2017-11-16 / Front Page

Is Sebewaing “Michigan’s Bayou Town” - “Michigan’s Mayberry?”

By John Bonke
Staff Writer • jbonke@mihomepaper.com

SEBEWAING - Sebewaing Moonlight Madness & RiverFire featured many sights and sounds as well as live music, classic vehicles and vendors on Thursday, Oct. 5 as part of placemaking efforts and to revitalize the downtown area. 
Huron County VIEW file photo by John Bonke SEBEWAING - Sebewaing Moonlight Madness & RiverFire featured many sights and sounds as well as live music, classic vehicles and vendors on Thursday, Oct. 5 as part of placemaking efforts and to revitalize the downtown area. Huron County VIEW file photo by John Bonke SEBEWAING - Sebewaing may be “Michigan’s Bayou Town” - or perhaps it’s “Michigan’s Mayberry” - according to comments heard recently at a town forum when about 50 Sebewaing officials and residents gathered at the Sebewaing Township Library to hear what ‘mystery visitors’ said they liked - and disliked - about the village.

Andy Northrop, who works for Michigan State University- Extension (MSU-E) in Tourism, Leadership & Civic Engagement, Community Economic Development Office, presented the findings.

The village had four, fellow Michiganders visit in May and June during various days and times for eight to 24 hours; two were male and two were female; two were 24-34 years old, one 35-49 and one 50-69. They researched the village online before visiting to see what they might find interesting.

The visitors said they found the village’s and chamber of commerce’s websites to be very helpful. Yet, they said they felt the information was only very basic and there wasn’t enough about specific businesses. One online posting reflected negatively on the Village of Sebewaing, they felt: a video about Sebewaing being a ‘ghost town’ is one of the first videos returned when surfing the web.

Before visiting, they said they felt Sebewaing would be clean, with good restaurants and nice places to stay; cute, but with a rundown downtown; small and quiet with a coastal waterfront; and a small, sleepy town with not much to do.

Northrop said the purpose of the visits is to find out what tourists think, but not necessarily information on how to become a ‘tourist town.’ He said it could be used to spawn local leadership, strengthen the community’s vitality and form a basis for future development. Visitors make an important economic contribution to a community, Northrop also said.

In fact, at the recent Monday, Nov. 6 regular council meeting, it was heard that information used in drafting Sebewaing’s Master Plan document will include input from the mystery visitors to Sebewaing earlier this year.

At the FIT presentation, Northrop said the visitors thought that Sebewaing could develop a theme such as “Michigan’s Bayou Town” - because of the river and bay with the marsh islands.

During the public comments portion of the meeting, Sebewaing Chamber of Commerce President Doug Deming said people often tell him Sebewaing reminds people of Mayberry.

“Every town gets visitors,” Northrop said, and added that he was presenting information from the individual visitor’s perspective, not criticism, but information.

Northrop said the first-time visitors found Sebewaing’s residential areas to have well-kept homes, but thought the downtown business district should be revitalized.

Once in Sebewaing, the visitors found well-kept homes in an area with a lot of out-of-doors activities.

The visitors said they felt those visiting would be trying to relax, engage in sports or nature activities or be passing through but not find many reasons to stop. They found the people in Sebewaing have a great, friendly, customer service attitude, but there was a lack of shopping experiences and variety of special events.

Other comments provided at the presentation said the visitors thought Sebewaing has great hunting and fishing opportunities and yet still has more potential to develop nature-based recreation. Specific ideas the visitors had were to develop canoeing and kayaking rentals, a water trail and hosting fishing competitions and contests including flat-bottomed boat archery fishing. Another idea is to hire a professional to paint large, colorful murals on the sides of vacant buildings as well as host sidewalk chalk drawing activities. They also suggested the local sugar factory offer tours, a shop-local campaign, pop-up shopping, informational kiosks, and directional signs to help guide visitors.

The mystery visitors liked the parks and campground as well as how the residential area was so close to the downtown area. Other comments included Sebewaing has very well-maintained, picturesque historic homes as well as museums. One drawback was that the museums weren’t open when some of the visitors were in town. They suggest having informational signs outside of the museums and to develop a self-guided walking tour including heritage and other points of interest. They thought the food was good at area restaurants they visited, yet basic.

The visitors suggested Sebewaing develop an overall marketing campaign; they offered the theme of “Michigan’s coastal village with a Southern bayou feel.”

Now that the visitors have provided their input, the local development effort is being led by the Community Leadership Team (CLT) of Kurt Bach, Dr. Ned Canfield, Matt Cummings, Chris Deming, Doug Deming, Duane Dressler, Julie Epperson, Cheri Fuerst, Larry Heider, Alexander Khoury, Lois Kroll, Melanie McCoy, Jeff Parsons and Megan Tietz.

The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 14 at the library. The CLT says, “Bring your ideas!”

At the end of the meeting, Kathy Jamieson, MSU Extension Educator, Children and Youth, Career and Workforce Preparation, said she is developing a youth version of FIT to find out how younger people see a community and suggest ideas that would retain and attract them.

Northrop said the FIT program began in Wisconsin and has expanded to other states and Ontario, Canada. He said the program is accepting community applications for 2018 and expects he and the mystery visitors may be returning to the Thumb of Michigan.

For more information, contact the Village of Sebewaing, 222 N. Center St.; 989-883-2150, via FAX at 1-989-883- 9367 or email at office@SebewaingMI. gov.

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