A Conversation on Supporting Local and Traveling Safely

Michele Wildman

Monday, May 3, 2021

Michele Wildman, Senior Vice President of Community Development at MEDC joins Travel Michigan Vice President Dave Lorenz and Tom Daldin of the Public Television show Under The Radar Michigan for a conversation about safely experiencing the beauty, arts and culture of Pure Michigan this spring and summer, with suggestions for discovering and supporting local businesses along the way.

The Creativity and Resiliency of Michigan’s Small Businesses

LORENZ: Today, we're going to talk about traveling safely throughout Michigan as we head into the warm weather season, and how we can support each other - support locally owned restaurants, shops, hotels, and other small businesses while traveling all around the state - and have a pretty big impact on local communities.

Michele, with some of the community development programs you've worked on this past year, do any of them pop up in your mind as being unique or really cool that people should be aware of?

WILDMAN: One of the things that we've seen through the pandemic is just the resiliency of our small businesses. We published a Winter Strategies Guide aimed at business districts and downtowns, and continue to offer resources through our Main Street programs. But in that work, one of the coolest things we've seen is the resiliency of our communities and small business owners. We've seen them quickly pivot to embrace outdoor dining and really take advantage of all the wonderful outdoor assets that Michigan has to offer. Just that creativity that we know is what makes the entrepreneurs and small business that are right here in Michigan some of the best.

DALDIN: It's amazing what businesses have done to help support each other, and how they pivoted, and they've changed and made the best of this situation in so many creative ways. My wife and I actually had an experiment this past weekend, we decided we're going to go out to three small towns. We're going to shop, we're going to have something to eat a nice little town and go shopping in each town. So, we went to Fenton, Holly, and Clarkston, and spent the entire afternoon shopping, eating local, and had the most wonderful time. So yeah, it's time for everybody to get out and start rediscovering our neighbors and our friends and the local businesses and the restaurants and these small towns that have managed to grow and continue to thrive.

Connecting Michigan’s Downtowns with Outdoor Recreation

LORENZ: As we think about this upcoming season, and the way communities and businesses have made adjustments, any suggestions that people should consider as they're traveling around the state?

WILDMAN: There are so many amazing things that we're able to support throughout the state. We have tried to create linkages between the downtown, that really is the core of some of the community development projects that we're able to assist with, and some of the trails that exist throughout the state where you are able to bike or walk, and also visit businesses in the commercial districts along the way.

There's a fun little brewery up near my mom in the Petoskey Area where you can do just that. You can hike or bike and then stop at the brewery. And there are many examples of that throughout the state. Port Huron has a great walking trail that’s very close to their downtown.

DALDIN: That's funny you should mention that because during this entire pandemic, my wife and I have probably biked and hiked every trail south of Lansing in Michigan. It was just our thing. We did that three, four days a week. And we also made a pact that every weekend we would go to a restaurant we have never been to before instead because we all have our favorites. Now, every weekend we pick a place we've never been to before.

LORENZ: As we’re talking about people exploring and discovering the outdoors, I think there will be some good things that come out of this. One of them is that people are kind of rediscovering nature. In the trail state of Michigan, I've seen so many families out in nature. They're rediscovering the great outdoors. I could not agree more. My own family is an example of it.

Thumbs Up for Discovering Pure Michigan’s Hidden Gems

DALDIN: I think a lot of people are rediscovering the Upper Peninsula as well. I personally have put together about a dozen U.P. adventures for friends of mine who've seen the show and they've never been up there before. And so, they're like, “Tom, where should I go?” And I'm putting together these one to two-week trips for people to get up there. That includes restaurants and some of the museums up there and, of course, the incredible natural beauty in the U.P.

LORENZ: Yes, this coming season, I think people will start to explore some of the lesser-known places around the state. So, as you think about those places, which you can define any way you want, why don't you mention some of the places that you really like as you as you go around Michigan. Michele, any thoughts?

WILDMAN: I would give a plug for the Thumb. That was one of the trails we went out and walked. We went up to the Lexington area and drove down along to check out all the small towns. We did that over the summer. There were really some beautiful things to see up there, and it doesn't get as much attention as some of the small towns along the west coast, but really, they have some cute little towns that are amazing places to visit. And if you're in the Metro Detroit area, for example, it’s not as far of a drive, depending on where you go.

