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The pace picks up in Harrisville

Mayor Jeffrey Gehring, of Harrisville, seat of Alcona County, “First of the 83,” steps into the spotlight this month.

Although I feverishly follow political currents at the state, national, and international levels, I’ve never paid much attention to Alcona County or Harrisville politics, despite subscribing to The Alcona County Review (by the way, The Review has not missed a single week of publication since its founding in 1887; keep it going, Alcona Review!).

My disinterest in local politics stems from the fact that things don’t change much around here (unless a building burns down, which happens much too often in Alcona County).

Then Mayor Gehring came along.

Since his election, the pace of transformation in Harrisville has accelerated in attention-getting ways:

* The ice-skating rink: Few readers are old enough to recall when there were fish hatchery ponds in downtown Harrisville — four of them, in sets of two, on the east and west sides of a barn-size hatchery building that still stands, now in its fifth or sixth iteration (for many years, it was the HQ of county social services). The two in back were never filled in. I caught carp in them as a kid. Becoming eutrophic over the decades, they morphed into soggy meadows. The pair in front, filled in with gravel when the fishery closed, became a parking lot. Barber Shop Quartet singing rang out there every Labor Day (more on the annual convention of SPEBSQSUA [SPEBsqua], the Society for the Preservation of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, at some future time). At some point, a paved basketball appeared, which saw little action. But, this past winter, Mayor Gehring arranged for the court to be flooded in order to freeze, and, with the addition of sideboards for safety, Harrisville had a civic skating ring! It was a hive of activity.

∫ The development of Harrisville Township Park: Unlike the dysfunctional turf war between the city and township named Alpena, which keeps redundant fire departments at work, Harrisville city and township have started collaborating, to benefit the citizens of both. The border between them runs near downtown Harrisville — Northeastern Window and Door and the Alcona Brew Haus are in the township. Harrisville’s scenic shoreline thoroughfare, Lake Street, ends at the township line, where there is a large, dusty field that purports to be a baseball diamond. The township has always been too broke to do anything with the property, but it was theirs, so nothing happened. Recently, though, Mayor Gehring struck a deal for the city to finance the development of that key space. The ambitious plans call for adding all kinds of amenities. Infielders in the future will have a nice, smooth space to chase down grounders.

∫ Things are hopping at the marina:

1). The modernized playground: My kids adored cavorting on the 1970s-vintage equipment, the sort we had at my elementary school, which was paved with asphalt. The marina’s version has dirt, but it’s still a Pre-School of Hard Knocks. That will soon change, with its replacement by contraptions where little ones can frolic and grownups can relax.

2). An electric charging station with two plug-ins: Harrisville joins Rogers City is embracing the transportation technology of the future.

3). The expanded music series: a long tradition in summertime Alcona County is concerts at the marina. Last year, there was a weekly Wednesday open mic sponsored by The Dockside Cafe, featuring the brilliantly talented multi-instrumentalist Eric Brandon, who recorded and performed with some big names back when he did it for money. This summer, the plan is for musical performances three nights a week!

∫ A new “pocket park” is taking shape at The Times Square of Alcona County, the intersection of M-72 and U.S.-23, across from Shotmaker’s Sports Bar. It is the initiative of the generous landowner, and Mayor Gehring has promoted it vigorously (there is still time to purchase a commemorative brick for the park).

∫ Most importantly — and controversially — Mayor Gehring welcomed the recreational cannabis industry to town: There is one licensed operation open for business, and two more on the way. Why would the mayor take a step likely to anger and/or offend many voters? (Alpena’s leaders balked at going that far). The reason for the political risk is money. The state will be paying about $28,000 to Harrisville this year — PER LICENSE. That equates to $84,000 for municipal coffers, which will go toward overdue water treatment updates.

All of this adds up to a clear conclusion: A visit to Harrisville is worth the scenic drive south. Don’t let the detour deter you!

Road construction now ends nine miles north of town, at Shaw Road, allowing a motorist from Alpena to turn west there, then go south on bucolic Poor Farm Road to M-72. Harrisville is just two miles east from there, where the lake comes into view, and the highway turns into Main Street.

And, if you don’t know, perhaps you’ve heard … where M-72 ends, the fun begins!

Eric Paul Roorda is a professor, historian, lecturer, author, and illustrator. He has called Alcona County home for 50 years.

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