June 10, 2023

Highs and Lows of the High Season

Local leaders highlight summer challenges and opportunities around northern Michigan
By Jillian Manning | May 20, 2023

We’re approaching the most wonderful time of the year in northern Michigan. Summer can be downright magical, with quiet morning hikes, afternoons at the beach, and endless entertainment opportunities for a night on the town. But all that fun in the sun also means increased traffic, long hours for hospitality staff, and pressure on our infrastructure and environment.

Northern Express connected with six leaders in northern Michigan, folks who represent everything from nonprofits to national parklands, to talk about the return of the high season Up North. Here’s what they had to say about the highs and lows of summertime.

Sakura Takano, CEO of Rotary Charities

What are the biggest challenges for northern Michigan this summer season?
Our summers are busier than ever, and with school-aged kid programming offered by local nonprofits oversubscribed and facing limited staffing, we anticipate that families will make difficult choices between employment and childcare. Also, while we all wait patiently to enjoy these precious months, there are many who are working hard and laborious hours so that the season can be successful. Let’s make sure to appreciate the hospitality and service workers who keep our community running!

What are our biggest opportunities for growth, change, or success as a community?
I think we all have an opportunity to take active appreciation for our beautiful surroundings and help keep our environments beautiful and clean. Make a commitment to volunteer at a local nonprofit—whether it is trail clearing, a beach clean-up, or, if time isn’t available, a donation to the organization that is helping to provide access to preserves and natural areas. Taking a view that this land is something that we are part of, and not just for us to use, opens our minds to a new perspective of deeper appreciation.

What are you most looking forward to for summer 2023?
Our summer calendars get filled quickly, but with all great things. I’m excited about the Traverse Symphony Orchesta’s outdoor concert series at Rotary Square in downtown TC; my first swim in the big lake; and of course all the fresh produce and wonderful farmers I’ve missed all season at the Sara Hardy Farmers Market.

Scott Tucker, Superintendent of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

What are the biggest challenges for northern Michigan this summer season?
Ticks, ticks, ticks are one of the biggest challenges facing northern Michigan. Ticks are a natural part of many landscapes, but climate changes are causing ticks to spread to more areas. Reducing exposure to ticks and removing ticks promptly can protect you and your family from tick-borne diseases. A few tips are to stay on trails, keep your dog on a leash, and do a tick check after every visit to the Lakeshore.

What are our biggest opportunities for growth, change, or success as a community?
Outdoor opportunities for physical and mental wellness are abundant here. If the recent years have taught us anything, it’s that nature has positive effects on our health when you soak in the environment using all your senses (okay, not always taste). Visiting public land is a great way to spend time with friends and family—or even meet new people—and it makes us happier and more satisfied with life.

What are you most looking forward to for summer 2023?
If all goes as planned and our contractor remains on schedule, by mid-July, the South Manitou Lighthouse complex restoration project will be completed. This project, funded by park entrance fees, will open the Keepers Quarters to the public for the first time, install exhibits in the Fog Whistle building, restore the historic cultural landscape surrounding the Lighthouse, and create an accessible trail from the village dock to the Lighthouse complex.

Trevor Tkach, President/CEO of Traverse City Tourism

What are the biggest challenges for northern Michigan this summer season?
Staffing continues to be a real issue for businesses, in particular because consumers have actually increased their expectations for customer service. We see the labor shortage challenges happening throughout the travel experience, from air traffic control limitations to the more DIY experience that’s trickling into a greater number of restaurants. In our market, the labor constrictions could mean longer wait times at a favorite venue or a harder time getting a cab or transportation service to bring you around the area.

What are our biggest opportunities for growth, change, or success as a community?
Our air service keeps getting better and better, with new carriers taking a look at TVC and a steady stream of nonstop flights throughout the summer and early fall. We are one of the few airports that’s growing service, and our numbers show Cherry Capital is one of the top ranked airports in the country. It’s a real point of pride for our region.

What are you most looking forward to for summer 2023?
Turtle Creek Stadium is going to be awesome this year. It’s a great spot to spend a few hours on a summer evening watching the Pit Spitters, and they’ve partnered with a lot of local businesses, so it really does feel like a spot that showcases and welcomes our whole community. Bringing in the All-Star Game and comedy show only adds to the fun. 

James Simino, Forest Supervisor for Huron-Manistee National Forests

What are the biggest challenges for northern Michigan this summer season?
We are fortunate to be upgrading many of our visitors’ favorite sites. While the maintenance and construction projects occurring now are intended to enhance the experience of people visiting the Huron-Manistee National Forests, they may mean disruptions to normal services at recreation sites. Projects vary, but new vault toilets, boardwalks, and boat launches, improved water systems, and freshly paved roads and parking lots are just a few of the projects planned for 2023. Impacts now will yield safer and more enjoyable sites later.

What are our biggest opportunities for growth, change, or success as a community?
Across National Forests there is an increase in new and less-experienced users and an increase in the diversity of forest users. Additionally, there is increasing demand and expectation from visitors for technological amenities and virtual programming. Change is coming in the form of who our audience is, how they choose to experience the forest, and what is relevant to them. Our success hinges on making the Huron-Manistee National Forests a public land that is relevant to the entire American people, now and in the future.

What are you most looking forward to for summer 2023?
From the spring trout opener to the fall colors, and everything in between, we can’t wait to see all of the great ways our forest visitors choose to enjoy their National Forests this summer.

Dan Buron, Executive Director/CEO of Goodwill Northern Michigan

What are the biggest challenges for northern Michigan this summer season?
In many ways, northern Michigan is defined by what can be seen and done here—beautiful beaches, lovely water, and a fun social scene. Our biggest challenge is to resist limiting our identity by the way we recreate. We are also the values that define how we connect and care for people in our community. We share this beautiful place; let’s also share community with each other.

What are our biggest opportunities for growth, change, or success as a community?
We all know that we have an opportunity to create more attainable housing in our region so that we can be a more successful community. We are seeing more housing units being built, and we’re having larger community conversations about what we value and how those values show up in our housing policies and practices. By mobilizing to have housing at a full range of price points, we’re creating a more vibrant, inclusive, and socio-economically diverse community.

What are you most looking forward to for summer 2023?
At Goodwill Northern Michigan, we have embraced the need to support the development of attainable housing for people who are very low income and experiencing homelessness in our community. We are excited to have several partnership projects brewing and hope to be able to announce good news later this summer.

Sara Harding, VP of Community and Climate Impact at Cherry Republic

What are the biggest challenges for northern Michigan this summer season?
From my perspective, it seems that many businesses are struggling to meet the expectations of their customers due to a lack of staff. This can make it challenging to deliver exceptional service and maintain customer satisfaction. The labor and housing shortages are also affecting the area’s talent attraction and retention efforts.

What are our biggest opportunities for growth, change, or success as a community?
Rather than pushing back against the influx of visitors to our area, embracing the opportunity and planning for sustainable growth would be wise. By making northern Michigan a special place for both visitors and residents, we can create strategic opportunities for continued success. It will take a collective effort to ensure that our area remains a beautiful place for future generations.

What are you most looking forward to for summer 2023?
We’re eagerly anticipating the opening of all five of our stores and welcoming visitors to come enjoy the many delights of northern Michigan.

 

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