Edible Grand Traverse Fall 2010 : Page 28

JUST DOWN THE ROAD Route to Success: Community Collaboration Puts the Breezeway on theMap By Jeffray N. Kessler Two years ago, a team of grassroots organizers began meeting in Ellsworth, discussing action plans that would result in sustainable business for the small communities in this charming and scenic, but off-the-beaten-path area of NorthernMichigan. Participants represented local governments from East Jordan and Ellsworth, Chambers of Commerce, residents and business people from the surrounding small towns, and representatives from the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance. The national news had been reporting doom and gloom; the country was awash in tales of recessive economic woes. This committee, however, would hear none of that. They adopted a mantra of cooperation and creativity, and hatched an idea. “Nobody knew we were here,” states Ellsworth village presidentHugh Campbell, summarizing his feelings about the root of the problem. Even when requesting directions from the Internet between cities north of the village and cities south of it, he saw that a route through Ellsworth never came up. “The directions always took people around us rather than through us, even if this is the shorter way to go.” That evidence became the definition of the challenge facing the committee. And if it is true that knowing you have a problem is half the problem solved, the group found its answer. Their mission became not only to change the routes people were taking to drive through this community, but to enhance the experience along the way as well.Motorists who rush north on US31 and US131 at high speeds get no chance to savor the authentic rural flavor of this part of our state. The committee looked at a map, and saw an alternative. Just south of Charlevoix and Petoskey runs county road C-48, a secondary road connecting Atwood and Boyne Falls. This peaceful, rural ribbon weaves together communities in Banks Township, Ellsworth, East Jordan,Wilson Township and Boyne Falls. While everyone on the committee knew how enjoyable this drive was, the realization struck them that not many outsiders did. At one of those early meetings, the attendees looked up from the map and collectively said, “Well, let’s tell them! Let’s brand this road.” C-48 is now “on the map” more than it has ever been. Dubbing it “The Breezeway,” the task force has been busily promoting it for the last year and a half. The Breezeway is now a recognized alternative route that has drawn attention to the agricultural nature, simple pleasures and distinct discoveries of small towns and the back roads that connect them. Since the Breezeway runs through multiple villages, townships and counties, an important key to success has been the original task force’s ability to reach out and cooperate with others along the way. In the fall of 2008, they were rewarded for their efforts, receiving a $25,000 grant from the state ofMichigan for collaboration. The Breezeway task force made the trip to Lansing to have their success endorsed by the governor. In presenting the award, Governor Granholm was enthusiastic about the promising economic news. To announce grant awards from the Centers for Regional Excellence program, she began, “Four years ago we challenged our people to collaborate and work together to save citizens money. The awards we will make today speak to the importance of that collaboration and to what we all can do to move our state forward.We asked for focus on sharing that would create jobs and do more with less.” She asked the Breezeway participants to stand, then added, “It is in the communities’ best interest to collaborate. Collaborating communities are competitive communities. When we think regionally, we do better. All of you are doing this more and more.We acknowledge those who are thinking creatively. Yay, Breezeway!” With the award, the task force has been able to broaden its promotional efforts for the 30 Edible Grande Traverse / Fall 2010 Breezeway. “This was just vital for our project,” comments Banks Township supervisor ThomasMann. “We have used the money for marketing, publications, advertising, signage and a website. The award has launched us from the idea into its implementation.” Now, at both ends of the Breezeway, there are signs welcoming motorists and maps of the road. The logo repeats on mile marker signs along the way, serving as cross-reference points to the Breezeway map. The map is also prominently displayed in the Chamber of Commerce Visitors’ Guide as well as on the Breezeway website (RideTheBreezeway.com). As action plans are implemented, the old C-48 anonymity is disappearing. The website now has links to travel groups and informs visitors about events and businesses along the route. Breezeway events and attractions have grown in number. The website and maps reference area festivals, color tours and auto rallies; farm markets and other agri-businesses; and hiking, kayaking, camping, culinary, birding and quilting opportunities. Area history and historic sites are also highlighted. C-48 Breezeway T-shirts and stickers have begun to show up on vehicles and in area businesses. Articles have appeared in local newspapers as well as in surrounding states. The Chamber of Commerce in East Jordan reports that visitors to their office walk in and show them articles about the Breezeway from cities in Indiana and Ohio. The momentum has triggered more and more interest from residents and businesses along C-48, something that pleases the task force. East Jordan Chamber of Commerce presidentMary Faculak declares, “Business development has been a goal from the outset. We see small businesses as the key to our whole sustainability objective.” The first issue of a C-48 newsletter, called “The Breezeway Bulletin,” informed those along the route of all the support offered to www.ediblegrandetraverse.com Photos by Barb Tholin

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