When you think of “Isabella County”, what is the first thing you think of? Is it the 1,000-plus acres of parkland or the Chippewa River? Perhaps it’s playing golf? Maybe you think of playing volleyball at Morey Courts? Or maybe it’s fall football at CMU?
Whatever that thought is, chances are that the Mount Pleasant Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB)
has had a hand in making sure THAT thought is the first thing you think of when you hear “Isabella County”.
Through the years, the CVB has worked to inform visitors about the activities and restaurants they can find in the area, update the public about local events, and essentially serve as the tour guide for all things that have to do with Mt. Pleasant; however, funding increases have enabled the CVB to take a more direct approach to marketing the community. In 2019, the assessment that funds the CVB was raised from 2% to 5%.
“When you stay at lodging property in Isabella County, you pay the sales tax and then an assessment that goes directly to the bureau,” explains Chris Rowley, Executive Director of the CVB. “Then we use those funds to market the community … the more visitors that we bring to the area, the more money we have to then turn around and market the community.”
Bike repair stations are another amenity that the CVB has helped to fund.
Some of the CVB’s recent investments have included helping to fund improvements to the volleyball courts at Morey Courts Recreation Center
, which has enabled the facility to host tournaments; partnering to put in lights at the Little League field; helping fund bike repair stations throughout town
; and providing funding for launches at Deerfield Park and Majeske Landing, which will make the launches more user-friendly and prevent ongoing erosion at the bank of the river.
There have been too many projects to list them all, but Rowley says they have amounted to $67,500 since 2019. It’s a significant amount of money to invest during any period of time; however, considering the pandemic all but put a halt to tourism for the better part of a year, and therefore the funding coming into the CVB from any assessment people would have paid for lodging, it’s even more impressive.
“This is a new area for CVBs in general – nationwide and certainly in the state of Michigan - looking at projects to invest in in our communities,” says Rowley. “I’ve been reached out to a couple of times to show some examples of what we've done.”
What the CVB has done, according to those involved at the organizations they’ve helped, is make a difference not only for those who visit the community, but for those who live and work here as well.
“The CVB is an ally of the community,” says Amy Bunting, Executive Director of Morey Courts Recreation Center. “I think a lot of the work that they do definitely goes into the category of ‘unsung hero’. Not a lot of people talk about the CVB. Not a lot of people celebrate the CVB. But it's important that everyone in Mount Pleasant knows how profound their impact really is.”
Bunting has firsthand experience seeing how profound the impact of the CVB is - Morey Courts Recreation Center has received $27,500 from the CVB, according to Rowley.
“We helped to put in some volleyball stands and some basketball rims, we helped with some floor covering and netting. Then this last year, in 2021, we invested in some volleyball systems that are lifetime guaranteed,” says Rowley.
Investments from the CVB have helped Morey Courts to expand and host more tournaments.
“Because of the investment that the seed CVB made with us, we were able to expand the amount of courts that we are capable of using at one time, which means that we can host larger events, which has brought several annual events for volleyball here to Mount Pleasant… We have earned some annual State Championship volleyball events and we have been able to expand into hosting our own volleyball tournaments as well,” says Bunting.
“What that has done for us is we have gone from, essentially, when I started 4 years ago, zero weekend events to this year I believe we had 26 weekend events that brought people in for more than a couple of days.”
She says that while the dollar amount provided by the CVB certainly impacted the functionality of Morey Courts Recreation Center, the true impact of those dollars went much further than that. The investment from the CVB enabled Morey Courts Recreation Center to have something marketable for event owners from around the state, the result of which was felt throughout the community as people poured in for multi-day events.
“The numbers that we have show roughly $1.3 million of impact last fiscal year for the city of Mount Pleasant,” says Bunting. “It makes a difference when we can have community partners that champion one another, and the CVB has been instrumental in making sure that they're setting Morey Courts up for success.”
Another benefactor of the increased funding available from the CVB is Isabella County Parks and Recreation
, which Rowley says has received $15,000.
One way this funding is being used is to invest in the Chippewa River Erosion Project at Deerfield Nature Park and Majeske Landing.
“What we're doing is improving the two launches that are already in existence and then adding another launch,” says Sue Ann Kopmeyer, Director of the Isabella County Parks and Recreation Commission. “We have one new launch that is going in on the north side of Deerfield Park by the Swinging Bridge. A lot of people enter at this one place, and they've caused it to erode the bank. So, to prevent that erosion, and to also allow people to enter into the water, we are building a much better launch and making it as accessible as we can.”
Kopmeyer says construction on this project is set to begin later this month, and the funding from the CVB helped make that a reality.
“With the delays in this project because of COVID and then increasing construction costs, we were not going to be able to do the Majeske Landing portion of the project; but, with the funding that we received from the CVB, and then we got other grants as well, we were able to,” she says.
Additionally, Rowley says over the past year the CVB helped provide funding for wayfinding signage at Deerfield Park.
“Deerfield Park was voted the most beautiful place in Isabella County, so it's a great tourism asset in our community,” Rowley says.
The Chippewa River Erosion Project is helping to improve two local boat launches.
Kopmeyer says she feels investing in the parks is a critical component of increasing tourism in the community on the whole because when people come to spend time on the river or in the parks – disc golfing, canoeing, tubing, fishing, hiking – they usually end up spending money other places in town, too. Perhaps they simply buy gas, but maybe they spend the night too, eat a meal, or even shop downtown. So, she’s thrilled to have a partner such as the CVB.
“The CVB has been very supportive not only of this project that we're working on now and of the disc golf tournaments, but they're also directly involved as a stakeholder as we're working on getting the Chippewa River Water Trail as a designated trail in the state
- and this is a big undertaking, and they are definitely there providing support.”
Now that the CVB has had time to get used to how to distribute the additional funds that are available and get a handle on their new budget, Rowley says she is looking forward to what the future holds.
Chris Rowley, Executive Director of the Mount Pleasant Area CVB
“It's important to invest in the future of our community,” she says. “We're always looking forward and down the road. What will our destination look like in five years, how can we make it a better quality of life for both our residents and our visitors, and how can we improve tourism in Isabella County?”
Jon Conklin, Board President for the CVB, says he looks forward to seeing how these additional dollars will transform the community and make a difference in local organizations and events.
What's really nice is that we have new areas that we can go into, and we can help. We can help associations, we can help places fulfill their needs a lot easier with the funds that we have; whereas, before we'd have to pick or choose, and we'd also have to go in with dollar amounts that might not have had as much of an impact,” he says. “You know, a $500 sponsorship is fantastic, but when you can do a $5,000 sponsorship that's something totally different to be able to bring attractions into our area and really, really help to do some good things to draw people in.”
Conklin adds that by marketing the community and bringing in more tourists, which brings in more money to invest in the community, this funding is creating a circle that will provide benefits for tourists and locals alike.
“From a local aspect, we're going to get more amenities because of it,” he says. “Down the road, we're going to be able to generate other amenities that typically we weren't able to have - and that's because people want to travel and want to be in this area, and we're all going to be able to take advantage of that.”