Make Mother Nature your cruise director

Consider eco-friendly ways to get out and have fun this summer

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published June 25, 2014

METRO DETROIT — For most Michiganders, summer means spending time with family and friends outside in our state’s extraordinary landscape.

Not enough of us, however, think of ways we can work to preserve that landscape while enjoying Michigan’s parks and shores.

Several organizations are working to spread the word on how residents can enjoy a Great Lakes summer without having a great impact on the environment. That starts with creating an eco-friendly summer itinerary, according to Maia Turek, recreation programmer with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“Bird watching is always a good one,” said Turek. “But my favorite would probably have to be geocaching. It’s actually a global phenomenon — like a worldwide scavenger hunt — great for all ages and generations.”

Turek explained that geocaching is like searching for treasure hidden around the world, using your GPS or smartphone as the map to lead you to the loot. Fellow geocachers will leave a small token in a hidden location and report it to the geocache database. Then, others use their digital devices to track down the spot, find the token and replace it with one of their own.

With millions of “caches” worldwide, you’re always near your next big find, said Turek.

“I like to say it blends the technology that younger generations are leaning towards, but encourages them to use that technology to experience nature,” she said, adding that tracking down caches is a great way to keep antsy kids occupied in the car during long summer road trips.

If you’re not planning on heading out of town and are looking to bring some adventure to your staycation, Turek recommends heading to the Rec101 page on the website. There, you’ll find tons of free programs, open to anyone, that are designed to give residents a taste of a new outdoor hobby that they might not have tried before.

“Recreation 101 includes everything from archery to windsurfing. All instruction and gear are available at no charge because we are so fortunate to have volunteer organizations that lend out their gear because they’re so passionate about what they do. It’s great if you’ve never done something but always wanted to try it; we’re providing all of that because we just want people to be outside.”

The recreation courses are just one way to get outside without having a negative impact on the environment — in other words, participating in outdoor fun that doesn’t involve a fuel-guzzling motor, large amounts of material waste, large amounts of electricity or generated energy, or anything that would lead to toxic chemicals like oil leaking into the ground or water.

The Michigan Recycling Commission has a few suggestions of its own: gardening, cycling and boating — nonmotorized, when possible, like kayaking or canoeing. But if you’re committed to that road trip, there are a few simple ways to lessen your ecological impact, according to Kerrin O’Brien of the MRC.

“The first step is for each of us to be conscious of the waste we produce,” she said. “Make your purchases for the camping trip, but think about what kind of packaging your products are in and if they’re recyclable or decomposable. If you’re camping, make sure your campsite has a place to (discard) recyclable packaging.”

O’Brien went on to suggest that road-trippers, campers and picnickers try to use what they’ve got at home before they run out and buy up lots of travel snacks with unnecessary packaging. For instance, if you shop at a big box store and you’ve got lots of whole carrots left from your last grocery shopping trip, don’t go out and buy individually packaged baby carrots for convenience; instead consider chopping up the carrots you’ve got and packing those up for the trip.

Also when it comes to food, do what you can to avoid the “quick fix” of eating out. If you do have to stop for a meal, try to eat at a sit-down restaurant versus a drive-thru joint.

“Places where you sit down with ceramic tableware instead of bags and wrappers will reduce your waste,” she said. “When you go out to enjoy Michigan’s fine landscape and you see litter on the side of the road, cans or McDonald’s bags, that’s something we have to think about. It’s our responsibilities to reduce what goes into a landfill, which is useless to us and we have to pay to watch in perpetuity.”

Recycling, O’Brien added, is not just helpful to the planet but to our state’s commerce, as well.

“By diverting those resources to better use, we can supply low-cost feedstock to manufacturers to produce new product, create new jobs and overall help the economy.”