Historic Upper Peninsula Site Gets Makeover from Tourism Pros
| 5 min read
It took one very hard day of work to make years of difference at an historic park in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
In its fourth restoration project, Michigan Cares for Tourism, a group comprised of tourism industry professionals and students, recently cleaned up and restored parts of Fayette Historic State Park in Garden.
The group painted welcome signs and buildings, cleared brush, shrubs and trees from a race track around the property, and put lathes up in the walls and ceilings of various rooms at the site’s historic hotel to ready them for new plaster. They also repaired fencing and put up siding on some of the historic buildings on the property.
Stepping Back in Time
Fayette was once a thriving industrial community located on the Big Bay de Noc of Lake Michigan. Known for manufacturing charcoal pig iron in the mid- to late-1800s, the townsite is now preserved as a living museum featuring over 20 buildings, museum exhibits, a walking tour and scenic overlooks for visitors to enjoy.
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 (DNR), Driven, and Indian Trails, along with support from the national Tourism Cares organization, which the group is modeled after. Janes said the Fayette project showed participants a unique slice of history.
“It was a hot area that just died,” Janes said.
“You kind of get to step back in time and understand how people lived in that portion of Michigan,” said Maia Turek, a Statewide Recreation Programmer with the DNR.
Getting to Know Fayette
Many volunteers had never heard of Fayette before the clean-up event. Turek said exposing tourism professionals to new and exciting state attractions is one of the best parts of the Michigan Cares for Tourism projects. She said once people fully experience a worksite and its surrounding attractions, they become invested and passionate advocates for those destinations. She said Fayette’s central location, which is close to the Pictured Rocks in Munising and Palms Book State Park, which features Kitch-iti-kipi, Michigan’s largest freshwater spring, makes it an ideal getaway spot.
“It’s a nice kind of long weekend destination and there’s something to do that’s new and different every single day,” Turek said.
Stefanie Kulpe is the owner of Michigan Travels. She’s volunteered at all of the restoration projects that Michigan Cares for Tourism has put on.
“I love that we can get together as an industry and make a difference. I love learning about the sites,” Kulpe said. “Some of the sites I’d never been to.”
Add networking to the mix and the excursions are the perfect way for Kulpe and her peers to learn more about each other, their industry, and some hidden gems that exist in Michigan.
“These projects we do are just a very special way of experiencing that piece of history or that location we work on,” Kulpe said. “It’s very, very special to me.”
Renee Newman is Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Discover Kalamazoo. This was her first time volunteering with the Michigan Cares for Tourism group, but a previous volunteer experience in Portland, Oregon with Tourism Cares clued her in to the fact that she might be in for some hard labor.
“I had an idea that we were going to be in for some physical work and that we’d actually be making a difference,” Newman said.
She was assigned to the lathe project, something she’d definitely never tackled before, but a fun skill to add to her home improvement repertoire nonetheless.
Newman said she was a little ashamed that she’d never heard of Fayette before the trip, but was amazed by its rich history as a bustling commercial center turned ghost town. Preserving historic gems like Fayette was a way for her to give back.
“I love this wonderful state that I call home,” Newman said.
Stepping Up While Giving Back
A daily step challenge was added to the Fayette event, with pedometers donated by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Some participants racked up more than 25,000 steps during their work day.
“I couldn’t believe people were over 25,000 steps,” Janes said. “It was great to promote health … and how volunteerism does multiple good things.”
“It was really cool to put together that notion that I’m volunteering but getting exercise at the same time,” Turek explained. “It’s not that hard to be active and fit, especially when you’re doing something that feels good and is good for you.”
Leaving a Mark
Nicole Prinz, 21, is a GVSU hospitality tourism management major from Fruitport, Mich. This was her second time volunteering with the group and her first time ever visiting the Upper Peninsula. Prinz said she enjoyed the learning experience and would definitely do it again.
“It was a lot of hard work, but it was so rewarding to see how everything came around,” Prinz said.
For Janes, having an army of over 100 people working on one mission meant staff at Fayette can focus on other long-term goals.
“It would take them years to accomplish what we did in one day,” Janes said.
She said the program works on so many levels – reclaiming and giving new life to a Michigan historic site, building connections between tourism industry professionals, and exposing a wider audience to some hidden gems within the state. Janes is particularly excited to see more and more students getting involved .
“They learn, they grow, they develop and then they get to tackle something that they might not have ever done,” she said. “I’ve never found anything as an educator that can achieve so many objectives.”
Have you ever been to Fayette? What’s your favorite memory from the site or from the surrounding area? Tell us in the comments.
A previous version of this story incorrectly identified its location. The park is located in Garden, Mich.
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Photo credit (main image): Andrew, additional photos courtesy of Robert Robins