The Detroit River, Lake St. Clair, the Mighty Great Lakes – all icons of fresh water, outdoor sports and what makes Michigan a great four-season state. They’re our best-kept secrets.
I’ve been watching the so-called “coverage” of our lakes and rivers for a while now, following the article I spied with my little eye in the May issue of Gentleman’s Quarterly. That magazine praised our fishing prowess, putting Lake St. Clair into the public eye in terms of the great angling to be done there.
Since then, there have been many more people, places and things realizing that our waterfront is a massive draw for the region. There are swimming events centered around the Detroit River, drawing hundreds to the city, Belle Isle and its beaches every year. There are internationally known fishing bloggers lending their credibility to the Detroit fishing scene, turning more people onto the great smallmouth bass, walleye and other beasties here to catch. And there are up-and-coming businesses that see the potential profit to be had in creating tours, T-shirts and identities around our wonderful waterfront, giving outdoorsmen and women a way to express their passions everywhere they go.
Just to have a 10,000 foot view of all this…It is an exciting time to be in Detroit. As I write nearly every week, there are huge obstacles to our success, and no one here denies them. Yet there are things coming together that have a kind of charmed quality to them – as if the moment of resurrection is finally here. Enough people believe and are making efforts to see a real turnaround occur.
But I digress. Back to the swimmers and outdoorsmen. This week, I spoke with Shannon Dunworth, owner of Different Strokes, a swim shop in St. Clair Shores. Shannon is the organizer of the Motor City Mile Open Swim, an annual Detroit River swimming event held in July that raises funds and awareness for the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
For all those who think the Detroit River is just a place to dump garbage or chemicals, you’re dead wrong. It’s a great fresh-water swim, Shannon says. The Motor City Mile, which started 13 years ago, has gone from about 30 people to nearly 600 this time around (along with 100+ volunteers and hundreds more spectators) because of the beauty and majesty of the scenery in and around the water.
“When you first say ‘Detroit River’ to someone, it doesn’t create the best visuals. People think of the industry and dumping,” he admitted. “But that’s all downriver; it can’t go upstream. And there’s something about being on the River. … When we created this event, we wanted the big water and the city as a backdrop.”
But before he let anyone take their first jump in, Shannon spent some quality time with the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Natural Resources. And every conversation and meeting convinced him that the water was clean, pure and perfectly fine for a 5K swim. And whereas other beaches have regular closures because of bacterial contamination, the Detroit River pretty much remains pristine.
“Everyone who does (the Motor City Mile) walks away with a completely different perspective of Detroit and the River,” Shannon said. “And as we get more press, the event grows and grows. It’s a win-win for everyone, and all of the groups from Belle Isle to the Detroit Yacht Club have stepped up to make it great.”
Besides swimming, there are a plethora of activities that take place around Detroit’s riverfront, says Eric Woodhouse, owner of Detroit River Outdoors. The company’s goal is to create a lifestyle brand around Michigan’s vibrant outdoor enthusiast community, giving them an identity and a tagline of sorts to rally about.
“The one thing we have as a state that no one else does is fresh water,” Eric said. “It is part of our identity.”
So is hunting, fishing, canoeing, kyacking and every other water-based sport – all of which Eric and his family does on a regular basis. His wife recently ran the Detroit Marathon, which is routed along the Detroit Riverfront. Being outside and breathing in Mother Nature is second nature to them having been on the East side their whole lives.
A little background on Eric’s company – it originally started around 2009 as Detroit Custom Tackle, an online retailer specializing in hand-made lures, jigs, perch pounders, stinger hooks and other classic fishing tackle. Recently, he split from his partner, who took the tackle part of the business. Eric maintained the apparel portion, focusing on the fun fish-shaped “Detroit” logo.
Eric soon partnered with James “Jamey” Embree, 28, a newly minted entrepreneur whose enthusiasm for business is rivaled only by his love for athletics. Together, the cousins-in-law are trying to make Detroit River Outdoors a household name – a kind of Michigan-based symbol of what it means to be in love with a four-season state.
“To live in Michigan, you have to embrace the diversity of the four seasons,” Jamey said.
Eric agreed. “You have to love something. In the winter, you snowshoe. In the fall, you hunt. In the spring, you fish. In the summer, you sail. Those things are built into our brand,” he said.
Their gear is in several stores at Metro Airport in addition to Ken’s Marine at the Gas Dock, Lakeside Fishing Shop, & Funky 7. They also will be a vendor at the City Social next Friday At Shed 3 at Eastern Market. And if that isn’t enough news, they will be debuting a new t-shirt for the event (Lions Honolulu Blue) and also plan to release MSU and U of M shirts in early September as well.
They don’t want to be just another T-shirt company; they want to be an organizing force for the region. They want people who wear the shirt or slap the bumper sticker on their boards, bikes or poles to be the real deal – people who live and breathe the outdoors.
Fresh air. Fresh perspectives. Good stuff.