City of Munising, Michigan
Munising Area Partnership for Development, Inc.
ALTRAN Public Transportation System
National Park Service – Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Hiawatha National Forest – Munising District
A group of community representatives, from a broad spectrum of agencies and organizations accepted an invitation to attend a workshop in late January entitled, “Balancing Nature and Commerce in Communities that Neighbor Public Lands.” Attending the workshop were Doug Bovin, City Manager for Munising; Bob Eslinger, Executive Director of the Munising Area Partnership for Development; Rochelle Cotey, Executive Director for ALTRAN, the public transportation provider in Alger County; Teresa Chase, Munising District Ranger for the Hiawatha National Forest; and Jim Northup and Gregg Bruff from Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
The workshop was held January 29 to February 1 at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdtown, West Virginia, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service facility. The National Park Service's Conservation Studies Institute coordinated the training, sponsored in part by The Conservation Fund.
“The American landscape and land use patterns are changing rapidly,” Bovin said. “The U.S. population currently stands at over 300 million and is expected to increase by an additional 100 million in the next 25 years. Even remote rural areas like ours are going to change, and this workshop was intended to get us all thinking about, working together and managing that change in ways that we can all be proud of and support,” Bovin added. “The future is really in our own hands as a community.”
“The Munising area and all of Alger County are richly blessed with natural and cultural resources, spectacular scenic beauty, interesting history and abundant public lands,” Eslinger remarked. “Just think about it – how many little towns in America can claim to have such a beautiful setting in a natural harbor on Lake Superior, with a national lakeshore, a national forest, a national recreation area, and an underwater preserve as neighbors and key attractions! This workshop really got us thinking about how we can maintain and enhance the unique character of our community and make it a better place to live and visit and work towards a more stable and vibrant economy,” Eslinger said.
“For the organizations that I represent - the City of Munising, the Downtown Development Authority, the Munising Visitors Bureau and the Alger Chamber of Commerce - these are critical issues for us to be discussing and working on together,” Eslinger added. “I came to this workshop with the idea of learning how to increase commerce and take advantage of Munising’s geographical location while staying compatible to the large public lands that surround the area. We came away with a lot of great ideas about how to do that,” Eslinger concluded.
Rochelle Cotey supported what Eslinger said. “All of the economic research indicates that nature-based tourism is growing rapidly and becoming even more important to rural economies. The communities that will be well positioned for this changing economy are those that embrace and protect their unique natural and cultural heritage and develop in such a way that they are interesting and pleasant to live in and visit,” according to Cotey. “One of the things that was really emphasized at the workshop was that the appearance of the approaches to and the communities adjacent to public lands makes a huge difference to the economy of the town and the area. No one wants to visit a place that looks just like everyplace else in America or doesn’t appear worth stopping to explore.”
“We saw lots of examples of towns that had done it right – and many that had done it wrong – and it really got us to thinking. The towns that have been most successful and whose economies are most vibrant are those that have protected and enhanced their unique and authentic heritage and appearance, attracted small shops and places for people to gather and enjoy each other’s company, and which are known for offering good service and a unique experience. Transportation options are an important part of that, and I was very glad to be a part of the team that attended this workshop,” Cotey added.
Forest Service District Ranger Teresa Chase said, “This was a great opportunity for us all to work more closely together on discussing and engaging a broader group of organizations, businesses and citizens in these important issues.” She added, “We all tend to plan for our own areas in isolation, and this workshop gave us a chance to begin to think more like a community and a region.”
“None of us have all the answers, but we all care about keeping and making this a very special place to live and visit,” Chase continued. “As part of that, all of us who had an opportunity to attend this particular workshop have made a commitment to share what we learned and discussed with anyone who is interested. We will be doing briefings for local civic organizations, and will be sharing the course materials with anyone who is interested. From that we hope to get a lot more people in the community interested in working on some of these initiatives. I think we really have an outstanding opportunity to proactively work together to maintain what people love about the Munising area while also promoting a healthy economy.”
Jim Northup echoed much of what the others had to say. “From the moment I arrived here, it has been obvious to me that this is a very special place. This workshop gave us all a chance to begin to work more closely on discussing our long term future as an entire community.”
“This workshop also complimented several excellent things already underway in our community including the DDA’s efforts to restore storefronts in downtown, the new Partnership for Development, and our Regional Government meetings,” Northup added. “This just seemed like a logical next step, and I wish everyone in the community could have heard all the presentations we did. One of the best presenters was a nationally recognized expert on smart growth named Ed McMahon. We hope we might be able to get a grant to bring him to our community sometime in the near future.”
“As part of the workshop, we were asked to select a ‘project’ that we will follow-up and work on as a team,” Gregg Bruff said. “We actually selected three things we thought were very important. One, as Teresa mentioned, is sharing what we have learned. Two, working to get a group of people working together to begin discussing ways to improve the aesthetics of the approaches to and the downtown of our gateway communities. Third, we hope to get another group of folks working together to stimulate and support more arts and crafts and cultural events in our area.”
“Our goal is to develop a broader group of committed people to be working with their local leaders on these things, I think it is really important that all of us be working together to shape our own future,” Bruff added. “That might sound idealistic, but we saw several examples of communities who have done just that. It takes some leadership and committed citizens, but I know we have that in Alger County as well,” Bruff concluded.
As a first step in sharing what they learned at the workshop, a copy of the notebook with the training materials and references will be placed at the front desk of the Munising Public Library for reference. Members of the group will also be talking to various civic groups over the course of the next several weeks. Community information meetings on the two initiatives are also being planned for April.
For further information about the workshop, please feel free to contact any of the participants.