Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Next time you're in Munusing...

One of the ideas of this discussion is how we interact with our places, and one of the ways we interact is in gathering-place businesses. Local coffee shops and cafes, bookstores, and other businesses invite us to linger and socialize. It's good for building community and it provides a livelihood to the owners and workers. The business supports the town and the town supports the business. It's a place to slow down a bit and have conversations with each other. It's good for our mental health as well as business.

One such business is Falling Rock Cafe and Bookstore in Munising, Michigan. A friend suggested that it was worth a stop and it surely is. A large selection of new and used books along with coffees, teas and treats nice people. So I forward the recommendation on to you. check it out in person or

I stopped briefly late one evening on my way to Marquette. Although it was officially closed, they invited me to come on in and get some coffee. Coffee was good, book collection looked interesting but I didn't have time to browse. Steve Riekki was there promoting U.P., his coming of age novel set in the UP.

You know you live in a cool place when it's the setting of many books.
What's your favorite UP-placed book? What's your recommended gathering place businesses that we may not know of?

Monday, September 20, 2010

One more thought about west and north

I like the mountains. I like the north woods. It's a different kind of appeal. The mountains demand your attention; the north woods invite your attentions, invite you to sit back, listen for the loons, take a canoe out, sit in the Adirondack chair.

report from the west part 4 and wrap up

Snoqualmie, Washington
Just east of Seattle is the gorgeous Snoqualmie Falls. As nice as it is, how do you attract a steady stream of tourists to a somewhat out-of-the-way area in the middle of so many other great tourist destinations? The beauty of the waterfall is not sufficient. There's lots of other great spots. Thus, Snoqualmie has taken a combined approach to attracting tourists.

Many years ago, a power company installed a hydro plant at the falls. It did not destroy the falls in doing so. The hydro plant is not really even noticeable. But the company that runs the hydro plant is either voluntarily helping maintain the park around the falls or has been convinced by the town or the regulatory agency to do so. I’m not sure which is the case, but the result is a very nice, well-kept, very inviting park around the falls. And there’s no entry fee.

A fancy hotel on the falls actually adds to the charm of the park. It’s not a wilderness experience, but neither is it tacky like the area around some other famous waterfall that will remain nameless.

For those interested in the history and culture of the area, a series of interpretive signs provides that information.

The park is a few miles off the freeway, but a very attractive boulevard invites people to make that drive.

So even if you have what should be a good tourist destination, you can't be successful by sitting back and letting it attract on its own. You still have to do some placemaking.

Dubois, Wyoming
Coming back from Yellowstone National Park and on the way to Ft. Collins, Colorado, we stopped overnight in Dubois, Wyoming. Dubois is in central Wyoming on US287. We lived in Ft. Collins for several years in the mid 80s to mid 90s and often went to Yellowstone via US287.

My recollection from back then was that Dubois was a small ranching town slowly drying up. Either my recollections are incorrect or Dubois has successfully transitioned to a more prosperous town that takes advantage of tourism. It’s a nice, small town that incorporates the traditional economy with the newer economics of the west (i.e., recreationalists) . We stayed in a nice motor court and had breakfast at the café next door. A Prius still sporting an Obama bumper sticker was parked next to a dual-axle F-250 with a bumper sticker that made a decidedly more conservative point. In the café, I cannot say that retired ranchers and kayakers were necessarily chumming it up, but there did seem to be a more welcoming atmosphere than one sometimes finds in other small towns that don’t like tourists for some reason.

As Dubois seemed to show, blending the traditional and newer economies is not about turning the place over to newcomers and forgetting about the existing economy. It’s about making room for both. I think back to when I lived in Colorado and sympathized with the resistance to the Californians. In the late 80s there was an influx of Californians. Prices of property soared, places were becoming gentrified and those Californians and their attitude!

The west has changed, in some places beyond recognition even from the early 1990s. One can fight change or one can be in a position to have to adapt to change. Sometimes change can be made into something good. (Indeed some places that could use some invigoration have been bypassed.)

Just as there’s been a change from Old to New West, up here in the North we're seeing a change from Old to New North. Some places up here have worked to bring out the good features such a change can bring while conserving the good features of the Old North. Other places still need to reach out to facilitate some of that positive change and not be left behind. Other places where the New North economy isn’t coming any time soon have another direction to take. Some planners have studied the transition that occurred in the west and offer lessons for us to learn. We just need to pay attention to them.

SIDEBAR: How many New Wests have there been?
Let’s see…I’m not a historian, but it seems to me that there was the transition from an Old West of trappers and traders to a New West of the railroad, mining, timber and ranching barons. Then there was a transition to a New West of families and more permanent towns and the amenities that come with that (with the Native Americans losing at each of these transitions).

