A grand vision for the Grand Traverse region

No one can accuse planners in the Traverse Region of being shortsighted. That's because The Grand Vision--a collection of private and public sector entities covering six aspects of regional activity--is working on a 50-year plan to shape the area for the next several decades.  

"It's all about looking ahead, thinking smartly, and most of all, cooperating with each other," says Kimberly Pontius, volunteer spokesperson for The Grand Vision. Pontius' day job is executive VP of the Traverse Area Association of Realtors. "It's getting people sitting down and talking who might not ordinarily communicate regularly, and by doing this, we can make the region a better place for many years to come."
The Grand Vision's CORE team (which oversees communications, organization, resource development, and education and events) meets once a month, and discusses the issues and concerns of the six networks that make up the collaborative.       

The networks are energy, food and farming, growth and investment, housing solutions, natural resources and transportation. The group as a whole meets about every other month to implement plans and instigate further discussion.

The success of The Grand Vision and its current and future projects all hinge on communication, says Pontius. Members of each network have their own concerns as time passes, but getting them together is something that might not happen without The Grand Vision.

For instance, housing solutions and transportation network members work together to improve transit for members of the community that live full-time in the Grand Traverse area. The area is largely a second-home community that features properties outside the financial means of those working in full-time service jobs. Those residents must come from the outer reaches of the region, and transit is increasingly important. Housing and transportation network members work together to keep each other informed.

Projects that support The Grand Vision--current, and those in the planning stages--are both small and large.
They range from a bathroom put in a local park to a $2.3 million road project in Buckley. Long-range discussions involving the food and farming and the transportation networks include a freight and passenger rail system connecting southeast and northwest Michigan. The scope of project discussions varies with each meeting, according to Pontius.

"Involving the public and private sector in the discussion is key," she says. "We need to communicate that The Grand Vision is out there working, and it's also vital to involve our young people because they're the ones that are going to be around to see a 50-year plan come to fruition."

Speaking of coming to fruition, The Grand Vision's plans were enhanced when the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail recently received a $1.62 million grant. The Public Lands Highway Discretionary funds will be used to construct a little over three miles of trails starting at Port Oneida Road and ending at Leelanau County Road.

"The trail partners and supporters are very thankful for this grant award to continue towards expanding the trail," says Patty O'Donnell, of the Michigan Department of Transportation, and project manager for the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.
"The award recognizes that the SBHT will provide a meaningful transportation alternative for residents and visitors, as well as an outstanding recreational opportunity for all users," she says.

While many different entities and countless residents benefit from the planning being done by The Grand Vision, it is not the formal agency you might envision.
There is no office, no staff, and no director, per se.

"People might look around and say, 'who's in charge?'" says Pontius. "But it's not about directing people, it's about getting members of the community to communicate, and it's really working. It's a collaborative effort that benefits the citizens and will continue to benefit them for years to come."

Jeff Barr is a freelance writer who has lived in Michigan for 45 years. You can reach Jeff at barrj88@gmail.com.

Photo information:

Students in NMC instructor Dave Wilson’s Wind Energy class work on windmill kits that when working generate power to a single light source.

The Grand Vision CORE team meets for their monthly meeting in January at the TARR offices in Traverse City.

Kim Pontius, the volunteer spokesperson for The Grand Vision, leads a CORE team monthly meeting.

Electrical outlets that are used to train Construction Technology/Electrical Technology students at NMC’s Aero Park Drive Laboratories.

Masthead: Rob Sirrine, Community Food Systems Educator for Michigan State University's Extension Program, stands in Building 58 of the Grand Traverse Commons.  Building 58, the former commissary for the Traverse City State Hospital, formerly housed three kitchens, at least two dozen cold storage coolers, which allowed for processing and storage for the hospitals 3000 residents and staff. Currently, Sirrine and Susan Cocciarelli (MSU and NWMCOG) are directing the project and working with a $200,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, while also trying to raise additional funds and community support to turn the building into a food hub complete with educational kitchens, retail, large walk in coolers, and more.

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