Delayed But Not Deterred, Mackinac Island Set To Open Somewhat On Time
The Mackinac State Historic Parks system is planning a delayed start to its summer season. Colonial Michillimackinac – a re-created 18th century French fort – is set to open June 12. Mackinac Island will open its historic fort on June 19. Mackinac State Historic Parks Director Phil Porter spoke with WKAR’s Kevin Lavery via Zoom as he looked out across Lake Huron in Cheboygan.
The peak of Mackinac Island is about 15 miles away, and I can see a part of the white porch of the Grand Hotel. I normally would be there, but everything has been moved to a later opening, including those of us who move over for the summer. We were scheduled to open Fort Mackinac on May 1, and we’re now looking at June 19.
How did you arrive at that particular date, June 19?
We did it in consultation with other major businesses on the island and with the local government there; the City of Mackinac Island. We made that decision together. The Grand Hotel is opening on June 21, several other businesses and hotels are opening that same June 19 weekend, which is really the beginning of the summer and in some ways kind of appropriate; it’s just seven weeks later than usual.
I’m sure that seven weeks is a very big deal if you’re a seasonal worker who’s only on the island for a certain period of time. What has this done to your staff?
There’s many impacts that are going on right now. We have about 45 full-time employees and we put on about another 110 employees in the summer. That summer staff will be cut by at least a third if not more, because of budget cutbacks because of the season shortening, and so on. We’ve been able to hold onto our full-time staff. There’s been a short layoff for some of our park operations crew. They came back on Monday (May 11) and as things begin to open up, we’ll begin to start working our crew and getting our sites ready for the summer. But it’s had a huge impact. They haven’t earned any income from admissions to our sites and we’re funded mostly by income we generate. Also, we have a lot of seasonal staff members who come back year after year and they haven’t been able to start their jobs. So, it’s been a huge financial impact on our organization and on our employees that we’re trying to work our way through.
Are you looking at any sort of long-term financial assistance from the state of Michigan?
I think that’s probably going to be the case; I’m not sure where all the funding will come from. The federal government has provided some support through the CARES Act. We’ve already received a little bit of money to support our airport. We were not allowed to close it; it had to stay open for health, safety and welfare purposes. We’re also in the process of applying for a National Endowment for the Humanities grant. This is specifically for humanities organizations that are facing these kinds of challenges, and the money is specifically for keeping humanities professionals employed. But, there’s lots of unknowns about how we’re going to make all the financial requirements that we have.
Once things do get up and running in mid-June…we’ve all been practicing social distancing for several weeks…there’s a lot of spread out land there, but what kind of precautions will people have to take there?
State parks in Michigan are going to be very attractive to visitors when they want to start traveling again because they’re essentially outdoor experiences. So, there’s ample opportunity for social distancing. Beyond that, we’re taking multiple precautions in developing new cleaning standards. We’ve created something we call a re-opening committee. That’s composed of managers in our program who are looking at every aspect of our public programming and our staff operations to ensure the primary safety of our staff and our visitors. We’re working on those details right now, but it will involve a lot of steps taken to create social distancing in exhibits, a lot of new cleaning techniques, a lot of one-way traffic patterns to ensure that people aren’t crossing each other and violating those social distancing guidelines that we have in place…and working with our other partners to try to make sure that we create on Mackinac Island and in our other parks as safe an environment for visitors as is possible.