Macomb County lake initiatives look to bring tourists

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Harrison Township — Macomb County officials Thursday introduced a new festival and touted projects to draw more people to Lake St. Clair, an economic engine that drives $1.7 billion into the county.

At MacRay Harbor, with a backdrop of teal blue waters, officials highlighted a program for fighting invasive species, revitalization plans for a marina and the creation of a new paddle park as a part of the county’s Blue Economy Initiative, started in 2011 to improve access and environmental health of Lake St. Clair and its tributaries.

“It’s going to be a destination,” Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said about a project slated for New Baltimore, which received a $2.85 million Michigan Trust Fund grant to buy and develop Schmid Marina. “We have the potential, beauty right here, and we need to promote it.”

According to county figures, there are 64 marinas in Macomb.

Nicki Polan, executive director for the Michigan Boating Industries Association, said Macomb represents Michigan’s third largest boating county and the state has the third largest marina market in the country. In 2015, Michiganians spent more than $750 million on boats and boating supplies.

Other projects announced Thursday to bring more tourists to the waters in Macomb County include:

■Lake St. Clair’s Tourism Initiative’s first Southeast Michigan Bootlegger Festival on Oct. 1 on the Nautical Mile’s Colony Marine. Also, Blossom Heath Speakeasy for views of antique boats, a brewery festival and tastes of restaurants on the Nautical Mile

■Macomb/St. Clair Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area’s work to end phragmite colonies

■Chesterfield Township’s plans to create the Wayne and Joan Webber Paddle Park to intersect Macomb County’s trails and coastal paddling routes

■Michigan Sea Grant’s Small Harbors program’s plan to create a walkable downtown in New Baltimore

■Clinton River Spillway Habitat Restoration’s project to improve fish spawning habitats and reduce phosphorus and sediment with $4 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Environmental Protection agency

■Opening of the Jimmy John’s Field Baseball Park in Utica, which is preventing further leeching of a former landfill on that property into the Clinton River to keep Lake St. Clair’s waters clean

Brig. Gen. John Slocum reviewed plans for Selfridge Air National Guard Base’s centennial celebration in 2017. It will feature an Air Force Thunderbirds air show above Lake St. Clair and an open house of the base.

“We are going to work to make it a lake-oriented event so that people can pull up to it in their boats,” Slocum said.

Heckel and Polan said such events and activities will complement the county’s boating and other recreational activities and will draw families to the waters for generations.

“Boating and fishing are heritage sports,” Polan said. “They’re passed down generation to generation, and they offer quality time — face to face away from technology — helping people connect the right way and making memories that last a lifetime.”