2006-04-15 / Top News

State Park Rents Dock, Geary House

By Karen Gould

The Mackinac Island State Park Commission is renting the Matthew Geary House on Market Street this summer in an effort to supplement a proposed state appropriation reduction anticipated in October. The Mackinac Island State Park Commission is renting the Matthew Geary House on Market Street this summer in an effort to supplement a proposed state appropriation reduction anticipated in October. The Matthew Geary House on Market Street and half of the old Coast Guard dock behind the Visitor's Center are being rented this summer by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission in an effort to recover about $200,000 in state appropriations the park will lose in October. At their March 22 meeting in Lansing, commissioners approved leasing the Geary House from May 15 through October 31, 2006, for $15,000 to Pamela and Mark Bonter of Traverse City and to rent the east side of the Visitor's Center dock for $5,400 to Mike Young, a West Bluff cottager from Frankenmuth. The park will reserve the west side of the dock for its own use and for moorage by law enforcement agencies, such as the Mackinac County Sheriff's Department marine patrol and the U.S. Coast Guard. The Visitor's Center once housed the Coast Guard rescue service. The Geary House rental will generate about $2,730 a month over the 5.5-month lease. It is next to the Beaumont Memorial and was formerly occupied by Mackinac State Historic Parks Director Phil Porter and his family.

The rentals are two revenue sources identified by the commission to make up for state budget cuts that were threatened last year and implemented for the 2007 fiscal year budget that begins October 1. The agency will lose $200,000 of its $1.5 million annual appropriation under the governor's state budget proposal, which is now making its way through the legislature.

The $200,000 cut for next year's budget is the amount commissioners identified last year as money it could raise by increasing or implementing fees for park use and services. Last year, the governor had proposed eliminating the entire appropriation, but the legislature subsequently restored it in full.

The proposed cut from next year's budget was viewed, relatively, as a relief by Commission Chairman Dennis Cawthorne.

"It's good to be on the same page as the Executive branch," he said. "We all know the budget situation is not getting better in Michigan, and they have appropriately asked us to produce that $200,000."

Nevertheless, the proposed cut will stress further the state park's budget. State appropriations to Mackinac State Historic Parks have been reduced $700,000, or 35 percent, since 2002, said Mr. Porter. The commission's total budget is $5.7, with nearly $4 million earned through admissions, museum store sales, various fees, grants, and donations.

The Mackinac Island State Park Commission oversees Mackinac State Historic Parks, which includes the fort, museums, and about 83 percent of the land mass on Mackinac Island, and Colonial Michilimackinac, Historic Mill Creek, and other historic exhibits in Mackinaw City.

Funding issues sparked a general discussion when Commissioner Richard Manoogian reminded the board that the proposed 2007 budget could be reduced further as it moves through the legislative process. Commissioners agreed that educating legislators on park needs and inviting them to the Island to see park operations first-hand might be helpful, though no formal action was taken on the matter.

In March, Mr. Porter explained park operations and issues before the Michigan House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee and will do the same in the Senate in April.

Evening programs at Fort Mackinac and dinner at the Fort Tea Room will be continued this year, following a successful trial last summer. Grand Hotel, which operates the Tea Room food service for lunch and dinner, had announced in December its plan to discontinue dinner this year, but changed its plans, Mr. Porter said. More than 3,000 people were attracted to the dinners last year, and the evening service also allowed the park to offer extended hours and programs at the fort.

Visitors will be able to purchase Fort Mackinac entry tickets until 8 p.m. and the fort will remain open until 10 p.m. from Saturday, June 10, through Sunday, August 20. An adult ticket to Fort Mackinac is $9.50.

Evening events include rifle and cannon firings and a flag lowering ceremony performed by the scout honor guards.

Three flags are flown at the fort, depending on the weather. The garrison flag, which is the largest, contains 38 stars, each representing a state in the Union in the 1870s. Twenty scouts are required to fold the 20-foot by 36-foot flag. The other flags are the 10-foot by 15foot post flag and the 4-foot by 8-foot storm flag, which is flown during high winds.

Commission staff continues to work with the City of Mackinac Island regarding an Island-wide snowmobile speed limit of 20 miles per hour. The city has posted a 20-mile-per hour limit on city streets but state park roads are without any limit, unless one is posted. The city contends this causes confusion, especially with visiting snowmobilers who ride across the ice bridge.

Commission Chairman Dennis Cawthorne said further research may be needed to determine if the commission has any power to reduce the speed limit on portions of M185 in the park.

Assistant Attorney General Jim Riley said that the Michigan Department of Transportation sets the speed limits on state highways like M-185, which encircles Mackinac Island.

John Batchelder, Michigan Department of Transportation's Newberry Transportation Service Center manager, told the Town Crier April 12 that he has suggested to the city and state park that, if they submit a proposal with agreed-upon speed limits for M-185, his agency most likely would recognize them.

Commissioners approved an agreement to expand and renovate the Mackinac Island airport terminal at an estimated cost of $296,563. The agreement is through the Bureau of Aeronautics, which is contributing $59,313. The Federal Aviation Administration granting another $237,250.

Mr. Porter said park staff will review the construction plans, taking into consideration

that the airport terminal is the first impression some visitors have of Mackinac Island. The terminal will be brought up to code, a covered outside area for passengers and supplies will be added, and a separate electrical vault will be constructed, he said.

Following concerns raised by commissioners over increasing costs to those visiting Mackinac Island, commissioners approved a rate increase of approximately five percent for Mackinac Island Carriage Tours taxi fares, sightseeing tours, and livery rental. Brad Chambers made the request, citing the increased cost of doing business, including inflation, rising fuel prices to transport horses to and from the Island, and increased employee health care costs.

Commissioners noted that the cost of an adult ticket to Fort Mackinac had increased by 46 percent since 1995, while the cost of an adult carriage tour ticket had risen 58 percent, the possible implication being that horse livery costs are rising faster than those for historic parks. In reply to a suggestion that the increase cover the next two years, Mr. Chambers said there were too many cost uncertainties to make that workable.

An adult carriage tour will be $19 dollars for the coming season.

Under a licensing agreement with the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, carriage rates cannot be raised without commission approval. Commissioners had tabled the request for the rate increase from their January meeting, stating they needed more information to justify a rate hike.

Park staff has been involved in a five year strategic planning process and will prepare a final report for the commission's review and approval. The plan covers park operations from 2007 through 2011, Mr. Porter told commissioners.

Steve Brisson, chief curator at Mackinac State Historic Parks, is directing the process with staff looking at how they are meeting the needs and desires of the public and what changes can be made to make the park operations better for visitors. They have looked at attendance at other national historic sites, Mr. Porter said, and are seeking to adapt to public interests without losing sight of the park's mission.

They also have begun discussing planning for the 200th anniversary celebration of the War of 1812. The first land battle fought during the war took place on Mackinac Island when British soldiers invaded from the north, taking the American garrison stationed at Fort Mackinac by surprise.

Though six years away, park staff is beginning to plan publications and will be contacting The History Channel and national publications, explained Tim Putman, public relations and marketing officer.

Michigan Senate Bill 1044 has passed through the Senate, Mr. Cawthorne told commissioners. The proposed legislation would allow the sale of the sloop Welcome. Commissioners had planned to approve the transfer of the ship at their January meeting, but were advised by Mr. Riley that they lacked the authority to do so without a statutory revision.

In other business, commissioners approved a two-week sublease for a West Bluff cottage owned by Lydia Pennock of Vermont to Heidi Schultz of Ohio.

The Commission next meets Saturday, May 27, at 1:30 p.m. at the Post Hospital in Fort Mackinac.

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