and see if you can help. (There is a lot going on right now).

Captain Michael Sutherland