Northern Michigan reacts to governor's vacation home travel ban

Published: Apr. 10, 2020 at 11:50 PM EDT
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ABC 12 first reported toward the end of last month that a handful of Up North mayors and lawmakers had requested people from lower and Mid-Michigan not attempt to hunker down at cabins or secondary homes. As of Thursday, that went from a guideline to the law of the land.

With a virus that spreads so easily, Governor Gretchen Whitmer is asking Michiganders to make another sacrifice, don't travel to your summer home or cottage. Not only could you be putting yourself in danger, but risking the health of another community.

Ads like the Pure Michigan campaign sell Up North as a can’t-miss destination. And yet, that message is the polar opposite of the one Traverse City Mayor Jim Carruthers is now trying to send as coronavirus runs rampant statewide.

“People are not staying in place,” argues Carruthers. “Everyone’s been seeing an influx of people… Lots of cars in the driveway, lots of different plates from different states in the driveway.”

Among other things, he worries the region’s hospitals may prove ill-equipped to handle an influx of new patients.

“It’s a very challenging issue for many of us mayors and local officials Up North,” relates Carruthers. “Many of our snowbirds are looking to come back … We truly welcome them, but at the same time, we’ve very challenged by the numbers.”

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has taken flack online after telling Michiganders Thursday they could no longer make the trip to cottages or vacation homes and to simply stay put.

“There’s a reality here,” explains Dean Sparks, owner of downtown mainstay Sparks BBQ. “There are so many unknowns and it’s almost too difficult to predict the future with this many unknowns.”

The crisis and the changes it spawned represent both a public health threat and economic catastrophe. Dean Sparks’ Barbecue restaurant forms a cornerstone of the city’s now deserted main drag.

“I closed the doors to both of my restaurants, one in Grand Rapids, one in TC,” says Sparks. “We’re risking spreading this virus unknowingly or unwillingly and we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.”

For a community that relies so heavily on tourism, the pandemic may spell disaster in the ramp up to the Cherry Capital’s critical summer season.

“We’re starting to talk about having to close some of our major festivals,” relates Carruthers. “We are still in discussion about the National Cherry Festival, we’ve got of course the Iron Man and the Film Festival coming up—major parts of our economy.”

Yet, despite the outlook, the timing, says Carruthers, simply isn’t right for business as usual.

“We welcome them,” starts Carruthers. “We want them to be here, but right now, we just want people to slow down and let’s see if we can flatten this curve… stop the spread of this virus.”