Improving communities for residents and visitors alike

Every year Visit Keweenaw awards tens of thousands of dollars to a variety of projects across the region to enhance visitor experiences and community development initiatives.

This year the non-profit marketing organization awarded $45,000 in Destination Development Awards to eight projects, many of them focused on wayfinding and interpretive signing and park and trail maintenance.

The awards program supports projects that enhance visitor experiences, meet unfulfilled needs in the area and offer benefits to the broader community. The awards also encourage sustainable practices and long-term maintenance. 

“We’re excited to get these projects under contract and moving forward this summer. Several projects, like historical interpretive signs, are already designed and ready for installation,” said Brad Barnett, executive director of Visit Keweenaw. “While other projects are long-term investments to support community needs like improved social gathering spaces and trail development."

What’s happening:  Visit Keweenaw awarded $45,000 toward eight projects to enhance visitor experiences and community development initiatives in the Keweenaw region, which includes Keweenaw and Houghton counties. The Destination Development Awards are given to projects that leverage the unique characteristics of communities to create exceptional experiences for residents and visitors. Many of the projects are already in the works; projects are encouraged to be completed by September.

Why it’s important: The funding program not only supports local community projects and helps improve amenities used by local residents, but also enhances the experience for tourists. Tourism accounts for about 70 percent of employment in the region, providing jobs in a host of hospitality, service and recreation industries. In 2022, some 402,700 visitors explored the Keweenaw region, contributing $140 million to the local economy. 

Destination Development Awards are often used for signage and wayfinding.

“They’re called Destination Development Awards because we want to improve destinations,” said Jesse Wiederhold, public relations/events coordinator for Visit Keweenaw.  “We want to improve communities for people who live here and enjoy them every day. Maybe it’s making improvements to a trail so their daily walk is easier on their feet. Making these improvements naturally improves the value of the place but also for the people who live there and the people who visit.”

About the Destination Development Awards: Begun several years ago, the program awards tens of thousands of dollars annually. The awards vary in scope but often focus on the principles of placemaking, which leverage the unique characteristics of a community building upon its assets and creating unique experiences that benefit both the visitor and the community.  

Organizations can apply for up to $20,000; they are required to have a 50 percent match in other funding. The board of Visit Keweenaw and staff spend weeks reviewing applications, sought each January.  They are looking for projects that improve “a destination's ability to attract visitors and enhance their experience while visiting the destination.”

Applicants are reviewed on a variety of criteria, including visitor experience, the extent the project will enhance the visitors’ experience; community, the extent to which the project benefits the broader community; and demonstrated need, the extent to which a project fulfills a need not being met in the area.

This year’s recipients: 

Gabriel Chopp Park Renovation: The Ahmeek Village/Fire Department was awarded $15,000 to renovate and improve Gabriel Chopp Park in Ahmeek. The project includes the construction of a new bandstand and bathroom facilities. The park will become a place for the larger community and seasonal celebrations and an additional location to visit between Calumet and Copper Harbor.
Carnegie Museum (Houghton): $8,450, to reinvigorate and improve the “Houghton Geo Walk/Bike” tour that includes about 30 sites in Houghton. Each spot will have an interpretive sign identifying and explaining a feature of Keweenaw’s geology. The project will relocate new boulders to the Houghton Waterfront to enhance the visual experience.
Copper Harbor Trails Club: $5,000, for a major project at the Trails End Campground in Copper Harbor. The Orchard Trail is a vision of the club and is an easy trail for walkers, joggers and young mountain bikers to enjoy. The club will add skills features and make the trail more beginner friendly. The trail will be free and open to the public.
City of Houghton: $4,000, to bring in an artist to complete a mural project on the parking garage across from The Vault Hotel. The city says art installations like murals improve cultural infrastructure and can attract more visitor retention. It contributes to the community’s art scene and the location will decorate a bare concrete structure.
Houghton County Historical Society: $3,500, to erect interpretive signs for historical exhibits at the Houghton County Historical Museum in Lake Linden. Other signs lack details and need to be fixed or upgraded. This includes the mill office and fire station buildings left from the Lake Linden mill complex, which operated from 1867 to 1959.
Keweenaw ATV Club: $240, to purchase new donation collection boxes. The club will buy 24 collection boxes that will be distributed to various locations and businesses to raise money for the club, which improves riding conditions for visitors and residents.
Keweenaw Search and Rescue: $5,144, to procure eight GPS units for rescue vehicles. There are 40 members on this new search team, which was formed in 2022 in response to the growing number of outdoor recreationists in the Keweenaw. The team’s mission is to be ready to respond to any emergencies in the Keweenaw and knowing your exact GPS location can be crucial in a crisis.
Painesdale Mine & Shaft: $3,600, for maintaining the former Champion #4 mine site. The mine would like to add a large interpretive sign along its trail to inform users about the mine and to invite them to explore the historic site. 328 visitors took a guided tour in 2022, and with a new sign and information, there will likely be an increase in visitors.

Among last year’s recipients: Keweenaw Snowmobile Club, $10,000, for snowmobile groomer barn construction; the city of Hancock, $4,500, for historic commemorative plaques in downtown Hancock; and the Carnegie Museum of the Keweenaw, $3,800, for virtual historic downtown Houghton walking tour signage.
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