What’s SUP? Michigan state parks lure diverse users with Rec 101

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The sport of stand-up paddle boarding,  SUP for short,  is expanding rapidly in the Great Lakes region. Photo: vikapproved (flickr)

If you want to know if that latest fitness trend lives up to the hype, you can find out for free in Michigan’s state parks.

They’re offering more than just trail running.

Beginner kayaking, windsurfing, and even stand-up paddle boarding – what the Wall Street Journal recently referred to as the “fitness rage of the summer” – are just a few of the classes in Recreation 101. The program is designed to get people into state parks. Local outfitters volunteer their expertise and gear in beginner classes that also include archery, disc golf and orienteering.

“If you ever wanted to try something outside, but you don’t have gear because it’s expensive, or don’t have someone to teach you, we offer expert instructor to show you how,” said Maia Stephens, a Recreational Programmer for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “The gear is provided so you don’t have to worry about making an investment in something you don’t know how to do.

“It started last year, with the 2011 season,” Stephens said. “We had 87 events and 4,000 people participated. We’re offering 500 events this year. It seems to be growing quite well.

While Stephens supports the opportunities offered at Michigan’s state parks, other groups aren’t thrilled. Go Get Outdoors, a group based in southeast Michigan, is devoted to the protection of the state’s natural resources. Members believe the state parks need upkeep, not classes.

“The DNR has lost their focus,” said Robert Golda, an avid hiker and the head of Go Get Outdoors. “They’re focused on controlling everyone’s recreation experience.

“I don’t need them to tell me I should kayak,” he said. “If I want to go, I’ll find my own group and go do it.”

But for some outfitters, Recreation 101 provides them the opportunity to introduce their sport to new users.

One of the bigger hits this summer is stand-up paddle boarding, or SUP. Paddle the Mitten, a southeast Michigan outfitter, normally offers a private lesson for $65, but offered free instruction for Rec 101.

“Throughout the summer we’ve done eight programs, two lessons a day,” said Linda Brown, stand-up paddle board professional and owner of Paddle the Mitten. And those classes are usually full.

Her father inspired her volunteer efforts to bring the sport inland.

“My father said, ‘You should look at state parks for something you can do in nature to get people on water to experience Michigan in a different way,’” Brown said.

His advice matches the goals of Recreation 101.

“The goal of Rec 101, in a way, is to get people who don’t normally come to the park to get there and see it in a different way,” she said.

Brown wants to expand stand-up paddle boarding throughout the state.

“State parks and the Michigan DNR are a great outlet for it,” she said. “We can spread the word, spread the aloha.”

Classes and the park entrance are free for residents with a recreation passport.  The two-year-old passport program

A DNR officer demonstrates the finer points of camping. Photo: Michigan DNR

allows entry onto any state-owned land. Instead of the normal $24 a year park pass, people can sign up for a $10 recreation passport when they renew car registration

The Recreation 101 program is an offshoot of the agency’s first time camper program to bring people back into the woods.

“People were not signing up to go camping,” Stephens said. “People didn’t know how, and didn’t have gear.

“We provided gear, and expert instruction on how to set up a tent and start a campfire.”

The program created return campers – about 22 percent are still camping, Stephens said.

That’s the kind of success the DNR hopes to see with Recreation 101.

The program encourages lifestyle and hobby changes, Stephens said.  “We want people outside in Michigan’s woods and waters.”

Recreation versus Conservation — Are they two Different Goals?

Golda also wants people in the parks. He initially supported Recreation 101 and was involved in several of its events in southeast Michigan, including volunteering to help prepare banners for its kick-off last summer.  But a basic philosophical difference between Golda and the program changed his attitude.

The Recreation 101 banner Photo: Michigan DNR

“The banners said Conquering Recreation 101,” he said. He immediately sent out e-mails to the Department of Natural Resources explaining that he felt that the idea of conquering nature sent a bad message to the public.

“They think we are supposed to conquer our natural world” Golda said. “That’s a horrible lesson to teach a child — ‘here, go conquer that tree.’

“People ask me why hasn’t the DNR taken passport money to repair outhouses or potholes in a park entrance road.”

Golda would rather see the parks maintain trails and remove invasive species — which he says is left up to volunteer groups like the Eagle Scouts.

“Who cares if you have a Recreation 101 program in a park that’s taken over by invasive species.

“There’s a trail I hike to get back to a fen area that’s not usable anymore,” Golda said. “Fix that and I’ll create my own recreational experience.”

Stephens doesn’t see recreation and conservation as an either/or.

“I consider them very, very similar, she said. That’s a challenge we talk about all the time.”  She points out that part of the motto of Michigan’s DNR includes the phrase “for the enjoyment of Michigan residents.”

“Finding a balance, that is really our role,” Stephens said.

The reality is that conservation takes money.

“Everybody wants our resources and lands to be preserved and protected forever,” she said. “That takes funding.”

People are more apt to support parks that are a part of their daily lives, she said.

For Sleepy Hollow park ranger Tim Machowicz, the new programs are part of a grass roots effort to rebuild Michigan’s population of hunters and anglers. His park offers classes in archery and fishing.

“It’s a next generation introduction,” he said. “There’s not the family connection there used to be.”

Only five people showed up to the park’s first archery class, but those numbers increased to 65 people at the second class. The most recent class had 45 participants.

“We are introducing sports to kids,” Machowicz said. “It gets the whole family into the park.”

For Stephens, whose disc golf throw improved from her own participation in Recreation 101, the goal is for her hands-on experiences with natural resources to be a part of the lives of all Michigan residents.

“I want them to have Michigan memories too,” she said.

Regardless of criticism, the DNR has no plans to slow the program. Stephens reports that next year the focus is to make the parks a health and fitness destination.

