2010-07-17 / Editorials

Don’t Lose the Allure of Mackinac Island

To the Editor:

For the last 20 years I’ve come to Mackinac Island, not lured by the fudge, but for that intangible step back in time we all feel when we walk off the ferry and hear the clippityclop of horses echoing against the historic facades of Huron Street. It is against that image that I try to understand why anyone would want to take down a historic building on Mackinac Island unless it was impossible to maintain. And I don’t say this only because I’m a romantic, I say it because I’m a businessman, as well. What would Mackinac Island be without its historic buildings? Disney World spends billions to make Main Street in its parks look like historic America. And, cleverly, behind that façade (and literally in tunnels under Main Street), a network of sophistication and technology provides muscle to the marketing engine that draws the world to Disney’s recreation of small town America. One can learn a lot from Disney: historically themed on the outside, sophisticated technology under the hood.

We (and I say we, because now I’m an Island summer resident) already have a historic main street. We don’t need to spend billions to create it. These buildings, along with the fascinating people, the isolation of the Island, the natural beauty, the art, the forests of the interior, the bicycling, and, yes, the fudge, are the fuel that drives the engine of Mackinac. But that’s not news. We all know that. Tourism is the only economy of this Island and tourism would not exist without the lure of stepping back in time. I’m sure it is argued “it’s only one building,” but one is a precedent and one is unnecessary to tear down if it can be preserved.

As a first-year resident, I’ve been struck by the apparent variability in the zoning of the Island, my own home included (as much as I love it). It would seem to me that every business, every home, every feature of this Island, every sign, every “costume” worn by an employee, should fit into the theme of 19th century America, either Victorian or Western. It is this theme that lures visitors back to this Island. It is this theme, which is much more than just a theme, but also a lifestyle that lures the 500-plus people who live here all year. It is this theme that causes summer residents like myself to bring my family to Mackinac Island during the “season” and dream that someday we could live here all year.

The people of Mackinac Island are fierce individualists. That has become clear to me. Mackinac Island attracts strong people who are willing to trade a few creature comforts for a lifestyle that is impossible to find anywhere else in the world. I have faith that these individuals will not only keep the Mackinac Island I love historic, but will fight to make it even more so, a town that is truly Somewhere in Time.

Steve Sulkin Mackinac Island and Vernon Hills, Illinois

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