MARQUETTE — In response to a story gone viral in the central Upper Peninsula about Marquette, Michigan being a mix between Portland and Seattle, Marquette resident Keith Glendon wrote this thought-provoking note on Facebook rebutting the idea.
This is a guest opinion editorial, republished with permission from the author on ABC 10’s Blog. Opinions may not necessarily reflect those of ABC 10, ABC Network, Lake Superior Community Broadcasting or our affiliated companies.
Marquette, Michigan is not where Portland meets Seattle. The marketing spin wants you to come celebrate that image. And bring your cash. Maybe buy up a little chunk of that goodness for your very own. Put up some no trespassing signs. Build a summer home. The local businesses will appreciate your patronage. The realtors even more. The breweries will send you home with their growlers and the artists surely won’t scoff when you buy up their wares. Hell, even the farmers at the market will be glad for your business. They’ll smile warmly at you, and mean it. The farm-to-table place will, too.
When you leave, you’ll tell your friends back home, fellow travelers along the way, others looking to ‘get away’ – all about how fantastic Marquette and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are. You’ll be right about that, too. But please don’t say it’s where Portland meets Seattle. Please look more deeply than that.
While it’s tempting to put a beard, some thick-rimmed glasses, skinny jeans and a ‘woodsman’s flannel’ on Marquette and call it hip these days – that’s not my Marquette. In my Marquette, there’s a Rest of The Story. There’s a backdrop and a context, a history and a current underbelly.
I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t share the same zeal for spreading the image without regard for the creature in the costume. My daughter said to me last week; “Daddy…. Why do they keep cutting down the woods? Why do we need more parking lots and buildings?”. I think that’s a good question, actually. There have been three murders within a couple miles of my house in the past year. I’m not sure these things are entirely independent of Seattle meeting Portland around here.
I grew up in Marquette. I was an import to this area, like many these days. I arrived through no choice of my own at about six months of age. We lived along the lakeshore in a house that was then worth about twenty-seven thousand dollars. The roof of that house got ripped off by a waterspout. The house is now on the market at three hundred sixty-nine thousand. Its worth when I lived there is insufficient as a down payment today. That’s progress, but it’s also a reflection of a darker edge. The Marquette of my youth seems wilder in my mind’s eye. Simpler. Less extravagant.
We rode bunny-eared, banana-seated bikes all day. Free-range childhood and lots of time in the woods. When I got older it was fishing, hunting, weekends at the roller rink, the hot pond on summer days. Little Presque Isle all alone, camping out overnight with Mom in a thunderstorm. Camping on Hogback. You might run into another person out there. If you did, you probably knew them. It wasn’t a place flush with cash. The living wasn’t easy. It wasn’t fancy and we didn’t have any breweries. I don’t know if we were ever featured in a magazine or the NBC morning news – but if we were it was probably for the great blizzard of ’78.
I remember when the co-op was in a small building downtown. I can remember bringing our own jars to fill with organic bulk peanut butter. It resembled someone’s home more than it did a Whole Foods Market. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the Sunday music and the local produce. I’m just saying, it was different. It was different in a really special way. Upper Michigan – Someplace Special. It really was. It still is, but not because it’s where Portland meets Seattle.
When you come to Marquette today, you’ll be wowed with the abundance. Of beauty. Of music. Of beer. Of food. Of “wild spaces”. You’ll relish the festivals and the coffee and the artists and the ‘quaint’-ness of it all. You’ll be impressed with the new buildings going up. The condos on the lakeshore. The billowing sails of the Wednesday night ensign races. The flashy new faces of refurbished buildings. There’ll soon be a new wine bar. There are miles and miles of world-class bike trails – summer or winter it’s a gem. The Nordic ski trails, too, are fabulous. And we’ve got a really fantastic ski hill that’s one of the best in the Upper Midwest. These really are a lot of good things and I’m not here to put them down. I enjoy my fair share of them.
I love the fact that here in my hometown, I can ski, surf, bike and take in a great musical act or theatrical production; all in the same day. I’m just saying that it’s not where Seattle meets Portland. And I’m also asking you to look at the whole picture. That picture includes a few less-attractive things. Things that come with ‘progress’. Things that marketing leaves out.
Home invasions are on the rise. Murder is up an exponential amount. Methampetamine and opioid use are a huge problem. A lot of people who grew up here can no longer afford to live here. A lot of places that were wild are now simply ‘popular’. Those condos along the lake, those hotels, those parking lots – where there used to be woods – have an environmental impact nobody talks about. The realtors and the developers definitely celebrate them. The birds and the trees and the fishes and the saltless sea celebrate somewhat less. There’s a lot less free play evident around this town today.
I only remember seeing kids on their bikes down by the river fishing once in the past few years. Not long ago I visited a quiet place that used to offer solitude; a film crew was making a movie there. Last winter, Red Bull flew in and took over a local park for a couple days, making a documentary. They rented out Granot Loma for the weekend. Surfing out there and then later seeing the footage – in some ways it felt like someone barging into your backyard, filming your children playing, leaving trash in your driveway and then using the film to sell beer.
In other Great Lakes towns that share a lot of our area’s unique characteristics, summertime spells crowds, traffic, madcap chaos and property values that create a barrier to living for all but the upper crust. Already in our area, we can find plenty of examples of people being ‘pushed out’. The very folk that make the town so “quaint”, unable to afford to reasonably live in it. Family businesses that were cornerstones of what got us here – gone to the onslaught of “progress”.
Now lest I be considered a nay-saying, hypocritical, doom-and-gloom anti-progress Luddite, I must admit that I enjoy a lot of what today’s Marquette has to offer. I feel blessed and grateful to be able to raise my children here. My good fortune and hard work in a 20-year career have positioned me to comfortably return to my hometown as a homeowner, a father, a taxpaying member of the citizenry doing my own small part to make this community a great one. I’m not here to begrudge it all. I don’t hold ill will toward the realtors or the developers or the city leaders, economic developers or the tourists. I get it. This happens. Life moves on and so do small towns. But I do hope that as progress unfolds, all of us spend at least as much time considering the down sides and how we can offset them.
I hope that we look toward ways to balance ‘progress’ with preservation. I hope we manage, as a community, to honor what got us here. I hope we look at development of our region with a sincere eye toward sustainability and inclusiveness – even if there’s no big money in it. I hope we can manage to blaze a trail of our own that demonstrates how a place like ours can be both ‘hip’ and yet still wild for the long haul. And I hope against hope that we don’t simply become the place where Portland meets Seattle.