By PAIGE LaBARGE
Capital News Service
LANSING—- The state’s effort to improve rural development by boosting tourism could bring broadband services to more Upper Peninsula parks, said Keith Creagh, director of the Department of Agriculture (MDA).
It would be a part of an effort by the Snyder administration to re-invent the agriculture industry by improving rural areas in the state, Creagh said.
“We plan to strategically enhance state parks by introducing broadband in outdoor, rural areas,” Creagh said.
Only one U.P. state park, Van Riper, near Marquette, offers wireless access now.
According to Creagh, no contracts have been signed with wireless providers yet, but he hopes broadband access will attract urban tourists to rural areas.
Jennifer Holton, public information officer at the MDA, said the goal is to improve both state parks and tourism.
“By combining these agriculture and tourism industries, the MDA plans to raise environmental standards and the overall quality of Michigan,” Holton said.
Dave Lorenz, managing director of Travel Michigan, the state’s official tourism promotion agency, said such service would attract campers who rely on the Internet. “This is a very new idea, but one that would definitely boost tourism and bring people to the more rural areas in the state, “Lorenz said.
Travel Michigan website mentions wireless access as a feature of Von Riper.
According to Lorenz, today’s traveler is younger and uses the Internet daily through cell phones and laptops. With broadband in state parks, they can plan activities and find places to eat.
“With the Internet in these areas, people can look up restaurants in nearby cities, find the weather and directions to outdoor activities,” Lorenz said.
Broadband can help connect rural and city areas, which can attract more tourism to the U.P.’s state parks, Lorenz said.
“For the Upper Peninsula, there is so much public land to explore,” Lorenz said. “Easier access to the Internet in these areas can only bring more tourists who aren’t as familiar with the land.”
Harold Herta, chief of parks and recreation resource management for the Department of Natural Resource and Environment, says the state has tried to introduce broadband to state parks before.
“In 2004, we had an initiative to bring wireless access to outdoor areas, like Van Riper State Park, but people had to pay for the service and it ultimately pushed people away,” Herta said. “Our agency knew we had to change this to compete with the free Internet offered at other tourism venues.”
According to Herta, Wi-Fi is a popular amenity that would boost both tourism and recreational experiences.
“This is a new concept, but hopefully as it grows, people will see how it can bring in local tourists who haven’t experienced the rural parts of Michigan,” Herta said.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.
By PAIGE LaBARGE