Welcome to the inaugural post of “Loving Traverse City,” a blog and discussion group dedicated to that best-kept of Michigan’s secrets: the beautiful bayside town of Traverse City. It’s my hope that this will be a place where people who love this wonderful place can talk about their favorite places, activities, experiences and inspirations.
My name is Mike Norton. These days, I’m the media relations guy for the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, but before that I spent 25 years as a reporter and columnist at the local newspaper, the Traverse City Record-Eagle, a job that frequently took me out into the most remote backroads, forests, beaches and islands of the beautiful Grand Traverse Region. My strategy was pretty simple — just drive, paddle, ski or walk until you’re certain you’re lost, and then find somebody to talk to. It was a great job!
I never intended to live in Traverse City. I grew up in Grand Rapids, spent four years in the Coast Guard in places like Miami Beach, Monterey and San Francisco, and when I finally graduated from college I took a summer job at the Miami Herald. To my surprise, I discovered I didn’t like the tropics nearly as much as I thought I would — and when the Record-Eagle offered me a job I took it, figuring I’d put in a year or two and head off to someplace like Seattle or Portland.
What I discovered very quickly is that this place gets to you in a variety of unexpected ways. The beaches here are as lovely as anyplace else I’ve ever been, the weather is mild all year round — warm enough for swimming in September and cold enough for skiing in December — and just about the time you’re getting tired of one season you get another one every bit as pleasant. The people are laid-back and friendly, the music and arts scene is awesome, and the place still hasn’t gotten so sophisticated that a guy like me feels out of place.
Just yesterday, for instance, I took my lunch break over at the Grand Traverse Commons, the sprawling 500-acre campus of what was once a state mental asylum. Today those lovely castle-like hospital buildings are being redeveloped into a dazzling village of shops, apartments, galleries, restaurants and offices — but the hills and forests where the distracted patients once found healing and refreshment are now a sort of “Central Park” for Traverse City. In summer, folks come here to hike, run and walk their dogs, and in winter it’s a favorite spot for snowshoers and cross-country skiers. There’s a whole network of marked trails that correspond to the paths walked by those 19th century patients. Pretty nice view, isn’t it? On Wednesday evenings in winter, whole groups of snowshoers come up here after dark and watch the lights come up over the town.
I’m still blown away by the fact that I meet people who’ve been coming here on vacation for years and have no idea that places like the Commons even exist. One of the wonderful things about my job is that I get to tell them!
So long for now.