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Marquette National Memorial site to be unveiled

MARQUETTE – This month, the public will get an opportunity to see, and comment on, a draft master plan for enhancing visitor experiences at the Father Marquette National Memorial site, located within Straits State Park in Mackinac County.

The Straits of Mackinac Heritage Center Collaborative will hold an open house from 3 to 7 p.m., Tuesday, June 18 at the St. Ignace Public Library, located at 110 W. Spruce St. in St. Ignace.

At the event, the collaborative will share the draft master plan for the west side of Straits State Park. Starting June 18, there will also be an opportunity for the public to see the plans and comment online at StraitsHeritage.org.

The open-house format will allow attendees to look at drawings of the site, ask questions and share their thoughts with members of the collaborative and architects from Becket & Raeder. There will not be a formal presentation.

“This will be an important time for people throughout the St. Ignace region to share their ideas before we begin to finalize the plan,” said Larry Jacques, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians representative on the collaborative. “We want to learn what excites people the most, hear any concerns and answer questions.”

A visitor checks out the Father Marquette National Memorial in St. Ignace.

Meanwhile, the Meijer Foundation and several individual donors have recognized the value of the project and contributed or pledged funding that will leverage time-limited matching funds from a $500,000 National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant. With these gifts, the collaborative is close to meeting its first-year goal.

In 2018, the collaborative members – Moran Township, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Lake Superior State University, the Mackinac Straits Health System and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources – submitted letters of commitment to raise a total of $1.5 million in donations over five years to meet the challenge.

The grant funding will be used to complete planning and begin construction.

“We are grateful to our donors for offering early support for a project that is in its planning stages,” said Sandra Clark, director of the Michigan History Center. “These generous gifts have allowed us to proceed with a draft master plan that captures our long-term vision for the site, knowing that we have the funds to move from that wider vision to specific plans for the first phase of site development and construction.”

The project began in June 2016, when representatives from local, state and tribal governments, along with public and private organizations, convened in St. Ignace to discuss the future of the Father Marquette National Memorial.

The memorial celebrates the life and legacy of Jacques Marquette, the French Jesuit missionary and explorer who founded Sault Ste. Marie in 1668 and St. Ignace in 1671. Largely missing from the current memorial are the stories of the indigenous people and early French settlers with whom Marquette worked and lived.

Great views of the Mackinac Bridge are available from the Father Marquette National Memorial site.

The initial meeting evolved into the Straits of Mackinac Heritage Center Collaborative, whose purpose is to create a place that inspires reflection, learning and healthy lifestyles through cultural and natural resource-based experiences built around the Anishinaabe and French heritage of the region.

The draft master plan encompasses the 80-acre site and envisions using a mix of indoor and outdoor gathering places and interpretation.

“Our goal is to help make St. Ignace a tourism destination by adding an experience that complements the city’s downtown museums with interpretation and activities in an outdoor environment,” said Moran Township Supervisor Jim Durm. “This plan will give travelers one more reason to spend more time in our community; at the same time it serves community residents throughout the year.”

A long-term part of the collaborative’s vision is to make the Father Marquette site an essential part of the North Country National Scenic Trail and the Iron Belle Trail. The connection would link St. Ignace and the east portion of Straits State Park with Moran Township’s plans for a lakeshore segment of the trail along Boulevard Drive.

The collaborative’s immediate goals are to raise the matching funds for the NEH grant, which will complete phase one of the master plan, and to find for-profit and for-purpose partner organizations with shared values and goals that can further enhance the site.

Once the master plan is completed this summer, the collaborative will move on to detailed architectural plans for the first NEH grant-funded phase of the project, which include site utilities, an outdoor event and interpretation area and the “Learning Commons.”  

Moran Township is leading local fundraising efforts in collaboration with Heritage Michigan, the foundation that supports the work of the Michigan History Center, which is seeking statewide support.

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