Christine Schwerin, Michigan Department of Natural Resources
In Michigan, “up north” brings visions of tall, snow-covered pine trees, hiking trails winding through canopied forests and campgrounds filled with the sounds of kids playing. It’s far away from the hustle and concrete in the cities that spread across the lower portion of the state. When a friend says they’re going up north for the weekend, you know they’re heading upstate to enjoy the outdoors, shed some stress and reconnect with nature.
What happens to kids who have no way to get up north, who have never experienced life outside of the city? How can they know the beauty of up north if they’ve never been there? How will they develop a love for the outdoors without access to it? That’s the catalyst behind Michigan DNR’s Outdoor Adventure Center in Detroit: to inspire, educate and connect visitors to Michigan’s natural, historical and cultural resources.
The 41,000-square-foot brick building along Detroit’s riverfront opened in July 2015, and welcomed 50,000 visitors in the first seven months. Visitors can experience exciting outdoor adventures with hands-on activities, exhibits and simulators – they can walk behind and touch a waterfall, step into a fishing boat and reel in a big fish, hit the trail on a mountain bike or snowmobile, and much more. Kids learn about how the DNR manages state parks, forests, wildlife and fish as they climb the roots and explore the canopy of a massive bur oak tree, or hop aboard a real airplane, and see what’s swimming in the aquarium.
Getting to opening day was no easy feat. It took teams of people — architects, project managers, construction contractors, exhibit designers, education specialists, you name it — to get from conception to ribbon-cutting.
“We get about 250 school kids through here each day,” said Center Director Linda Walter. “Detroit is such a concentrated area of people with so many school districts that it keeps us really busy. It’s awesome to see all these kids.”
The center isn’t just for kids. “In the afternoons we get a lot of seniors coming in after the students have gotten back on the busses,” says Walter. “They weren’t necessarily a group that we anticipated or targeted, but they come and we love to have them. You don’t have to be a kid to love learning about nature and getting your hands on these exhibits.”
The Center’s meeting rooms have also drawn attention from Detroit-area businesses looking for a unique place to convene. Word of these meeting spaces got out early, with several large meetings and even a wedding booked and held well before the center was officially open. The referrals keep coming.
“Someone will come to attend a meeting and then come back with their families or book another meeting room for their own organization,” said Walter. That’s money that goes back into the center to keep it staffed, maintained and running smoothly.
Visit Michigan.gov/oac to learn more about the Outdoor Adventure Center. Visit Up North Downtown – Michigan’s Outdoor Adventure Center to watch a video.