U.S. Heritage Route 23 on the Information Superhighway

Michigan’s tourism industry amounts to more than $17.7 billion, a number that seriously impacts rural communities attracting summer vacationers. The Northeast Michigan Council of Governments (NEMCOG) has made travel to and through rural Michigan easier than ever, putting many breathtaking and remote locations online for everyone to see and explore. Heritage23.org lets visitors plan for every city they visit, or choose from thousands of events as they go along this scenic road along the northeast coast.

As travelers take to the roads over the summer holidays they use smartphones for directions and to find places to stay, eat, camp, hike, and more. However, many rural locations, which offer the most beautiful landscapes and out-of-the-way events, cannot be found online or they easily become buried under popular travel sites. The Heritage Route 23 website allows community business owners, chambers of commerce, event organizers, and others to register hotspots and actual events, to concentrate them in a single site.

“We wanted a site that promoted the whole route,” said Denise Cline, Deputy Director and Chief Planner for NEMCOG, and one of the key organizers behind heritage23.org. “The purpose is to get everybody working together for the same goal, in this case tourism.”

Designated a Heritage Route in 2004 and now known as a Pure Michigan Byway, Highway 23 is the second longest recreationally, aesthetically, and historically significant route in Michigan, covering 200 miles and six counties. Heritage23.org brings all of the communities together and unites the efforts of everyone in tourism, economic development, local government, highway maintenance, forestry, and more. All of these public and private services come together for a common goal.

“We organized it two different ways,” said Cline. “If people are looking for a specific destination, they can do that. Or they can look for a specific activity.”

One of the site’s most popular features, the Plan Your Trip feature, allows users to select a location, find a place, event, or activity, and add it to their trip with one click. They can see an entire list of events and activities—over 2,000—or choose from 100 different types of activities and attractions, such as lodging, boating, camping, or shipwrecks. For visitors looking for specific activities such as bird watching, hiking, boating, art, and brewery or wine tours, they can use partner sites like ARTown, the Wine and Hops Trail, or the Sunrise Coast Birding Trail.

New events and attractions are constantly expanding heritage23.org thanks to local stakeholders, reducing the need for technical maintenance and making the site a sustainable success. “We have a lot of local champions along the route and they are wonderful; we could not ask for better volunteers,” said Cline.

Other Byways, such as the M22 Leelanau Scenic Heritage Route and the US12 Heritage Trail are following the example set by heritage23.org—concentrating activities, scenic sites, historic locations, and attractions in one place, replicating the site and letting community members make entries. “Ours is probably the biggest and most comprehensive site,” said Cline. Cline encourages other communities to make their own version of the site. “We say, ‘Here’s what we did, you can do this too.’ They say, ‘If you can do it, we can do it.’”

Visit http://www.us23heritageroute.org/ to plan your trip.

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