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The Fudge Factor
by Jim Rink

Where I grew up, they were called "Fudgies." In the deceptively sleepy town of Lake Leelanau during the 1960s and 70s, this was not necessarily a term of endearment. Of course, the area has been attracting Fudgies for years--they are drawn by the scenic beauty of the area, the National Cherry Festival, the Sleeping Bear Dunes, Doug Murdick's Fudge (hence the nickname) and the Thunderbird Gift Shop at the Narrows, famous for its coonskin caps and moccasins.

Now, they're called "Tourists," and in 1994, they spent $8.5 billion in the state of Michigan.

That's a chunk of change folks; and it lines the pockets of merchants in communities like, well...Gaylord...where, until recently, the biggest tourist attraction was the Call of the Wild Museum. Now, Gaylord is Michigan's "Golf Mecca."

Crystal Mountain Resort near Thompsonville is another beneficiary of the Fudge Factor. According to President and General Manager Jim MacInnes, the resort hosts 180,000 people a year. That's 4,000 people a day during a busy winter and 30,000 rounds of golf in summer. The staff ranges from a minimum of 220 to a high of 450 during the Fudgie Monsoon season. The annual payroll is $3.5 million.

The Aspen House Bed & Breakfast

Unlike other properties in, well, let's say the general neighborhood of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Crystal Mountain is attuned to the precarious interplay between existing natural resources and artificial, man-made artifacts.

"Managing growth should be done thoughtfully and carefully to minimize impact on the environment," says MacInnes. "A community should not be developed in helter-skelter fashion."

Managing growth while preserving the second-largest industry in Michigan -- tourism -- was among the key topics discussed during the 2nd Annual Northern Lower Michigan Legislator's Conference on Tourism, conducted September 8-9 at Crystal Mountain Resort.

Among the attendees on the legislative side: Rep. Beverly Bodem (R-Alpena), Rep. Tom Alley (D-West Branch), Rep. Bill Bobier (R-Hesperia), Rep. Pat Gagliardi (D-Drummond Island), Rep. John Gernaat (R-McBain), Rep. John Llewellyn (R-Fremont), Rep. Allen Lowe (R-Grayling), Rep. Jim McBryde (R-Mt. Pleasant) and Rep. Michelle McManus (R-Lake Leelanau).

Among the attendees on the tourism industry side: representatives of Chambers of Commerce, convention and visitors bureaus, boating associations, motel and resort associations, small business associations, government agencies and owners of tourism properties.

Although no earth-shaking developments arose as a result of the conference, some key issues were discussed. Following is a summary:

The Labor Day Blues
Most universities in the state open before Labor Day; and many elementary and secondary schools follow suit, beginning classes the last week in August, just prior to one of the heaviest leisure travel periods on the calendar.
"We're giving up the nicest time of the year," says Gagliardi. "It's 12 degrees warmer per day."
Educators oppose a post-Labor Day start to the school year, because it reduces the amount of time students spend in the classroom and--more importantly--eliminates a strategic bargaining chip during union negotiations (this is purely psychological, as local school boards now have control over the district calendar).
Bed and Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner
Bed and breakfast (B&B) establishments in Michigan are not just for breakfast anymore. Thanks to a new law, B&Bs can now serve meals, which can include breakfast, lunch, dinner or any combination thereof. Prior to the new law, B&Bs were prohibited from serving anything other than breakfast. Also, the maximum number of rooms allowable were increased by one.
Little River Gambling
A casino proposed in Manistee is a "mixed bag," according to Bobier. "It's not a matter of morality," he says. "It has to do with growth, money and the gaming syndicates. Most of the money comes from the bottom of the economic scale and goes to the top. We're going to see some over-saturation (how many casinos can Northern Michigan support?)."
Michigan Forest System
The value of forests as a natural resource is just coming into recognition. There is now money set aside for trail development in these state lands, courtesy of the DNR, which had been granting the money to itself for trail maintenance.
"We need a more considered approach," says Llewellyn. "Many of these parcels are not managed well. They become green dump spaces."
More grassroots input is necessary to persuade the DNR to develop state land for tourism uses.
Indy Envy
Some forward thinkers in the state actually envy the fact that Northern Michigan has no huge magnet properties, no big "destination tourism" attraction like the Indy 500, Cedar Point or Walt Disney World. Others believe the state has developed just the kind of tourism industry that fits our image: scenic, laid-back, rustic. You be the judge.
Riparian Rights
Those pesky, Peter Pan types who won't grow up want more public access to Northern Michigan's lakes. Trouble is, once they have access they hop on their jet skis and terrorize innocent bystanders. You can't have it both ways. On the flip side, animal rights activists are now pushing for a total ban on all recreational sport fishing in the state. How about a little sanity somewhere?
Shameless Plug
Prof. Don Holecek of MSU recently completed a comprehensive travel survey encompassing five surrounding states and the Canadian province of Ontario. When respondents were asked, "Where do you turn most often when you need information to help plan a pleasure trip?" guess what they said...that's right, AAA Michigan.
Tourism and the Internet
As part of the tourism conference, representatives from AT&T gave an overview of their Internet and Web access products, with few general descriptions of possible applications for the tourism industry. Suffice it to say that the number of travel-related sites online is now so large that travelers can independently book their own flights, rental cars and/or hotels through most major vendors. The best way to access these sites? Perform a search on the topic of interest through any of the major search engine, ie: Yahoo, Web Crawler, Infoseek, Alta Vista, etc. Simply type in the subject of interest, ie: rental cars, hotel reservations, the Grand Canyon, Paris, Rome, etc. A number of sites will pop up with comprehensive me.
Well...all this cyber-reporting has left me hungry. Guess I'll head over to the Thunderbird Gift Shop and get me some fudge.
Jim Rink is Senior Contributing Editor in Public Relations for AAA Michigan.

Also by Jim Rink
Rails to Snails
Jim solves the Rails to Trails controversy
Squishy Uterus
On the books and thoughts of pre-parenthood
Cause Celebre
Madonna moves into Leelanau County
A Condo Runs Through It
More than just rivers are running through Leelanau County
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