“Responsible tourism is tourism which: minimizes negative social, economic and environmental impacts; generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities; improves working conditions and access to the industry.”
The Cape Town Declaration
(from the Responsible Tourism Partnership,
preceding the World Summit on Sustainable Development)
“Ecotourism is defined as Responsible Travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people…”
The International Ecotourism Society
For over two-and-a-half-decades, we at the Keweenaw Adventure Company have been enacting ethical business practices that today are being defined on an international scale as sustainable and/or responsible tourism. We’re a guide & outfitter company that truly values, respects and supports our pristine natural areas, our culturally rich heritage, our local community and economy. We understand our crucial role in facilitating meaningful experiences for visitors — experiences that “connect people with awe and respect to the Keweenaw Peninsula” — ultimately supporting regional sustainable tourism while maintaining the region’s character and sense of place. We are not just now jumping on the responsible tourism bandwagon, we have been riding it since our inception.
Our Commitment to Educational Tourism
All of Keweenaw Adventure Company’s (KAC) staff — our mechanics, shop representatives and guides — undergo customer service training, interpretive training (from the geology to history to economics of our region) and risk-management training. Our staff are professionals, who impart their knowledge of responsible travel to our customers thorough instruction, interpretation & storytelling and various safety measures.
Safety is always our number one priority, and we have an excellent safety record. Each sea kayak guide has gone through both sea kayak instructor and trip leader training with the American Canoe Association (ACA) and is certified as either Wilderness First Responders (WFR) or in Wilderness First Aid (WFA). Additionally, all staff members have certification in CPR, while some guides also have additional certifications in areas such as Mountain Bike Instruction. As a community service, our highly educated staff also partners with local First Responders for trailside emergencies.
Specific trail safety and etiquette is also strongly encouraged in an active partnership between KAC and the Copper Harbor Trails Club Outreach Committee, which states: “In an effort to keep our trails open for as many people in our community as possible, we ask that you follow these simple rules to ensure everyone has a safe and enjoyable time when visiting Copper Harbor.”
Especially important is how KAC fosters in its staff the philosophy of “we could” vs. “you should” and “be the change you wish to see” in an effort to empower staffers to play a more proactive role in the company. Staff members are also given the optional opportunity of paid “Professional Development” and/or self-initiated “Special Projects” that are meant to positively impact the business as a whole.
We provide our customers with state-of-the-art equipment and gear, and for our sea kayaking tours, we offer both single or tandem boats and provide wetsuits that are mandatory to wear as a safety precaution. Some of our staff are trained in Adaptive Paddling and have been able to accommodate customers with disabilities. Furthermore, we always work to accommodate and discount local school and church groups to provide our services as a community benefit.
Our Commitment to Stewardship Tourism
For over two decades Sam has been a steward of the trails, working within the greater community promoting the economic and recreational benefits of mountain biking that contribute to the area’s tourist-based economy and well-being. He has personally donated thousands of hours to trail building, maintenance, community events, and volunteer-based boards, some of which included:
• Helping to lead the original charge of a small, loose-knit group of volunteers who together began to establish many of Copper Harbor’s “legacy” trails in the late 1990s-early 2000s.
• Serving as a volunteer Race Director of the annual mountain bike race event, the renowned Copper Harbor Fat Tire Festival (now Bell’s Beer Harbor’s Trails Festival) from 1998-2012.
• Serving on various volunteer-based community advisory, regional and non-profit boards. He was one of the founding members of the Copper Harbor Trails Club in 2007 and remains on the board to this day – ensuring the continued future public access to the trails in Keweenaw Peninsula.
As the “hub for human-powered recreation,” KAC promotes non-motorized recreational activities, aiding in our stewardship to the land and commitment to responsible tourism.
We instill “Leave No Trace Practices” in our staff, and implement these principals in all of our tours. For instance, our adventures remain on designated trails, or within designated visitor areas to minimize environmental damage without leaving anything behind. Additionally, we do not take anything out of natural areas, respecting the native wildlife, vegetation of the natural areas we explore.
We train our staff in interpretation/storytelling (in local geology & environment, history & heritage, and even economics), who in return create meaningful connections/experiences for our customers.
We retain a reputation of respect and pride within our local community.
