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DULUTH – The second Great Lakes Outdoor Summit will be held Oct. 24-26, attracting hundreds of outdoor recreation advocates, enthusiasts, business owners and adventurers from across the Great Lakes region.

Organized by the Duluth Area Outdoor Alliance, the event aims to connect outdoor businesses with nonprofits, land managers and government agencies concerned with outdoor recreation issues.

The first region-wide outdoor summit last year drew 200 attendees and sold out the venue space at the Zeitgeist facility in Duluth, so this year’s event will be moved to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. 400 attendees are expected.

Brennen Larson, a rising junior at Duluth East, rides his mountain bike on the Spirit Mountain section of the Duluth Traverse trail system Tuesday night while practicing with the Duluth Composite Team. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Duluth’s miles of bike paths, particularly the citywide Duluth Traverse shown here, are one reason the city has become a popular destination for outdoor adventurers. In October, the city will once again host the Great Lakes Outdoor Summit.

Clint Austin / File / Duluth Media Group

It’s well known that over the past 20 years, Duluth has become a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds – fat bikers, surfers, paddlers, hikers, skiers, ice and rock climbers, anglers, bird watchers and more. The secret was out in 2014 when Outside magazine named Duluth the “Best City Ever” for its easy access to world-class outdoor adventures.

But developing and maintaining that outdoor access and atmosphere didn’t happen by itself. It took effort, money, time, trial and error. The goal now is to keep the momentum and growth going and to share that recipe with and learn from outdoor enthusiasts in other Great Lakes communities, said Hansi Johnson, Duluth-based director of conservation engagement for the Minnesota Land Trust and co-founder of the Duluth Area Outdoor Alliance, which hosts the outdoor summit.

“We constantly hear from other communities trying to make more of their green spaces and offer more outdoor recreational activities, and we can all share our knowledge and learn from the knowledge of their communities,” Johnson said.

Adam Reinhardt (left) of St. Paul and Amaya Zimmerman, 9, of South Minneapolis climb the Big Blue ice climbing route on Saturday. It has a difficulty rating of WI5. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Ice climbing, including at Quarry Park in Duluth, shown here, is just one of many outdoor activities that have helped make the city and region an outdoor mecca for adventurers.

Clint Austin / File / Duluth Media Group

It’s not just about making money by selling bikes, craft beer or motel rooms, but about creating a culture that focuses on an economically and ecologically sustainable outdoor lifestyle.

“This is not just a tourism problem. It’s about more than just the people who come here Friday to Sunday. It’s about the people who live here and enjoy the lifestyle, and the people who move here because we have what we have. That’s much more sustainable in the long term,” Johnson added.

The summit has again received significant funding this year from the City of Duluth’s Tourism Fund, Johnson said, allowing the event to expand.

Activities at the October summit begin Thursday afternoon with outdoor CPR and first aid training, followed by an evening of socializing at the historic West Theater. Fitz Cahall, creator of The Dirtbag Diaries podcast, will host and record stories from local personalities outdoors.

On Friday, the event will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the DECC and will include a keynote speaker, 12 session presentations and panel discussions, and an hour of networking. Session topics include environmental stewardship, community engagement, capacity building for nonprofits, the economics of outdoor recreation, and government and policy.

Saturday events include organization-led field trips that allow out-of-town participants to participate in activities in the Duluth area.

  • What: Great Lakes Outdoor Summit, hosted by the Duluth Area Outdoor Alliance
  • When: Main event on October 25, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; additional events on October 24 and 26 at other venues
  • Where: Duluth Entertainment Convention Center
  • Cost: Sliding fee scale based on ability to pay, $25-75
  • Register at duluthaoa.org

Monthly meetings of the Outdoor Alliance

The Duluth Area Outdoor Alliance hosts a monthly event every fourth Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. to socialize and network with other outdoor enthusiasts in the Duluth area. Each event is hosted by a different group, company or organization. The gatherings are designed to celebrate and promote all outdoor activities in the area.

The location of monthly meetings is listed at facebook.com/duluthaoa and duluthaoa.org. For more information, email [email protected].

Nature in Duluth in numbers

  • 11,000 hectares of green space
  • 6,834 hectares of urban parkland
  • 300 by 30 meter cliffs for ice climbing
  • 240 kilometers of hiking trails
  • 129 parks
  • 85 miles of bike paths
  • 33 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail
  • 30 miles of cross-country ski trails
  • 16 designated trout streams
  • 12 miles of paved, accessible hiking trails
  • 7 miles of sandy beach
  • 2 alpine ski resorts (plus another in Superior)
  • 1 Large lake for surfing, swimming, kayaking, sailing, fishing, paddling, rock throwing, agate hunting, bird watching, snorkeling and watching sunrises

Source: Destination Duluth

According to a 2022 report by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Minnesota has the 15th largest outdoor recreation economy of any U.S. state, generating nearly $12 billion in annual outdoor recreation activities and supporting more than 90,000 jobs.

John Myers

John Myers covers nature, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. Reach him at [email protected].

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