On our blog today, we conducted a roundtable with some of Michigan’s most passionate fans about how they describe Michigan to others, their favorite parts of our state, and much more. Let’s meet the participants:
Charlie Wollborg is the curator of TEDx Detroit, an independently organized TED event that brings together talented creators, artists, entrepreneurs, designers, geeks, poets, scientists, thinkers and doers to share fresh ideas and to find inspiration.
Alex Beaton is the Queen Bee of The Awesome Mitten, a site that discovers and uncovers “awesome” events, businesses, music, people, places, products and anything that the Great Lakes State has to offer.
Deb Fellows is the founder of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine that, for more than 30 years, has been dedicated to sharing stories and photos that embody life in Northern Michigan including Traverse City, Petoskey, Mackinac Island,Harbor Springs, Charlevoix, Leland, Frankfort and more.
Onto the roundtable!
Q: What words do you use to describe Michigan to others?
Charlie Wollborg: Great lakes and good people. Seriously, beyond the natural beauty, the people here are remarkable. I think “We are the X” sums it up well from TEDxDetroit (click image to enlarge).
Alex Beaton: Awesome. Obviously haha! After college, I left Michigan to move to Nashville, TN, a place where many people have never visited the Mitten State. I found myself raving about our lakes – not just the “Great” ones either, but rather the small lakes where I would spend summers boating and swimming, and winters ice skating. I would tell them about the beautiful autumns, how the colors in my hometown in northern Michigan are more vibrant than I’ve seen anywhere else. And I told them about the people – people so passionate about their state that they were in uproar that Wisconsin was trying to steal Michigan’s identity.
Deb Fellows: Gorgeous peninsula surrounded by fresh water. Innovative and entrepreneurial. Filled with dreamers who have the Midwest practical streak to work hard and make it happen. Four seasons, each unique, each filled with recreational opportunities that can rival those found anywhere. A state who once created a roadmap for how environmental protection and business growth can go hand in hand. A tradition of valuing the arts and our creators.
Q: Why do you enjoy living in Michigan?
DF: For me it starts with the seasons. True, we can get a little short changed on spring, but Michigan has four distinct seasons, each spectacular in its own way. I love the sense of change and rebirth but also the knowledge that there is a constant—the leaves will fall again. We live and play differently in each season, and of course that is particularly true in Northern Michigan. From there my love of Michigan goes to the combination of the dreamer and the pragmatist found in the people and the water, water and more water.
CW: Springtime and flowering trees in Ann Arbor. Summers on the shore along Lake Michigan. Fall color tours and cider mills in Southeastern Michigan. Winter wonderland on the slopes of Northern Michigan. And Detroit Rock City all year long.
AB: There are too many reasons to count! Having all four seasons is definitely one of my favorite things about living in Michigan, but I also love all the amazing local food, wine & beer that I can find all over the state. I also love the diversity of Michigan; I can go to Grand Rapids to experience things like Art Prize, get a preview of the newest cars on the market at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, and revel in the wonder that is GMA’s Most Beautiful Place in America, the Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore.
Q: What do you personally do to tell others about what our state offers?
AB: When I moved back from Nashville, I was disappointed that some people questioned my decision to return. This negative response prompted me to do something to show everyone WHY I moved back, and why they should love living here too! So I started a website called The Awesome Mitten and launched a campaign on June 6th, 2011 called “365 Days of Awesome” with the goal of publishing a different feature every day about something “awesome” in Michigan. Through responses to the campaign, I’ve discovered that so many other Michiganders love the mitten state as much as I do, and the support and enthusiasm have been amazing.
DF: I started Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine over 30 years ago, to celebrate and protect Northern Michigan’s natural resources, entrepreneurial spirit, intact small communities and unique life. I chose four color and fine paper from the start because I believed that was what the beauty and quality of this part of Michigan deserved. Northern Michigan is a place where some people pursue their dream of a life lived surrounded by beautiful landscapes and fresh water. It is also a place people depend on being there when they want to celebrate, unplug with family and friends, renew their spirit, grieve, play and regenerate. I have believed fervently, as do so many, that it is really important that places like Northern Michigan continue to exist as a place to build a different kind of life and as a haven for people throughout the state, the country and the world. Today, we share the essence of this place and the message of celebration and protection with people in 179 countries and every state, in print, online at mynorth.com, in videos and enewsletters. Telling people what I love about Northern Michigan and Michigan has provided my work life with a fabulous and rewarding mission, and living in Northern Michigan, meeting my husband and raising my kids here, has been a gift beyond measure.