Most recently there was the transition to the New West of affluent recreationalists, knowledge workers, and strong environmental regulations. As things changed, some economies prospered, other economies and the towns they supported faded. Can we from the past and figure out how to adapt to change and incorporate change for broader prosperity?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Report from the west Part 3. Wallace, Idaho

We made our way south to pick up I-90 just east of the Montana – Idaho border. For dinner we stopped in Wallace, Idaho and found a very nice dinner and a town that’s capitalized on its history as a mining town ( Wallace also figured prominently in the Big Burn of 1910, a fire that covered 3 million acres of forest in Idaho and Montana.

I have to admit that we stopped because our GPS receiver showed a cluster of local-sounding restaurants in Wallace and we were specifically looking for a local restaurant. Those GPS things do come in handy sometimes.
Wallace seems to be working, as shown by a critical mass of restaurants and shops, a nice visitor’s center and other interpretive features and, when we were there anyway, a steady stream of customers.

Wallace has the advantage of being situated a) near ski resorts on the east and west sides (which brings well-heeled tourists through), b) situated in a narrow mountain valley right on I-90 (which makes it very visible) and c) an economy that benefits from a still-active mining industry.

The latter point has its drawbacks, though. Just east of Wallace is a sign on the river warning people not to come in contact with the stream due to the legacy of mining discharges into the stream. According to a sign posted on a business in Wallace, EPA has a plan to remediate the legacy pollution but some locals are opposed to the plan due to its potential impacts on the mining industry. The present mining activities are not adding pollution to the river, according to a flier I read in the restaurant. The flier stated that the mining activity is now environmentally sound (maybe the ore doesn’t contain sulfur and, reading between the lines, the environmental sound-ness may be due to the fact that the ore is shipped off for processing elsewhere).

Wallace seems to have succeeded in mixing extractive industry and tourist industry (and in a more sensible way than trying to make the Berkely Pit in Butte MT sound like a tourist attraction).

Monday, September 13, 2010

Report from the west. Part 2. East vs. West of Glacier National Park

We traveled through eastern Montana (M200, M24, US2) to East Glacier, MT. Lots of nice, wide open country, but lots of towns that prosperity has either never found or has departed from. Sustainability means something different in small towns in the plains than it does in sprawling suburbs. The suburbs worry about becoming too similar to everywhere else, the small towns worry about staying alive.
On the east side of Glacier National Park is the Blackfeet Reservation, which has not been smiled upon by prosperity. According to the tribe’s website, 2009 should mark a turnaround toward alleviating the crushing unemployment rate the tribe has been suffering from. I hope so.

The town of East Glacier is a nice, small resort town. We have a new-found appreciation for the old-school motor-court motels one finds in such places.
Comparing the east and west side of the park demonstrates the economic advantages of being close to a major destination. Because the closer, major population centers are to the west, more more park visitors come in from the west and thus the communities to the west of the park are prospering. Lesson: if you get to pick which side of a destination your town situated, pick the side through which a greater number of affluent visitors travel.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Report from the west. Part 1

I write this as we’re driving across eastern Washington. Don’t worry, I’m not driving just now, someone else is. I’m a passenger. I don’t text and drive let alone write on my laptop while driving. Not even on straight, low traffic western interstates with long sight-lines.

From the Soo, we followed the south shore of Lake Superior to Duluth, went across northern Minnesota and central North Dakota, across Montana (whew! That’s a big state E to W) to Glacier National Park and on to the Olympic Peninsula. Except for the north side of eastern Montana, it was familiar country. My academic training conditioned me to observe the natural environment; my more recent interest in sustainable, place-based economic development led me to look for what seems to be going right or not so right in the communities we visited. I saw examples of both. I won’t comment on the large, famous places. Instead I’ll comment on smaller, out-of-the-way places that may hold some placemaking lessons for the small, out-of-the-way place in which I live and work.

Medora, North Dakota
This former ranching community has capitalized on being the gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park ( Teddy Roosevelt isn’t the most popular tourist destination in the country but it has its fans (including me). The park shows off the scenery and ecology of the Little Missouri River Badlands. A pull-off from the freeway offers a view of the badlands without having to enter the park. I think that the view entices people into the park and does not siphon people away from the park entrance gate (and the park entrance fees), but in any case, one lesson is that you’ll do better if you’re right on the freeway. But another lesson is that you need to convince people to slow down and get off the freeway.

The buildings in Medora’s business district all follow a unified architectural theme that suggests old west. The park and the town seem to work together to combine the natural features and the history into fueling visitors’ imaginations with the early days of cattle ranching in the western US. One change in the area since my time there in the late 1970s is mountain biking. Mountain bikes are available for rent from a shop in town. The terrain makes for good mountain biking, but Medora hasn’t become a mountain bike destination in the way that Moab, Utah has. That’s maybe a good thing.
We had a late breakfast in a café frequented by tourists and locals. I find it pleasant to have that kind of mix. The locals didn’t seem to mind it, either. We felt welcome.
Medora has done a good job of making a very attractive gateway to a natural and historical site. Their theme and their desire to capitalize on what visitors want seems to be working for them.