Centuries ago, the lakes and rivers were what drew Muskegon's first residents to the area for the trapping, fishing and then lumbering. But in more modern times, Muskegon has lost that attraction.
Today, lakes and rivers are not the first things people think about when they hear Muskegon's name. Unfortunately, they're more likely to think "dirty, little factory town," even though it has been a long time since Muskegon fit that description.
Even those who live in Muskegon sometimes think that way, forgetting the wonderful resources that flow through this area, resources that have the power to change our community.
MLive.com and The Muskegon Chronicle have spent much of the last year exploring how the community views its lakes and rivers in a series, Water Runs Through Us. The reporting raised questions about everything from the best use of Pere Marquette Beach to the prospects of commercial shipping as tourism.
The final story, posted Jan. 31, looked at how, in 2013, Muskegon will use community planning and branding to once again take advantage of our beautiful lakes and rivers.
In particular, the focus is on Muskegon Lake. For a long time, Muskegon-area residents have looked at the lake as something that needed to be saved. More than 40 years ago, the countywide wastewater treatment system was built, largely to save Muskegon Lake from pollution by the factories lining its shores.
During that time, the community earned the dubious distinction of being an Environmental Protection Agency toxic hot spot. Slowly, thanks to federal Great Lakes Restoration funds and state and private grants, the pollution has been removed and natural habitat has been restored.
Now, instead of thinking about how to save the lake, it is time to think about how it could save our community. The potential is there for all of Muskegon's water resources to make a major contribution to our economy, creating jobs that range far beyond the tourism aspects of fishing, boating and sunbathing.
As the community spends 2013 going through a planning and branding process to create a better waterfront and an improved community image, there needs to be a serious discussion about creating a blue economy that encompasses all the diverse uses of our lakes.
We need to explore expanding commercial shipping and using our experience with habitat restoration and pollution cleanup to attract businesses that show other businesses how to be good stewards of the environment while using the resources. We also need to continue emphasizing tourism and recreation, and water resource education because that is a big part of our economy, too.
Most of all, we need to agree that Muskegon's water resources are great enough to sustain all these different uses and then figure out how to make it work — commercial, recreational and educational.
The potential for Muskegon to be the greatest shoreline city in the state is there. We just need to seize it.
-- Muskegon Chronicle