CW: Michigan really offers something for everyone. Craving adventure? Head for the trails of Presque Isle Falls in the Porcupine Mountains. Need sugar sand between your toes? Head for Sleeping Bear Lakeshore or Silver Lake Dunes. Love fresh power? Crystal Mountain and Boyne Highlands are waxed and ready. Feeling cosmopolitan? From big city lights to small town charm, the downtowns of Traverse City, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Ann Arbor and Detroit are a great time.
Q: When you vacation in Michigan, where do you go and what do you do?
CW: Michigan is perfect for my short attention span. I’m always in the mood for something new. And no where offers more variety than Michigan. I’ve listed many of my favorite locales in my other answers, so here are a few of the shops and spots I love to return to again and again: Cherry Republic Glen Arbor, Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, Mac Wood’s Dune Rides, breakfast at Sundance Grill in Grand Rapids, bubbly at L Mawby Vineyards, Dinner at Red Ginger in Traverse City, canoeing on the Au Sable in Roscommon, Lake of the Clouds, biking around Mackinac Island, sailing on the Tall Ship Manitou, Art Prize in Grand Rapids, Ignite in Lansing, Kerrytown Market in Ann Arbor, Deering’s Jerky in Traverse City, Grand Rapids Riverwalk, Slows BBQ in Detroit…
The Detroit Institute of Art, an architectural tour of Detroit including the Guardian Building, Historic Parshallville Grist Mill, Yates Cider Mill, corned beef at Mudgie’s Deli, jet skiing on Higgins Lake, getting lost in history at Greenfield Village, sailing on Lake Huron, I could keep going for another hour and still not list all of my favorite places. This is a great state.
AB: My favorite spot to vacation in Michigan will always be my hometown, Traverse City. In the winter, I wander the shops in Grand Traverse Commons (be sure to stop at High Five Threads!) before partaking in one of the area’s best restaurants, Trattoria Stella. I can’t offer suggestions as to what you should order there, because I’ve have yet to have a bad meal! In the summer, I love to spend a day at the beach or on the lake, and then venture into downtown Traverse City for happy hour at Red Ginger (the Red Dragon Martini is delicious). For a light dessert, I walk on over to Morsel’s Bite Sized Bakery, where anything is sure to be pleasing to the palate. In the fall, a wine tour is a must, whether on Old Mission Peninsula or the Leelanau Peninsula, as both provide breathtaking views. And no matter what the season, I try to visit Pyramid Point or Empire Bluffs, because as I’ve said, the views of our lakeshore are amazing, and they never fail to inspire.
DF: The U.P. is an endless source of exploration for us. Keweenaw, the Porcupine Mountains, Pictured Rocks and everywhere in between. I grew up in the Detroit area, and have headed to Detroit to see the Tigers, Lions and Pistons a few times, made many visits to the Detroit Zoo and been to the Fox Theater. We’ve enjoyed being tourists at Greenfield Village and we’ve built a weekend around Detroit Institute of Arts exhibits a few times, most recently the Robert Frank photographs from the 50s, my parent’s era. My oldest son goes to the University of Michigan, so we love to make mini-vacations of trips to Ann Arbor, a fabulous city. And we can get to Grand Rapids easily for a concert, shopping and, of course, ArtPrize.
Q: What’s one thing everybody needs to do in Michigan?
DF: This is torture when we send people to literally hundreds of wonderful things to do every day! First and foremost, I guess I’d say gather the person or people you care about, leave all your technology behind and climb to the top of Pyramid Point in the Sleeping Bear Dunes where the Manitou Islands float in a gorgeous inland sea, or drift in a boat on one of our inland lakes and watch the full moon rise as the sun is setting and stay until the sky fills with stars, or….the key is taking time with the people you care about and having fun, being awed, finding joy, adventure and peace together.
CW: Get lost along M22. Out of everywhere I’ve traveled, the Leelanau Peninsula still rates as one of my favorite places on the planet. It has it a bit of everything along its meandering hundred mile route: crystal blue sharkfree waters, rolling hills, cherry orchards, sugar sand beaches, lighthouses, wineries, art galleries, ski resorts, golf courses, cute little towns and amazing food.
AB: How do I choose just one?! Besides visiting the places mentioned above, I think everyone should take a trip to Mackinac Island. Everything about a trip up there is charming, a true Michigan getaway. Taking the ferry across the lake to the island transports visitors to a different world; a world of horse drawn carriages, carefully preserved buildings and forts, and melt-in-your-mouth fudge. Since there are no cars allowed on the island, bikes are the primary method of transportation for most, and a ride around the island is a must. No matter what your age, Mackinac Island a great weekend adventure.