Recreation and Economic Development

I know a lot of economic development officials across the Midwest who hate winter.  They’re convinced that it makes their jobs harder.   They say so…on the record.  They seem to believe that nobody in their right mind would come to their city or town when the temperature is hovering around freezing and the snow is flying.

This says more about them than it does the people they’re trying to attract.  As I look around the world at cities like Amsterdam, Quebec and (closer to home) Denver and Minneapolis, I see people embracing winter and finding a way to enjoy themselves outdoors.


Skaters and walkers on a canal, Amsterdam.  Photo: PA


The Katy Trail connects the entire state of Missouri to the state capital in Jefferson City.  Photo: Pedalfree


Our small towns are magical places that have the potential to draw people like magnets.   Photo: Pedalfree

It’s all about recreation.  This is another example of how we in the Midwest sell ourselves short.  We tell ourselves we can’t complete with places that have mountains and oceans, but we can.   It’s simply a matter of identifying our unique recreational strengths.

Like what?   Well, let’s start with our lakes.  They’re Great…literally.  The largest collection of freshwater on the planet.   Five inland seas.  Nobody else anywhere has anything that even comes close.  It terms of scope and potential impact, they’re not much different than the Rocky Mountains.

There’s more.  The Midwest is criss-crossed with abandoned railroad lines.  In some cases, these have been converted to trails with much success.  We could do more.  We could make it a regional imperative to connect them so that people could travel by bicycle from, say, Chicago to Kansas City or Cincinnati without a hitch.

Imagine if we did this.  Imagine a series of inns and cafes every thirty miles or so along rural trails.   Imagine being able to leave cities like Indianapolis or St. Louis and cycling deep into a national forest or an inn by the sea.  Would that put us on even ground with places like Colorado and Florida?   I think it would.  It might give us an edge.  In many ways, these other states are a hot mess.

And so I think it’s way past time that our elected and appointed officials stop apologizing for our lack of geographical diversity.   We can compete with anyone but we have to first want to compete.  We have to stop being so bloody myopic and think bigger.  We need to act with courage.   I think it’s high time we start.




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