Geotourism, history can be key to Michigan's rebirth

The Eastern Michigan University Department of Geography and Geology along with the Southeast Michigan Heritage Tourism Alliance will hold the first Southeast Michigan geotourism conference this Thursday in the Student Center Ballroom to explore unique tourism opportunities in Michigan.

The conference will last from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Karin Risko, the director of SEMHTA, said the idea for the conference came about after she organized the first Southeast Michigan Heritage Tourism Networking Event last march in an effort to showcase Michigan’s rich history.

“Dr. Rick Sambrook, then the new department head of EMU’s Department of Geography and Geology, not only attended my event but co-sponsored it and brought several faculty members,” Risko said. “The event was well received and attendees wanted to continue the effort to work together to promote and market our region’s historical assets.”

Sambrook and Risko discussed the possibility of co-hosting a conference at EMU to coincide with Geography Awareness Week.

“I believe Dr. Sambrook saw an opportunity for his department, which is home to one of the oldest historic preservation programs in the nation, to take a leadership role with the community,” Risko said.

Geography professor Kelly Victor-Burke, co-coordinator of the conference, said the event was also created because her department is in the process of undergoing a transition.

“The event came about because we are evolving our program into geotourism,” she said. “We thought this would be a perfect way to showcase our transition and to showcase the department.”

Victor-Burke said EMU students were also involved in organizing the event.

“We have nine student assistants and the majority of them have been working tirelessly since May,” Victor-Burke said.

Victor-Burke said the idea of geotourism is relatively new.

“It is a new concept being adopted in the industry,” she said. “As a leader in tourism education, we have adopted and embraced this concept.”

According to Risko, the event should be a draw to residents of the state because the region has yet to fully capitalize upon its history and she is hopeful a sense of pride for the state can be instilled in people after attending the conference.

“I also believe that if locals really knew our great history they’d be less likely to succumb to all the negativity that surrounds our region and state,” she said. “I know our history, therefore, in good times and bad, I’m proud to say I’m from Michigan.

Victor-Burke said individuals planning to attend the conference will be impressed with the roster of speakers.

“They can expect to be able to hear and meet industry professionals, community activists and government leaders in the geotourism field,” she said. “We have an impressive roster of people. Phillip Cooley is the co-owner of Slows Barbeque in Detroit and he is an urban activist. He is also working for the revitalization of Detroit. He’s a media darling, he’s been profiled in The New York Times.

Victor-Burke said David Lorenz, from the Michigan Department of Economic Development and the organization Travel Michigan, will also be in attendance. Lorenz will discuss the status of Travel Michigan post-election.

Other speakers include: Roger Curtis, president of Michigan International Speedway; Dr. Ted Ligibel, director of EMU’s Historic Preservation Program; Anita Twardesky, Riverside Kayak public relations director and Daniel Kinkead, an architect with Hamilton Anderson Associates.

Risko hopes she can recruit new members for her organization at the conference, but she is also seeking to demonstrate the positive impact geotourism can have on the region’s economic development. Risko said attendees can expect “positive energy” at the conference.

“We’re constantly bombarded with negative stories about Detroit and Michigan in general,” Risko said. “People are doing great things here every day. Our speaker roster exemplifies those who possess vision and are making a difference in our community.”

Victor-Burke said the EMU community should be interested in the conference for a number of reasons.

“It shows the need in these economic times for universities to serve as mentors and collaborators with private business and government in order to stimulate the economy,” she said.

Risko said if she were an EMU student or faculty member, she would want to be part of the “exciting collaboration.”

“By bringing all these upbeat and talented people to EMU to talk up the best that Southeast Michigan offers can only bring about positive changes in attitude and perception,” Risko said.

Individuals interested in attending the event can register by visiting the conference website at or by contacting Victor-Burke at The cost of attendance is $35 for students and $75 for faculty members.

Victor-Burke said her department plans to offer more events of this nature in the future, but in the meantime interested students can join the geotourism club currently in the process of being created.

Leslie Gilbert, a student helping to create the club, said the organization will be open to all majors. For more information, contact Gilbert at

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