2019-02-09 / News

Michelle Walk Leads Mackinac Associates

By Stephanie Fortino

Michelle Walk of Cedarville is the new membership and grants coordinator with Mackinac State Historic Parks. Michelle Walk of Cedarville is the new membership and grants coordinator with Mackinac State Historic Parks. As the new membership and grants coordinator for Mackinac State Historic Parks, Michelle Walk of Cedarville is looking forward to developing relationships with the members of Mackinac Associates. With a background in community development, Ms. Walk has experience in networking and providing resources to communities throughout the Eastern Upper Peninsula. Now, she can concentrate her energies on one organization, helping Mackinac Associates members achieve their goals supporting the state park.

Ms. Walk’s responsibilities at Mackinac State Historic Parks include providing administrative support for Mackinac Associates. She writes grants and seeks other funding opportunities for state park projects, oversees Mackinac Associates led fundraising campaigns, and serves on the state park’s strategic plan committee, in addition to many other responsibilities.

Ms. Walk replaces Diane Dombroski, who retired at the end of the summer. Over her decades with the state park, Mrs. Dombroski has developed close relationships with many Mackinac Associates members, and she is looking forward to continuing as an active member herself.

Starting her position at the end of the season on August 27, Ms. Walk was able to meet many staff members and donors before they dispersed for the winter. Come next season, she is looking forward to meeting even more people.

“I’m getting excited to build relationships,” she told The Town Crier. “You can see how passionate our membership is.”

Throughout the year, Ms. Walk works in the state park’s administrative offices in Mackinaw City, and she travels to all the state park’s sites, including those on Mackinac Island. While the sites are closed for the winter, her list of tasks during the offseason is long, and she is also getting to know many Mackinac Associates members as they call her office to renew their memberships.

This fall, Mackinac Associates kicked off its fundraising campaign for the new Native American museum on Mackinac Island that will debut at the Biddle House in 2020. About $98,000 needs to be raised for that project, Ms. Walk said. The Biddle House Museum will remain open during the 2019 season, although some construction and preparation of the exhibits will occur during the next two winter seasons.

The state park is undergoing its three-year strategic planning process, which will identify the next big projects that Mackinac Associates will likely support.

Understanding who Mackinac Associates members are and how best to engage and communicate with them is a primary task for Ms. Walk. She is considering establishing an electronic newsletter, which would be available between editions of the Curiosities newsletter. She is also evaluating the benefits associates members receive, and exploring new benefits the group can offer.

When people become Mackinac Associates members, they receive benefits based on how much they donate. For example, many people join Mackinac Associates to earn seasonal admission to all the state park’s sites at Mackinac Island and Mackinaw City, which is a great bargain for visiting families, Ms. Walk said. Joining the associates at the $85 Mackinac Heritage membership level gives this to two adults living in the same household, and all the children under 18 years living in that household, as well. While many take advantage of this membership, Ms. Walk said they tend not to renew their membership, possibly because they don’t plan to visit the area again soon.

Associates members live across the state, country, Canada, and other foreign countries, she said, adding there is a very active core of members who participate in events and provide strong financial support for projects. But many members are less active, and Ms. Walk would like to engage them more. First, she must learn more about the demographics of people who make up that less active group.

Engaging younger people in the organization is another goal, she said, especially the children of longtime Mackinac Associates members.

“We don’t have a high level of active engagement with younger members,” Ms. Walk said. “We want to encourage young folks whose parents have been engaged for, say 30 years. We want them to see the value of membership even if they are not a regular visitor.”

Mackinac Associates members feel a strong emotional connection to the state park, Mackinac Island, and Mackinaw City, she said. The key is to translate that connection to membership and financial support.

Part of having Mackinac Associates members understand the value of their contribution is ensuring each project the group has contributed to is identified on the state park grounds. Ms. Walk is looking forward to the spring when she can visit all the historic sites on the mainland and Island, looking at the places with fresh eyes to make sure the group’s fundraising efforts are acknowledged.

Each year, Mackinac Associates members are invited to an annual meeting. For 2019, the meeting will be held at Mill Creek Discovery Park to encourage members to bring their whole family along, Ms. Walk said. The meeting is typically held at the end of August each year.

Ms. Walk has lived in Cedarville since 2000, and moved to the EUP because she was drawn to the Upper Peninsula. With degrees in economics, she has worked for the Les Cheneaux Chamber of Commerce Economic Forum and the Great Waters tourism collaborative.

She joins the state park staff fol- lowing 14 years with MSU Extension, where she worked in community development and building relationships and networks. She helped communities write grants, raise funds for projects, and develop strategic plans. Many of those skills are useful in her new position, where she is eager to see projects come to fruition. She also learned about donor cultivation and strategies through her 10 years serving on the board of the United Way of the Eastern Upper Peninsula.

While she loved her job with MSU Extension, where she also worked on tourism and local food projects, the frequent travel required was taxing.

“I really missed feeling like I was contributing to my local community,” she said.

Helping organizations and communities realize their full potential is what draws her to development work, she told the Town Crier.

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