DALDIN: I'm a big fan of the thumb because of the drive up there. There's almost no traffic. If you haven't been to the little town of Port Austin lately, it’s an absolutely amazing place. You can kayak out to Turnip Rock, which is a landmark up there. You think you're somewhere up in Alaska. It's beautiful. All the little towns are great places to explore.

LORENZ: Tom, you mentioned some of the fun things to do like paddling. I love it. Not that I've been doing it enough these days, but I will this summer with Paddle Antrim, which is a group in the Antrim County area. They've been working to provide signage and other information along the chain of lakes. That chain of lakes in that area is like 12 lakes that are connected by rivers. It's a 100-mile-long chain. So, you can put in your kayaks and canoes at all these various areas because of Paddle Antrim. And there are places you can rent your kayaks from, too. That's going to be very popular for the summer.

Creating Community Places with Outdoor Art

LORENZ: A lot of the MEDC efforts have been in beautification of communities. And I tell you, I've been an advocate for city murals forever. Growing up in West Michigan, I remember going to Ludington as a kid and seeing these big murals on buildings and it had my imagination flowing about the stories that they told about the history of that community. And I go to places like Flint, and you see unbelievable murals. Michele, I know you were part of that that project as well.

WILDMAN: We supported some of the Mural Fest activities with our Public Spaces, Community Places program at the MEDC. More directly than that, I'm actually a Flint native and have explored myself, like you, the murals extensively. I would echo your sentiments Dave, they're stunning. Really, really remarkable work by a variety of local and national artists.

DALDIN: Yeah, I love murals because they add life and color to a city. And a vibrancy. I think art is the icing on the cake of life. And when you can take a big brown brick building and turn into a gigantic piece of art. There's nothing better. I just love murals.

Small Businesses Help to Define Local Communities

LORENZ: Businesses, especially small businesses, epitomize what a community is all about and help you really understand that community. I think of a place like Munising, where you can go to Falling Rock Cafe, get a coffee, and go there and find a book and read as well. And it's right down there by the shipping area where you can jump on a boat and see the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. These connections between the small businesses and the visitors and the community. They’re just so important to our towns, and that's why we need to support them now.

DALDIN: Yeah, it's kind of like it's kind of like Short’s Brewing Co. up in Bellaire. They've sort of changed the culture of that town and brought more people into town, and now Bellaire is becoming one of these little gems where people want to live, work, play. It's wonderful in the winter and in the summer.

WILDMAN: Sometimes you don't have to go so far from home to really experience those cool things. My kids play travel sports and one of the things we try to do whenever we have to travel is to check out a unique cafe or a restaurant or an ice cream spot. On one of those travel soccer adventures we discovered the world's most amazing sundaes in Howell at the M Street Baking Company. Just check out their pictures online. If that doesn't make you want to drive to Howell, nothing will - especially if you're a chocolate lover.

Supporting Local by Trying Something New

LORENZ: Everybody is doing their part to make it possible to safely visit these museums, restaurants and retailers, and I'm hoping that people will go out of their way to do that. What are some of the places that you're hoping to get to first? Tell me about a restaurant or a retailer, or a museum that you want to visit.

DALDIN: One of my favorite museums on the planet is the Air Zoo just south of Kalamazoo. I'm absolutely amazed. One of the most incredible aerospace museums I've ever been to. If you have not been to the Air Zoo, it’s an absolutely amazing place. More aerospace history than you can shake an F-15 at.

WILDMAN: We’ve talked a lot about some of my loves in northern Michigan. I also really enjoy going to Detroit. I'm a big sports fan, so I'm really looking forward to taking in a game over the summer and visiting one of the neighborhood restaurants they have in Detroit. We try to check out a different locally-owned restaurant every time we go back there.

We are also big fans of lighthouses. One of the teams within the MEDC family is the State Historic Preservation Office. They have a program where they work with lighthouses to help with upkeep and rehab and there really are some absolutely beautiful sights. So, I would say those are my top two for the summer, some north and some south.

Visit michigan.org/supportlocal to learn how you can support local businesses in communities across Michigan, and learn more about how the Pure Michigan Pledge is helping to ensure a safe travel experience for all at michigan.org/puremichiganpledge.

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