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Breezeway Project in Northern Michigan is Excellent Example of Community Collaboration

A column by Caroline Weber Kennedy

Breezeway events include the much-loved Breezeway Cruise.

A fine example of collaboration in northern Michigan is a project both officially and affectionately known as The Breezeway. County Road 48, aka The Breezeway, is a gorgeous 28-mile stretch connecting Boyne Falls to East Jordan to Ellsworth to Atwood. It has all the crucial elements of a nostalgic rural route—gliding up hill and down vale, winding ‘round reflective lakes and slipping past historic farms. It is a stunning scenic drive in each of Michigan’s distinctive seasons and those capricious days between.
In June, the 2nd annual Breezeway Cruise saw classic cars, motorcycles, hot rods and pick-ups, all bearing a common denominator—their drivers love this ride! The same can be said of Memorial Weekend, when hundreds participated in the first (and possibly annual) Breezeway Garage Sale, a locally adapted version of the “World’s Longest Yard Sale” along 127 from Ohio to Alabama.

Branding and Maniacs

C-48 has long been a favorite route of both residents and visitors. The idea for “branding” the route germinated from a seed planted about seven years ago as one recommendation within a greater Chain of Lakes marketing study. “Branding” builds a public image or identity allowing for businesses and communities along the route to be promoted through marketing events as part of a larger whole. This helps a rural area become its own destination “point.” A number of entities presented the proposed project in application for one of the governor’s Regional Centers for Excellence Award grants and received $25,000 over two years. Entering its second year, The Breezeway promises to be worthy.
On May 10, the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance held its annual luncheon and awards ceremony with the Breezeway Task Force receiving one of only two annual awards presented by the four-county Alliance—The Maniacs of the Year. The Maniacs is awarded for “enthusiastic economic development, leadership and encouraging a spirit of cooperation for the betterment of the C-48 communities.” Talk about enthusiasm—a turnout of 400+ people for the Alliance event illustrates the level of unity being achieved through regional collaboration on the rural front. www.northernlakes.net

Attractions, Events and Plans

The Breezeway branding efforts included creating a website with the brand identity, tying all of community partners and businesses together through maps and listings. Distinctive signs were posted along the route with a ribbon-cutting at each, generating enthusiasm and media. In addition to the garage sale and classic car cruise, there is a fall color tour with a Halloween costume theme beginning in Atwood and ending with a chair-lift ride at Boyne Mountain. The events are organized through the East Jordan Area Chamber of Commerce for the benefit of more than 200 businesses along the route, including a hand-blown glassworks. The route also features numerous agri-businesses including historic Stone Hedge fiber mill where visitors can purchase wool products and watch the entire process from shearing to dying.

Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy not only hiking, kayak and canoe opportunities, but the area boasts one of only two outfitters in Michigan that offer winter rafting. The Jordan River National Fish Hatchery received $2.5 million in federal stimulus money and joins the Raven Hill Discovery Center for providing family-oriented education and adventure. Coming new to the route are several geo-caching sites and an historical map featuring two ghost towns and the “stolen” town of Afton. East Jordan Area Chamber of Commerce Director Mary Faculak says the Breezeway Task Force is looking forward to a road upgrade for the Atwood-Ellsworth section that would enable them to hold safe cycling events on the popular route. There is a world-class resort nearby, with which the area enjoys a symbiotic relationship but, “The immediate area’s lodging is limited,” says Faculak. “We have a great river location for which we are currently seeking investors, so this collaboration is yielding very tangible results.”

Both the Quilt Cottage and Soaps ‘n Such report visitors from Battle Creek, Jackson, and Kalamazoo arriving with news clippings of The Breezeway. There are resale shops for those who love recycling and benefiting others and the East Jordan Area Arts Council provides mini exhibits and workshops. Each of these unique places was like a loose gemstone, easily lost or overlooked, now linked together in a magnificent display that is The Breezeway.

A true community development project, The Front Porch is a non-profit community café, opened after the only local diner closed. There are two paid employees—the cook and manager—the rest are volunteers. Photo by William D. Jackson.

The Front Porch—A Non-Profit Community Cafe

The village of Ellsworth, struggling with 16-percent unemployment faced tough times the past two years as their only local diner and grocery store both closed their doors. Residents were left with nowhere to connect for even a cup of coffee. Meanwhile, a number of good-hearted citizens were mulling over bright ideas, and together they reopened the diner as The Front Porch—a non-profit community cafe serving breakfast and lunch from a menu with suggested donation amounts, instead of prices. It’s a local place for non-denominational fellowship and welcomes everyone. Only the cook and manager are employed, all others volunteer. At 3:00 pm, when the cook goes home, a fresh pot of coffee is left for those still socializing. Literally, the last one to leave turns out the lights. NPR and a number of other media outlets featured the story, and coupled with its connection to The Breezeway, this unique diner is now a popular tourist stop, which is great for local business. A true community development project, the café now fosters economic development. For more on The Front Porch, check out www.frontporchellsworth.org or locate them through www.ridethebreezeway.com.

Boyne City Wins NLEA Award

Congratulations to Boyne City for winning NLEA’s Project of the Year award for their One Water Street project, a $12 million waterfront complex including restaurant, commercial, retail, hotel and marina components.

 

Caroline Weber Kennedy is manager of field operations for the League. You may reach her at 906-428-0100 or ckennedy@mml.org.

 

 

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