Our Commitment to Conservation Tourism
KAC has been a steward of the land and advocate of the trails for the past two decades and the balance between economics and the environment has been at the core of our mission since the get-go. In 2002, Sam lobbied in support of the Michigan Natural Resource Trust Fund (MNRTF) Grant, brokered by the Nature Conservancy, to protect over 6300 acres of land and nine miles of undeveloped Lake Superior shoreline at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula as State Forest property. He later served on the DNR’s Citizen Advisory Committee in 2004 to represent the interests of non-motorized trail users (Keweenaw Water Trail included) and worked with other user groups’ representatives to develop a recommendation to the State as to how that newly acquired land would best be utilized. It was during this year-long process that the Keweenaw Point Trail Project was officially conceived as a DNR/ Copper Harbor Trails Club partnership, with Phase I development eventually breaking ground in 2014.
Sam also served on the Hunter’s Point Committee in the early 2000’s. The narrow finger of land that separates the Big Lake from the protection of Copper Harbor was owned by a developer at that time. Having always been unofficially open for public use, hiking and beachcombing in particular, Copper Harbor residents and visitors feared this pristine sanctuary would be lost if homes and condominiums were to be developed. Along with Grant Township, the Committee helped to coordinate efforts and rallied for support initially to protect 7 acres by successfully raising $200,000 as a local match for a successful MNRTF Grant project…impressive for a tiny community with less than 100 year-round residents!
A Hunter’s Point Phase II acquisition followed several years later which ultimately lead to the preservation of the entire undeveloped west end of Copper Harbor shoreline and +/- 100 acres on the NE end of Brockway Mountain. The latter created a permanent conservation corridor when combined with the neighboring Michigan Nature Association property and eventual development of “The Flow” and “Overflow” Trails on the Township property.
KAC annually contributes an excess of $5000 to the Copper Harbor Trails Club (CHTC) in cash, donations collected and in-kind services, who in turn uses these funds for a variety of trail-related projects including land acquisition, trail building and maintenance. We also continue to support the care-taking of the trails, as KAC staff are regularly sent out “on-the-clock” to conduct trail maintenance and are encouraged to go out on their own initiative to volunteer, too.
Acquiring land for trails ultimately leads to the preservation of the Keweenaw Peninsula in a low impact, sustainable manner, while maintaining public access for all. In fact, as a CHTC volunteer board member, Sam is currently involved with the Access Protection Project, an effort to permanently protect public access to the property at the core of our existing trail system.
Our Commitment to Sustainable Tourism
Copper Harbor Economy
KAC is the focal point of Copper Harbor’s bicycle tourism, which has grown to become an estimated 1/3 of Copper Harbor’s economy. By offering a wide variety of guided and self-guided land and water activities, we make our activities accessible to all, from the beginner to the expert. For instance, tours have a thorough instructional component, in an effort to make novices more comfortable and engaged in the unfamiliar. By being so accommodating to our customers we have found that 1/3 become returning customers, thus returning to the Harbor on a regular basis and fueling the economy.
We make every effort to be resourceful by reducing, reusing and recycling our retail packaging and waste. (Additionally, our shop in and of itself, is a repurposed building, as it was originally a Copper Harbor vacation cabin from the 1940s!) Our retail is purchased locally when feasible, such as our t-shirts and jerseys, which account for 30% of our retail sales. We make every effort to purchase retail that is produced/distributed locally and ethically.
KAC makes every effort to hire locally. There is, however, a necessity to hire skilled staff from outside the area and we provide affordable employee housing, which can be considered luxury in Copper Harbor. KAC pays a competitive wage, and offers many employee benefits – some of which include commission on equipment sales, discounted employee purchases, seasonal bonuses and annual raises for returning staff.
OUR MISSION (since 1999):
To be the hub for human-powered recreation in Keweenaw County by providing essential goods and services that connect people with awe and respect to the Keweenaw Peninsula – ultimately contributing to the region’s well-being through education, stewardship, conservation and sustainable tourism.
Sam’s vision was to be more than just a guide and outfitter when he purchased Keweenaw Adventure Company (KAC) in 1999. He planned to be a “catalyst of change and of growth for the tourist economy… [he] desired to contribute to conservation and education efforts for the land that he loved.” He has succeeded and now KAC has a reputation of being “advocates, trail builders, community organizers and folks who like to have a good time.”
When Shelby (Sam’s partner in business and in life) joined in on the KAC team in 2013, she brought with her a decade of involvement in the environmental field and the philosophy that “one’s personal health is inseparable from the health of our natural environment” – both of which she integrates into her management of KAC.