2010-07-17 / Editorials

Mackinac’s Identity Is Based on Its Past

To the Editor:

I am a fourth generation summer resident of Mackinac Island whose professional career has been as a land-use planning executive.

Some years ago I was hired by property owners in a downtown commercial historic district to bring official recognition to the area at the local, state, and federal levels. It was the property owners, themselves, initiating these actions in Shockoe Slip, Richmond, in Virginia, and they did it to protect their investments, to ensure there were no demolitions, to prevent cheesy, copycat developments from coming in, and to take advantage of the tax incentives. These people knew that the long term value of historic status far outweighed any related requirements. All three kinds of historic status were attained within one year. Next, the City’s planning documents and codes were amended to embrace the changes, and the district earned several years of Community Development Block Grant funds to enhance its historic appearance.

Local historic status is the most important for the visiting public, and tourists are the lifeblood of Mackinac. When I tell frequent visitors to Mackinac, who adore the Island, that there is no downtown historic status or architectural review, they simply cannot believe it. They are shocked and frightened for the future of Mackinac. All across the nation, lesser places have had such protections for decades. Study after study proves it to be a win-win approach for the owners, the city, the economy, local residents, and, of course the visitors.

In a recent National Geographic international ranking, the Shetland Islands and Mackinac, because of their authenticity, were ranked the top two island locations to visit across the entire globe. We beat Hawaii, Bora Bora, and hundreds of exotic locales. When oil was brought ashore to Shetland from the North Sea, I did field work and wrote my master’s thesis at the University of Michigan on the strategies used to protect the local culture -- the famous Shetland ponies, the handmade wool sweaters, the small, community way of life. The local government hired world renowned experts in every specialty to help guide the community and ensure it retained its natural charm. It has certainly been successful because, 30 years later, it is ranked number one among island destinations, even though it is a major oil port.

Mackinac has fewer obstacles to overcome, but time is of the essence. Ad hoc protections can be useful until complete ordinances are ready. It is the fundamental responsibility of elected officials to safeguard the Island’s value and heritage, especially because Mackinac's identity is based upon its past.

Moira Blodgett Croghan

Berryville, Virginia

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