Michigan’s Mackinac State Historic Parks Reaches Out to New Audiences

Strategy: Balance Your Budget, Focus on Customer Potential, Serve Local Community

Type of attraction: Arts Organization, Museum/Historic Site, State Parks

Summary: The U.S. economy may have plunged in 2008, but Michigan’s economy has been faltering since 2003. For the Mackinac State Historic Parks, this translated to years of declining state support and increased dependence on earned income.

The U.S. economy may have plunged in 2008, but Michigan’s economy has been faltering since 2003. For the Mackinac State Historic Parks (MSHP), this translated to years of declining state support and increased dependence on earned income. 

When the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse closed to the public in 1990, the original plan was to wait until the $3-4 million needed for restoration had been secured before reopening this site. Instead, a decision was made to reopen the site in 2004 as a restoration in progress. Since then, this popular lighthouse has attracted an additional 30,000 people annually to MSHP.

Visitors consistently gave positive reviews of their experience touring historic Mill Creek’s restored sawmill, but that wasn’t enough to increase visitation. To broaden the site’s appeal, additional interpretation of the site’s natural history was added. The name was changed from “Historic Mill Creek” to the “Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park,” and new programmatic offerings included a park ranger guided Adventure Tour with high ropes activities. A new 50 foot tower includes a climbing wall which functions as a vertical nature trail with push buttons to hear different bird calls. The Forest Canopy Bridge provides an up-close opportunity to interpret life in the tree tops. Following a talk about the resurgence of eagles in the area, tour-goers take the Eagles Flight Zip Line across Mill Creek back to the picnic area. Thanks to these new additions, attendance at Mill Creek has increased 30% and earned revenues have increased thanks to the additional charge for the Adventure Tour.

While the changes at Colonial Michilimackinac were less extensive than at Mill Creek, there was a similar intent to adapt programming to increase the appeal to families and younger visitors. With a new tag line of “Kid’s Day Every Day,” this site now offers more hands-on, interactive activities for kids such as marching in uniform or being a voyageur in a reenactment.

Another MSHP historic site from the 1830s known as the “Indian Dormitory” was closed in 1990. Thanks to a generous grant from the Richard J. Manoogian Foundation, MSHP was able to restore the building back to its 1830’s appearance. Rather than reopening the building as another historic interpretive site, the building was adaptively reused as an art museum. The new Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum opened in July 2010, offering a different kind of experience that staff hopes will attract new visitors with different interests. To maximize the appeal of the new museum, a contemporary art exhibit area has been created to showcase the work of local artists to draw local audiences, and the lower level of the museum features a hands-on art activity area to appeal to younger audiences and families.