Unique Eastern Michigan University geotourism class taps into "Pure Michigan" campaign in visit to Grand Traverse region

Students visit Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, historic sites, wineries, and speak to experts about how such sites benefit from geotourism

by Geoff Larcom, Published May 22, 2012

Incomparable vistas from towering sand dunes. Wineries set amid sun-splashed fields overlooking deep blue lakes. Majestic, historic homes and farms, and a lively, walkable downtown that rests on the grandest of bays.


The class poses in front of the historic State Theater in Traverse City. Holding letters are: G - Leslie Gilbert; E&O - instructor Kelly Victor-Burke; T - Virginia Davis; O - Brittany Floyd; U - Andrea McNeil; R - Sara Sterkenburg; I - Rita Clinthorne; S - Katie Hyde; M - Melissa Bowen; EMU - Jenifer Short.

Pure Michigan.

Students are studying our state's grandeur and distinct appeal this week as part of a unique field course taught by Eastern Michigan University faculty.

The course, "Geotourism in the Grand Traverse Region 'Pure Michigan,'" is using the Michigan Economic Development Corporation's award-winning promotional campaign to examine geotourism in the picturesque northwestern portion of our state.

The class runs Saturday, May 19 through Friday, May 25. It is part of EMU's program in geotourism, defined as tourism that sustains or improves the geographical character of a place. The goal is to enhance traits such as environment, heritage, aesthetics, culture and well being of residents. This week's class offers a vivid glimpse of places that have experienced the benefits of geotourism.

The instructor is Kelly Victor-Burke, co-coordinator of the EMU Geotourism Program, which is based in Strong Hall. She is assisted by Andrea McNeil, a student intern.

During the week, students will have the opportunity to meet with professionals from across the industry that are devoted to the goals of geotourism. The EMU program seeks to help graduates become innovators and entrepreneurs in Michigan's burgeoning geotourism industry.

The course involves daily field trips to area attractions. Those include visits to Black Star Farms and Winery in Suttons Bay, the Grand Traverse Lighthouse, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the Old Mission Lighthouse, Brys Winery on Old Mission Point, Historic Fishtown in Leland, Birch Point Farm and downtown Traverse City.

Students will also meet with tourism or local experts, such as Don Coe, a member of the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development and an owner of Black Star Farms, and Brad Van Dommelen, president and CEO of the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"This course is special, because it offers students the opportunity to engage in experiential learning and gain first-hand experience of what geotourism is all about, in locations that illustrate its positive effects," Victor-Burke says.

McNeil and Victor-Burke worked for more than a year and a half to put the course together. "It was a fantastic occasion to work collaboratively with a student," Victor-Burke says. "(McNeil) gained valuable professional experience and was able to network in her chosen field of study."

McNeil and Victor-Burke put together a fun but demanding week. Students are required to write an analysis and critique of the Travel Michigan and Traverse City websites, to compile a daily blog/journal of their travel experiences during the week, to prepare two blog postings with pictures or video support for Michigan's official travel and tourism blog, and to present a 10-minute "Pure Michigan" Grand Traverse Experience on the concluding day of the course.

Patrick Brys, son of the owners at Brys Winery on Old Mission Peninsula, shows class members Andrea McNeil, Sara Sterkenburg and Leslie Gilbert around the facility and vineyards.

McNeil says the class offers the unique experience for a student to be instrumental in the planning of a complete tour of a special region.

"This is of particular interest to me, as it gives me the expertise I need in my field of choice," McNeil says. "I would like to arrange specialized tours throughout Michigan and possibly in other states, or even Europe.

"The contacts Kelly and I have established are invaluable, and the skills I was able to use and acquire - coordination of events, budgeting, finding interesting venues and making business contacts - will serve me well. In its hands-on approach and real-world setting, this course is extraordinary."

Students are staying at the historic Park Place Hotel, in downtown Traverse City. The course, which is open to all students, has a program fee of $750 that pays for accommodations, bus transportation to sites, and some meals. Students furnish their own transportation to Traverse City and other meal costs. Financial aid is available.

For more information on the class and geotourism program at EMU, contact Victor-Burke at Kvictor@emich.edu.



Geoff Larcom



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