Letter: Don't ban booze on Michigan rivers

The Detroit News

An assault on our Pure Michigan way of life is well underway from an unexpected foe – the U.S. Forest Service.

The North Country Trails are seen on a sunny fall day on Oct. 16. Grand Sable Banks can be seen in the distance,  rising some 300 feet above Lake Superior.

The U.S. Forest Service recently announced – and is now delaying – a ban on consuming alcohol along the most popular and widely used sections of three rivers in the Huron-Manistee National Forest in northern Michigan. From May 24 to Sept. 2, alcohol will be banned on portions of the AuSable, Manistee and Pine rivers, and within 200 feet of the three rivers. Those who are caught consuming alcohol at those locations could be fined up to $5,000 or spend six months in jail.

We have always supported the safe and responsible consumption of alcoholic beverages, as allowed under state law. However, this new ban is an overreach by the federal government and an assault on a favorite pastime of those who go “up north” during the summer. Plus, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

Floating down the AuSable, Manistee or Pine rivers with a can of beer or wine in hand on a lazy summer afternoon is as Pure Michigan as it gets. By banning alcohol on or near those three rivers, bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., are dictating how Michiganians should spend their summers, and that’s just not right.

This ban is more than just an attack on summer fun. It would also hurt small northern Michigan towns that rely on the influx of tourists every summer to fund education, public safety and infrastructure improvements. Small mom and pop retailers that invest in their communities and call these towns home also count on these tourists.

This ban will have a domino effect, starting with tourists who flock from West Michigan, Metro Detroit and neighboring Illinois, Ohio and Indiana to Northern Michigan, and will end with Michigan’s small craft brewers and winemakers that provide the flavors of a Pure Michigan summer.

Michigan is home to more than 300 craft breweries and brewpubs and more than 200 wineries. Our state is widely recognized as a top beer and wine producer in the country and home to some of the Midwest’s most popular beers and wines. Michigan’s beer and wine industries have a more than $10.5 billion economic impact on the state’s economy every year.

Banning alcohol on or near these rivers will cut into the foot traffic local breweries and wineries rely on from out-of-towners and out-of-staters who visit the area during the summer months.

Northern Michigan beer and wine distributors, the bridge connecting retailers with small brewers and winemakers, also rely on the summer tourist season as they work hand-in-glove with breweries and wineries to help them succeed today and in the future.

This overreach by the federal government will have a drastic impact on our Pure Michigan way of life, and cripple small businesses throughout northern Michigan that rely on the influx of tourists every summer. We urge the U.S. Forest Service to use a more thoughtful approach moving forward – which takes the concerns of local businesses and state rights into consideration – before tourists float their way to another part of the state – or worse yet – out of Michigan.

Spencer Nevins, Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association

Dan Papineau, Michigan Chamber of Commerce

Stacie Bytwork, Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce

Jackie Krawczak, Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce

Amy Drumm, Michigan Retailers Association

Scott Graham, Michigan Brewers Guild

Scott Ellis, Michigan Licensed Beverage Association

Connor Spaulding, Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association

Auday Arabo, Midwest Independent Retailers Association

Rob Elhenicky, Wine Producers Association of Michigan

Molly Drenkard, Anheuser Busch