For the second time in several months, The Big 400, a grassroots, not-for-profit organization linking conservation, commerce and local communities in southeastern Michigan, is a recipient of state-wide innovation tourism collaboration award.
Last month, The Big 400 won the “Partners in Conservation Award,” and this month, a 2014 Governor’s Award for Innovative Tourism Collaboration in conjunction with the Tourism Industry Coalition of Michigan (TICM).
The Gateway Communities Initiative/The Big 400 Initiative is comprised of a group of people from small towns, parks, rivers, recreation and conservation areas that encompass a 20 mile by 20 mile area that is now being branded as The Big 400. Members of the Big 400 provide opportunities to balance nature and protect community character, while increasing commerce and tourism.
“We are extremely excited about being honored by TICOM and the governor with this award,” said Bob Pierce, the executive director of the Chelsea Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Through the collaboration, non-traditional cross promotions were developed to create new itineraries for visitors as well as grant opportunities for communities and culminated in this past year’s “Mill Lake Clean-Up Project” through Michigan Cares for Tourism,” according to a press release about the award from the state.
Pierce said, “This project began in October, 2008 with the support of our chamber and has grown into a truly amazing regional collaboration of impassioned and dedicated individuals and organizations working toward a common goal.”
The TICM is comprised of more than 45 statewide tourism associations, corporations and convention and visitor bureaus whose mission is to promote Michigan’s travel and tourism industry as a vital component of economic development and quality of life through governmental advocacy, public relations, and other promotional and educational efforts, according to the press release.
The award was presented at the March Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Traverse City.
The Governor’s Awards for Innovative Tourism Collaboration were created by the Michigan Travel Commission, in conjunction with the Governor’s Office, to elevate the status of Michigan’s tourism industry and to promote innovative collaboration as an effective, efficient and creative operating principle for the industry, according to the press release.
Pierce also said, “As an economic development collaboration, we are striving to develop a sustainable economic engine for this region that showcases our beautiful natural areas while creatively building a vibrant economy around these lands.”
The mission of the Big 400 is to prepare and execute plans that stimulate commerce in the communities sharing a common border local and state public lands, while concurrently partnering with the stewards of these public lands to promote and encourage their use and preservation.
The Big 400 began as a project spearheaded by the Chelsea chamber to establish an economic development strategy that linked the Waterloo Recreation Area to the business community of the city.
A working committee was formed that included representatives from seven key stakeholder organizations: Chelsea Area Chamber of Commerce, Chelsea Public Schools, City of Chelsea, Waterloo Recreation Area, Chelsea Center for the Arts, Legacy Land Conservancy, and The Conservation Fund.
A program developed by The Conservation Fund, “Balancing Nature and Commerce in Communities that Neighbor Public Lands” became the strategic road map for this endeavor. Once the Chelsea team completed the training, they understood the success of this project demanded expansion to other regional partners and organizations.
Neighboring communities of Dexter, Manchester, Stockbridge, Pinckney, Putnam Township, and East Jackson County were invited to join the team along with the Pinckney Recreation Area. Additionally, the Convention and Visitors Bureaus of Jackson County, Ann Arbor Area, and Ypsilanti joined the effort. The committee currently represents four counties, four municipalities, three Convention and Visitors Bureaus, here State Recreation Areas, Chambers of Commerce from the Brooklyn Irish Hills to Pinckney, Putnam, Hell, Hamburg, land and nature conservancies.
The Big 400 encompasses an approximate 20 mile by 20 mile area of Southeastern and South Central Michigan.