I thought I had seen recreational boating before. But I'd not seen anything like the inland waterway in northern Michigan. That's a place of recreational boating.
This past Sunday we rented a pontoon boat at Indian River Marina and boated through the inland waterway (http://www.irchamber.com/inlandwaterway.htm). It was wonderful. The waterway consists of a series of lakes connected by rivers. The Native Americans used it to get from Lake Huron to Lake Michigan. In the late 1800s, commercial steamers carried passengers, mail and freight through the waterway from Crooked Lake to Lake Huron. Railroads proved to be the less expensive alternative and the commercial traffic on the waterway ceased. But then the tourists arrived. Now hundreds of boats traverse the waterway each summer weekend (and I'm sure plenty on the weekdays, too), bringing a wealth of tourist dollars to the communities along the waterway.
The waterway makes for a very enjoyable day of boating. Where the river goes through towns (such as Indian River and Alanson), one can view the cottage lifestyle. And what a lifestyle it appears to be from one who doesn’t have quite that leisurely of summers. The river is lined with many well-kept cottages/houses (along with the sheet piling on the shorelines), but the majority of the river system is natural habitat. It appears to be in pretty good shape, but I understand that zebra mussels have moved into the lakes. From the freeway overpass, I had seen a profusion of purple loosestrife in years past, but I did not see so much this year. Perhaps some beetles had been released there.
Based on my limited experience in the area, the inland waterway seems to be one of those natural features (ammended with some dredging)that’s turned into a prime tourist destination. The small swing-span bridge that let boats traverse the low clearance of a residential street represents an investment by the town of Alanson in the waterway. Perhaps in recognition of the importance of the waterway to the tourist economy, Tuscarora Township (Indian River area) has proposed a millage for the Veteran’s Pier project.
I don't know how much the area promotes the waterway. Maybe it doesn't need much promotion because everyone seems to know of it already. It's been a tourist destination for decades. One change over the years is the decrease in squirt gun activity between boats. One must now know that the other boat is willing to engage in consensual water play before firing. We wouldn't want the ever present cell phones to be at risk.
Not all communities have a built-in attraction of this kind. but the ones along the inland waterway have learned to take advantage of it. I think our community of Sault Sainte Marie could learn a little more about pleasure boating as an industrial cluster.