“We have four seasons of recreation opportunities if you are willing to hike in winter or get creative,” she said. “People sit on couch because they can’t afford gym.

“The DNR is looking to partner with gyms and rehabilitation facilities to offer more programs,” she said.

Yoga and tai chi classes are already planned for state park beaches. Brown plans to offer stand-up paddle boarding in combination with yoga and Pilates.

Interested in Recreation 101? Upcoming classes can be found here, through the Department of Natural Resources.

10 thoughts on “What’s SUP? Michigan state parks lure diverse users with Rec 101

  1. Just was reading a few things. Thought you all would be interested in further info On Conquering Recreation 101. You know it just won the Presidents Award for 2012. The DNR just issued a Press Release that the Conquering Recreation 101 Program has won the Presidents Award for new Parks Program, for the whole USA. WOW…….what an honor. This must really be a successful Program, led by Mia Stevens, fresh out of college, and with literally no Outdoor experience. How did she do it. Could we see some of your Data or Stats on the people and numbers attending these Programs Mia? Maybe your boss, Ron Olsen has this information. Ron sits on the AWARADS Committee that selected Conquering Recreation 101 for this Presidents award. What! You say. Ron Olsen, the head of Parks & Recreations for our DNR sits on the selecting Committee for this award? I think next year……I am going to give myself an award. heck…..I am giving myself an award for every year from here on. See how deep these questionable things at the DNR go. Linear Bike PATHWAYS controlled again, by Ron Olsen and his Parks & Recreation division. After Trails control was moved to his department. Will Ron be elected King soon?
    Awards Committee
    Northeast Region
    Phil Bryce (NH)
    Southeast Region
    (vacant)
    North-Central Region
    Ron Olson (MI)
    Central Region
    Stuart Johnson (LA)
    Northwest Region
    Tim Wood (OR)
    Southwest Region
    Tommy Mutz (NM)

  2. Most of the Comments from this article agree that the DNR should not be spending our PASSPORT money on Conquering the Outdoors, while they let long overdue maintenance just sit. Mia Steven quoted the DNR Mission statement. Does she know that this Mission statement has been changed 4 times in the last 5 years, and that the words she quoted about the DNR supplying enjoyment for the people of Michigan, has only recently been added to the DNRs Mission statement. For over 50 years these words where never part of the DNR Mission statement. But taking care of our Natural Resources WAS. Mia is an inexperienced youngster, and has no long-term experience with the DNR or even the Outdoors in the state of Michigan.

  3. Forgive me Andrew after 7 years of dealing with the DNR I have lost all respect for them. There is nothing wrong with teaching kids about the outdoors, I was a scout. If the lakes are full of Asian Carp carp, you’ll only need snaging hooks, or just let them jump in the boat. The DNR is paid to protect our natural resources, yet they just told the whole world the alewives have to be saved. Alewives eat the same thing as asian carp. I want to see kids that can’t wait to get up on Saturday morning and ride thier bikes to the pier to catch a bucket of Perch. They can’t do that because Perch eat alewives so we ain’t allowed to have them, in high numbers. I’m surprised the DNR hasn’t raised the perch limit to 100, just to make sure thier numbers stay low.

  4. I like this idea …., many people have no clue where to start with outdoor activities, and many in this state suffer from nature-deficieny. However, I would have appreciated knowing about this program before the end of summer as I would have gotten involved in SUP lessons myself — they have been on my short list for a while. Where was the advertising for this effort from teh DNR? Surely lots went into the planning, what about the outreach to get the word out there about these programs? Why put the effort in, if only a few hear about the program — in this way it’s a bit of a waste I think, but, getting these type of articles out to the public will help, and I hope it helps folks get outside more. Cheers,

  5. Tom, no one is forcing anyone to enjoy nature in any particular way. The DNR is just giving people more options, in an effort to encourage people to get outside and try something new. The DNR is not telling you that you HAVE to “enjoy it their way”. Why all the negativity for such a great program?

    As far as leaning some of the maintenance up to groups like the Scouts, I don’t see anything wrong with that. I am a scout leader and I love taking my boys out into the woods for many reasons- conservation, fun and learning new things being a few of those reasons. Promoting new ideas and natural area conservation are NOT mutually exclusive.

  6. The DNR is not forcing people to enjoy nature, not what I said. They are forcing people to enjoy thier version of nature that benefits them. Example, we are forced to sacrifice the natural fishery, and the salmon are being forced down everyones throats. If you dont fish salmon you fish for leftovers. Pure fact!

  7. The DNR is not forcing people to enjoy nature – they are simply giving visitors an option or suggestions in the event they may not know what to do when they arrive at a park. In addition, some parents want to introduce their children to the great park system, but don’t know how. These events provide opportunities. Are you judging and critizing parents because they may not be able to think of things on their own? Preservation and recreation can be accomplished at the same time folks. I should know:-)

  8. I agree the DNR needs to stop trying to force people to enjoy nature thier way. Protect nature first, it needs no help drawing a crowd.

  9. A small group of us has formed the Wolverine Hiking Club over 20 yrs. ago. Our goal is to bring a outdoor event to those that may not have the gear, or knowledge to do this on their own.

    For our great State to provide this same type event to anyone who would like to try it, is great!!! Let us know if we can be of any help to keep this going. We provide free help, when we can to other groups. Keep up the good work.

  10. It’s important to get more people in touch with nature, but promoting destructive activities such as mountain biking and disc golf in sensitive natural areas is not the way to go. Disc golf may sound benign, but when Wayne County Parks established a disc golf course in a natural area the entire understory becamed trampelled, which decimated the spring wildflowers which once were abundant. Similarly, mountain bike and other trails need to limited to appropriate locations–not placed everywhere. Natural resource protection should be first and foremost in the minds of DNR and other park officials.

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