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Tourism group helps with lighthouse projects

HARRISVILLE – The sounds of saws cutting wood, hammers hitting nailheads, cement being poured and the voices of over 200 volunteers, including tourism experts, Michigan Department of Natural Resources volunteers and Alcona Historical Society representatives, talking and laughing during the organized chaos at Sturgeon Point Lighthouse permeated the environment in an effort to revitalize, develop, educate and give back to Michigan communities through Michigan Cares for Tourism on Tuesday.

After a day of touring Northeast Michigan, the Michigan Cares for Tourism group of over 150 tourism experts and 30 students from three universities worked on a variety of needed projects in and surrounding the lighthouse including pouring cement to create pads for artifacts to rest on, painting of outbuildings and interior walls, converting car batter casings into bat housing, building new picnic tables and filling the footing and foundation around the lighthouse keeper’s quarters with stone.

“We’ve got projects everywhere,” Alcona Historical Society President Linda Klemens said.

In addition to fixing and updating the structures, Klemens said the entire grounds received care through major trimming of trees, new gravel in the drive and a new parking area was being developed.

“It’s been just a fabulous day and we badly needed the parking,” Klemens said.

Patty Janes, a Grand Valley State University professor of hospitality and tourism who leads Michigan Cares for Tourism, said the group’s efforts would not be possible without the hospitality of the communities and the partnerships with GVSU, DNR, Travel Michigan, Tourism Cares, Indian Trails and DRIVEN.

“The industry doesn’t survive without each other,” she said.

Janes said the overall goal is in bringing professionals together from across the state in order to create networks and growth. Additionally, Janes said 100 percent of the organizations is volunteer driven through tourism, sponsors and the six charters.

Volunteers visited Northeast Michigan from as far south as Ypsilanti, to the west from Grand Rapids and across the state to Traverse City as well as several individuals who came down from the Upper Peninsula.

“The response to the efforts is overwhelming,” Janes said. “To see people give of their hearts, work their tails off, honestly, it’s the perfect storm.”

Three main goals of the Michigan Cares for Tourism, Janes said, include helping restore historic sites, learning about destinations and growing as individuals. This growth included volunteers who were learning how to pour cement and other hands on experiences they may not have had before.

Janes said Michigan is the first state in the nation to try this type of incentive and the key is the local community. Over $30,000 was raised in funds for the lighthouse projects according to Janes.

“The more local support and sponsors the more that can be done,” she said. “We aren’t eating boxed lunches like some would expect. Today 30 local volunteers made salads and brought them to us, fish are being cooked for us.”

Janes said efforts such as Michigan Cares for Tourism are not done in isolation but take commitment of a network of sponsors, partners and a 24-person planning team in addition to local community support. All the work, however, Janes said is worth the end result in being able to connect volunteerism to the tourism industry.

“You can try to describe what happens on the ground but you really can’t until you get here and experience it,” she said.

As far as bringing more tourism to the area, Janes said people are already talking about spreading the word and coming back to the area.

The Sturgeon Point Lighthouse revitalization project in conjunction with the gathering in Alpena that took place on Monday was the first two full day event Michigan Cares for Tourism has attempted. Janes said one part of this was due to how far the group was traveling.

“We wanted to infuse it with all the best stuff up here so we become a stronger Michigan,” she said.

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse was brought to the planning committee for consideration. Janes said often even if a site has the need of rehabilitation, there is not always local support available.

“We have to have the volunteers and readiness from the community in order for the right kind of site and work,” she said.

Prior projects for Michigan Cares for Tourism include Mill Lake in Chelsea and Belle Isle in Detroit. This fall the group will be tackling a second project for 2015 at Fayette Historic State Park in Manistique.

Paige Trisko can be reached via email at ptrisko@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Paige on Twitter @pt_alpenanews. Read her blog, Scribbles on Pa(i)ges, at www.thealpenanews.com.