The Midwest is America's surprising new outdoor hotspot | Ohio

aAt a nondescript mall in Beavercreek, a quiet suburb in southwestern Ohio, employees are unpacking the latest in camping gear, bikes and kayaks ahead of the grand opening. Fifth REI co-op location in Ohio.

In a region that has relied for decades on manufacturing and Air Force bases for its economic lifeblood, Beaver Creek and large swaths of the post-industrial Midwest, surrounded by farmland and green streets, are not far from the outdoors. The image of bliss may not come to mind.

But industry insiders have a different view.REI has 23 million members nationwide. Ohio Membership has grown from approximately 80,000 in 2015 to 400,000 today.

“There's a campground right down the street, a local state park with top rope routes bolted for climbing, and even a mountain bike-only park,” says Sam Metcalfe, manager of REI Beaver Creek. says. “Most cities don't have anything like that.”

While outdoor gear stores are closed in the subway, Los Angeles, San Francisco and OregonThe post-industrial Midwest is poised for a new frontier as communities begin to realize that revitalizing rivers, trails, and parks is a surefire way to boost the economy now that heavy industry is in the rearview mirror. It is emerging as something like this.

This year, REI also plans to open stores upstate in Albany and Ithaca. new york.

research from Outdoor Industry Association The study found that participation in outdoor recreation has increased faster in recent years in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic region, including New York state, than in most other regions of the country.

ohio, michigan, wisconsinIndiana and Illinois show participation rates increased by 6% between 2019 and 2023. That's a faster pace than regions including traditional outdoor hotspots like California, Colorado, and Montana.

REI didn't choose these locations out of the blue. Just a 5-minute drive from the new Beavercreek REI Store. Great American Rail Trail, an ambitious cross-country project that will eventually connect Washington, D.C., to the Pacific Ocean along a dedicated continuous trail path. It is also near the Little Miami River. Designated as a national river of scenic beauty It is popular among anglers and rowers.

Similar scenes are occurring in central and northern New York.

During World War II, the Ithaca Gun Factory employed nearly 1,000 people producing firearms for the U.S. military and civilians. By 1962, 1 in 3 workers He was employed in manufacturing in Tompkins County, Ithaca.

Since then, the city of about 100,000 people at the heart of the Finger Lakes region has pivoted to putting its outdoor assets at the heart of its economy. Many of the tourists are outdoor recreationists, and Buttermilk Falls State Park and its 500-foot waterfalls and rapids attract tourists, who spend about $225 million in Tompkins County each year. 358,000 people In 2021.

“Outdoor recreation really took off in this area after the pandemic,” says Jennifer Wells, an outdoor recreation educator who runs Paddle and More, a watercraft rental company on the shores of Cayuga Lake north of Ithaca.

“We saw a growth rate of about 45% in the summers of 2020 and 2021.”

Wells said she's excited to have REI coming to town, although she's partially concerned about what it will mean for Ithaca's existing outdoor stores.

“We're always thinking about how we're going to develop as a destination. The city of Ithaca and Tompkins County want to promote outdoor recreation, so REI will likely be a focus.”

Two hours north of Albany, a former manufacturing hub with an REI co-op store set to open this year, hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested. To local winter sports facilities Lake Placid was the site of the 1980 Winter Olympics.

In Detroit's northern suburbs, a $20 million project transformed the Clinton River from a garbage dump to a waterway. There are thousands of people today Kayakers and others paddle downstream toward Lake St. Clair.

But the region's transition from its industrial past hasn't always been easy. A region-wide legacy of industrial pollution in Detroit, Milwaukee, and other places; spend hundreds of millions of dollars Just the cost of cleaning and restoration.

Lead contamination from the site of the former Ithaca Gun Factory, located just a short distance from the stunning 150-foot-tall Ithaca Falls, cost millions of dollars to clean up. Environmental activists' claims Dangerous levels of chemicals remain.

Grand Rapids, Michigan, plans to include a whitewater feature as part of a broader restoration plan for the Grand River downtown area. scrapped Because of concerns raised by the Environmental Protection Agency. The project, which has been in the works for 15 years, would have removed several low-head dams that were known to pose a drowning hazard and replaced them with wave facilities. The EPA withdrew the permit application with the city of Grand Rapids in March, arguing that the characteristics of the rapids could pose a safety hazard.

Still, billions of Government infrastructure funding The outdoor industry will continue to thrive, with expansion into the region, which is expected to see job and population growth in the coming years.

“People are looking for outdoor recreation,” Wells said. Wells also runs a children's adventure camp on Cayuga Lake, the longest of the 11 Finger Lakes.

“And Ithaca is a lovely place.”

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/article/2024/may/12/us-midwest-outdoor-hotspot The Midwest is America's surprising new outdoor hotspot | Ohio

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