Tourism on the fly

With rising gas prices, Lake County businesses prepare for uncertain tourist season

Record high gas prices, a tepid economic recovery and one of the worst local economies in Michigan do not mix to create a recipe for a booming summer in Lake County.

Lake County Chamber of Commerce President Rick Delamater believes that, despite those challenges, those who vacation here will not be deterred from spending part of their summer in Lake County.

“The people who usually come up here are still going to come up here,” he said. “The price of gas won’t help, but I think they’re still going to come.”

For its part, the Chamber is trying to help make Lake County as visible, and friendly, as possible. The Chamber recently received grant funding for new signage and billboards that appear at the four main corridors entering town.

Delamater, who is the owner and operator of the Outdoor Inn, 7176 South M - 37 in Baldwin, thinks the county should be focusing on what it has, rather than what it lacks.

“People know why they come to Lake County. Most of the people coming here have been here before,” he said. “They come for the fishing, the hunting, the hiking.”

The Chamber has to improve how it gets the word out, Delamater admits. The Chamber’s advertising budget can vary depending on membership, but usually is about $15,000 per year.

“There are (Department of Natural Resources) studies on the economic benefits of Lake County that breaks everything down and the Chamber has to do a better job of getting that information out,” he said. “If we don’t make it easier for people to come here, it will be easy for people not to be here.”

The Chamber is taking other avenues to actively promote Lake County. Its website,

www.lakecountymichigan.com, “sorely needs up dating,” said Delamater, but does offer an important presence on the Internet. The Chamber also advertises in several statewide outdoors publications.

“We advertise in Woods and Water, Michigan Snowmobiler and the Hooks and Bullet publication,” Delamater said.

Lake County should not be concentrate, Delamater said, on investing in ventures that bigger communities specialize in.

“There’s this push to build museums and fine dining. Why would people come here for that when they go to Detroit, Lansing, Cadillac, Grand Rapids?” he said. “People don’t come here for that stuff. The reason they come here is for the small-town atmosphere.”

Lake County’s recreational activities are what drives tourism in Lake County and Delamater thinks that those will be able to overcome the sluggish economy.

“The fishing up here is featured in national publications with millions of people seeing  it,” he said. “You have to go to Alaska or Montana or Idaho if you want to be any closer to get a similar fishing experience.”

As the owner of a hotel, Delamater sees what kind of draw the fishing is for the county first hand.

“I have had people from Pennsylvania, Georgia, Virginia, Florida, Australia, Germany, Japan,” he said. “People from all over the world.”

The Pere Marquette River Lodge, located at 8841 M-37 in Baldwin provides guided tours of the Pere Marquette River. Steve Thomas, an employee at the store said the company thinks the Pere Marquette can draw in fishermen, despite high gas prices.

“We’ve had an excellent spring season,” Thomas said. “The trips we book we see people come in from surrounding states. I just checked out a group of guys from Wisconsin who had a great time. We’ve had people from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio. People love the Pere Marquette River.”

“We’re lucky that we’re in a unique situation with the Pere Marquette River and people want to spend the money to be with us. We are anticipating a good spring into the summer.”

Delamater also thinks that the county’s many trails for off-road vehicles draws people to Lake County.

“A lot of people don’t know that Lake County has the most groomed snowmobile trails and most groomed (off-road vehicle) trails of all 83 counties in Michigan. That’s why people come here.”

The Wolf Lake Motel and Resort located at 2618 M-37 is a complex that rents off-road vehicles and offers fishing, boating, dining and golf packages. Sue Kloss said while the early spring is usually one of their slower periods, the summer is shaping up nicely.

“In the summer we have our repeat people who are coming back,” she said.  “We are about three-quarters booked already for the summer. We are expecting a great summer, definitely a lot better than the winter was.”

“Blessing of the Bikes,” which always occurs the Sunday after Mother’s Day, is the unofficial kick-off of tourist season.  Delamater said tourist season gets into full swing after school lets out for summer break and lasts through Labor Day Weekend.

The price of gas, which has peaked at $4.16 for a gallon of unleaded gasoline in Lake County this spring, is a concern.

GasBuddy.com, a site that monitors more than 250,000 gas stations in the United States and Canada is projecting that gas prices could reach upwards of $4.50 per gallon in the state of Michigan by Memorial Day.

Even though the national economy is struggling to recover, Delamater said tourism is helping some Lake County businesses hold steady.

“Some of the businesses here are actually flourishing or maintaining,” he added.