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Posted on Sun, Nov 14, 2010 : 6 a.m.

Staycation stimulus? Geotourism conference aims to generate interest in southeast Michigan sites

By Nathan Bomey

Michigan can generate its own staycation stimulus.

That’s the philosophy behind the Southeast Michigan Heritage Tourism Alliance, a nonprofit group formed in October by former history teacher Karin Risko.

The new organization is hosting the Southeast Michigan Geotourism Conference on Thursday at Eastern Michigan University’s Student Center to highlight the importance of sparking interest in hidden local tourism spots.

“When people visit southeast Michigan, a lot of times it is just like a starting point,” Risko said. “People come here to travel, and then they go to other parts of the state.

“We want to let people know that there’s much more to do in this whole region. You don’t have to travel far.”

Risko, a retired history teacher from Summit Academy in Huron Township, is timing the Geotourism Conference with national Geography Awareness Week. EMU’s Department of Geography and Geology is co-hosting the event.

Speakers include Zingerman’s co-founder Paul Saginaw, Michigan International Speedway President Roger Curtis and Cynthia Jones, tour manager for The Henry Ford/Ford Rouge Plant.

Risko was inspired to launch the group when she started to recognize that southeast Michigan is filled with historic destinations, tours and cultural attractions that many people don’t know about. She said the region needs to place a greater emphasis on its role in the underground railroad, the auto industry’s history, industrial history and Civil War history.

There are quirky hidden local tourism opportunities, too. For example, General George Custer’s horse, Don Juan, is buried in Tecumseh. He doesn’t get too many visits.

The geotourism push comes as many local groups are preparing to commemorate next year the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War and, in 2012, the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.

“I used to teach history and my classes would have been much more exciting had I known of all the local ties to the national history,” she said. “I only wish I knew then what I know now - and that is another goal: to educate educators.”

Visit or call (734) 926-7577 to register for the conference. Registration is $99.

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.