Tourism Pros Revitalizing Leelanau State Park Lighthouse

In Michigan, we are blessed to have a booming tourism industry due to the beauty of the Great Lakes that surround us. But when we are marveling at the beauty of these historic tourist attractions, we oftentimes underestimate the time and effort that goes into the upkeep of them.

Michigan Cares for Tourism, or MC4T, is a 100% volunteer-run organization that specializes in restoration and upkeep of Michigan’s finest historic attractions. Next week, MC4T is taking on a project that will clean up Leelanau State Park’s Grand Traverse Lighthouse. Starting Monday, Sept. 16, an anticipated 200 tourism industry volunteers will work together on hands-on restoration of this historic lighthouse while also being educated on its historic background, networking with colleagues from across the state and making an impact on this Michigan community.

The Grand Traverse Lighthouse is located on the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula and has been the guiding light for ships passing through Manitou Passage for nearly 150 years. Being one the oldest lighthouses on the Great Lakes, this historic structure is now home to a museum open to public audiences. With sponsorship from Grand Traverse Lighthouse Foundation and help from volunteer organizations such as Michigan Cares for Tourism, this historic tourism site can still stand proudly on Lake Michigan today.

Patty Janes is a faculty member of the Hospitality and Tourism Management program at Grand Valley State University (GVSU). She coordinates the Michigan Cares for Tourism group, which is a partnership between GVSU, Travel Michigan, the Department of Natural Resources, Driven, and Indian Trails, along with support from the national Tourism Cares organization, which the group is modeled after. She was gracious enough to answer some questions concerning the upcoming event this weekend:

Why was this site chosen and what do you hope to accomplish there?

Each year we consider several locations our partners bring forward. This year, this project was selected based on the work to be accomplished and the readiness and willingness of the site and local community. Both Grand Traverse Lighthouse and Leelanau State Park work closely together and were both ready for help. They are managed with very small staffs and set a goal to raise money and be ready for hundreds of volunteers to help in one day.. With small staffs, they have many areas in need of attention and they knew if they had the resources (e.g. money, labor), they could get a great deal accomplished. They knew they couldn’t get it done without help. Therefore, we have 18 different projects from the playground installation to fence and roof repairs, and painting projects to trail construction and brush clearing to enhance the visitor experience.

What do volunteers and the region get out of the experience?

We specifically don’t select weekends [for these projects] as this is when the industry is busiest and they cannot volunteer. Many are serving visitors on a busy fall weekend, therefore, Monday and Tuesday are days where they can volunteer, and we can add an economic impact to the region by eating and staying locally.

This year most of our near 300 volunteers are spending the night in Leelanau County. We are touring and experiencing many tourism sites on day one to learn about the region and be more informed tourism professionals (ultimately serving our Michigan visitors better!). In addition, this provides an opportunity to meet other tourism professionals from across the state and within various disciplines. Our industry is unique in that the tourism experience includes food and beverage facilities, lodging/accommodations, attractions/things to do, marketing organizations, etc. even gas stations and grocery stores are important businesses to travelers.

There are few opportunities to bring together all disciplines, and our events are one way to do so. We want our industry professionals to meet more professionals who ultimately help further develop and grow the tourism industry. Forty of the volunteers are college students studying hospitality and tourism from five different colleges/universities, and this year six Northport high school students will help in our volunteer effort too.

The second day we want to make such an impact on a site that the staff and visitors are amazed, grateful, and speechless. We want the site to accomplish more than they ever could have alone, and we want them to grow as an organization. Each of our past sites have experienced a growth in visitation after our events. We want to help share their story to media who have interest, educate our industry on the unique distinctions of each destination, give of their time and talents to efforts that would never be completed without them, and feel good about their contribution to a nonprofit that helps visitors engage in a better Michigan experience.

We are working on 18 different projects at the lighthouse within the park. Every volunteer is critical as we have work for all of them from painting and construction projects, landscape and trail development, and fifty of our volunteers will focus solely on the new playground installation.

When can the public see the improvements?

Improvements will be seen immediately. A new playgroup will be installed within the day; buildings will have new life as they are refreshed with paint; a trail will be installed giving more access to the 1,300 acres in this stunning destination. The park, because of the work to be done, has limited access on Tuesday, however, on Wednesday it will look better than before. I imagine there will be children on that playground as soon as it opens on Wednesday.

Our volunteers talk about one of their favorite experiences at other projects has been when visitors walk by while we are volunteering and say, ‘thank you’ and share how much they appreciate how the site looks better. Sometimes we forget how our work makes an impact.

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Photo credit: Brett Schaberg

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