2017-10-12 / Front Page

Historic Sites See Stable Attendance

Poor Weather Did Not Deter Tourists Visiting Straits Attractions This Year
By Stephanie Fortino

Attendance this summer at Mackinac State Historic Parks sites on Mackinac Island and in Mackinaw City is right on par with 2016, despite a cooler summer and plenty of rain. Most sites experienced slight attendance decreases, but Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse on the mainland saw a 4.46% increase in visits this summer.

The Mackinac Island State Park Commission reviewed the attendance figures, updated its fees for 2018, and passed its $9.5-million budget for the new fiscal year, which began Sunday, October 1, at a meeting Friday, September 29.

At the end of September, overall attendance at Mackinac State Historic Parks sites was down 0.83%. Fort Mackinac on the Island was down about 0.26%. Colonial Michilimackinac was up 0.43%, and the lighthouse was up 4.46%. Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park was down 1.65%.

The lower attendance at state park sites was expected because of the poor weather, said State Park Director Phil Porter. And while the recent burst of warm weather in September has been welcomed, attendance figures haven’t recovered because travel to the Island declines when school is back in session.

“A good day in September can’t make up for a bad day in July,” Mr. Porter told the commission.

Commissioner Mary Callewaert, whose family operates the Island House Hotel, Ryba’s Fudge, Mary’s Bistro, and other Island businesses, noted, “We had August weather in September.”

Because of increased fees from 2016, attendance income is up 3%. The increased revenue is about 2% more than the state park expected, bringing in an additional $56,654.

The museum gift shops are also doing well, showing an increase of 2.46%. The stores have exceeded their income goals in 2016 and 2017, Mr. Porter said.

The state park also analyzes who visits its sites and has noticed some interesting trends this season. Group sales have been doing well as the state park partners with hotels to book groups. Adult groups have increased 4.5% and student groups have increased 7.1% over 2016.

This is the first in many years that student group attendance has increased, even as student enrollment throughout the state has decreased.

Non-group visitation has declined 2.4%, which Mr. Porter attributes to the weather, especially the rain.

Ticket sales through state park partners have increased 4% this year, as well. Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry had the most gross ticket sales among the partner businesses, which also include Shepler’s Mackinac Island

Ferry, Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, and the Mackinaw City Chamber of Tourism owned by the Lieghio family.

Package and Internet ticket sales have increased a whopping 65%, Mr. Porter said, bringing in about $67,000 so far in admission revenue. The state park offers a $1 discount for tickets purchased online, which Mr. Porter believes encourages more and more visitors to commit to visiting Fort Mackinac before they even board a ferry.

The new state park operating budget is the largest it has ever had, reflecting plans to make many facility improvements from the capital outlay fund.

“It’s as good as any I’ve seen in my 45 years,” Mr. Porter said of the budget. “It allows us to catch up with certain deferred maintenance that was put off between 2000 and 2010.”

Each year, funding and budgeting for the state park is a time-consuming task. This year, funding from the state has only increased 1%, whereas costs have gone up about 5%.

“We go through a dance of how we’re going to make it work,” Mr. Porter said, explaining that the state tries to keep expenses as low as possible and find new sources of funding.

Commission Chairman Chuck Yob has lobbied the state legislators for an additional $600,000 in appropriations for the park, which the state cut in 2003 and 2004, and to appropriate it automatically every year so the commission doesn’t have to lobby for it each year. If the additional funding is acquired, the commission will be able to shift the burden off of using admissions revenue for non-historic site maintenance.

Among the capital improvement planned is a $217,000 project to repair Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse. Spalling bricks are posing a huge historic preservation concern, Mr. Porter said, that has needed to be addressed for years. Finally, repairs to the bricks and to a fence on the property can be made.

Renovations to the second floor of the Mackinac Island Visitors Center for the new artist in residence program will continue in preparation for its opening next spring.

Repainting of the Captain’s Quarters, Mahor’s Quarters, field office, Sergeant’s Quarters, Hill Quarters, North Blockhouse, the schoolhouse, Soldier’s Barracks, and buildings at Fort Mackinac, will continue this fall. Many reroofing projects will begin in October, along with many other projects throughout the park.

The state park receives significant financial support from Mackinac Associates, its friends group. The Mackinac Associates board has funded 17 projects totaling $328,000 for the 2018 fiscal year. Grants include $40,000 for a new video program at the King’s Storehouse at Colonial Michilimackinac, $28,000 for a new technology exhibit at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, and $17,100 for marketing.

The commission also allows selected visitors to fire the cannon at Fort Mackinac, which has contributed to increasing revenue. More than 60 people have donated $50 this year to fire the cannon.

State Park Fee Increases

Commissioners also increased user fees, which it last did in 2014.

For houses built on state park land, such as cottages on the East and West bluffs, the lease transfer fee if a house is sold is increased from $1,000 to $1,500. For internal lease transfer fees, such as when an owner transfers a home to a family trust, the fee is increased from $500 to $750.

The sub-lease fee is increased from $200 to $250.

The landing fee at the British Landing Dock is increased from $300 to $350.

Use permit fees were increased by $25 for buildings which encroach on park land, including $100 for a small private trespass and $150 for a commercial trespass.

Motor vehicle permit fees were increased as follows: $200 for cars (up from $175), $250 for panel trucks (up from $225), $350 for bulldozers (up from $300), and $700 for a mobile home (up from $500).

The horse license fee was increased $5 a horse to $25.

The drone permit fee was doubled, from $75 to $150. The state park incurs costs when drones are permitted on the Island as the park ranger is stationed with the operator while the drone is in use, Mr. Porter said.

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