I made it out of the Cities not once, but twice visiting two very different places during the month of August. I spent the first weekend in Ann Arbor and Detroit, Michigan, and later in the month I was on Washington Island off of Door County, Wisconsin. It was my first real visit to the former and my first visit in over two years to the latter, where I spent a significant part of my childhood.
I touched down at DTW two weeks after the city filed for bankruptcy, and thus dealt with more than enough comments about making it to the DIA before their collection is sold off. I read so many different pieces on the “real” Detroit prior to my trip I decided I couldn’t know anything until I was on the ground.
My transportation planner friend and I did a whirlwind tour of the city in one day. We began at Ernie Harwell Park, the site of the former Tiger Stadium where all are now welcome to play a game or snap some photos. Afterward we drove by the formidable Michigan Central Station with its five new windows.
However, my favorite stop in Detroit was at The Heidelberg Project, a living public art project on the East Side. The Project includes abandoned houses covered in stuffed animals, records, and more mixed in with empty properties in the neighborhood, which has been one of the hardest-hit in the city by the economic crisis. A few houses still have inhabitants, including the Yellow House which can be signed by visitors for a small donation.
Having only been there for part of a day, I don’t have anything profound to say about the future of Detroit’s economy, infrastructure or people. However, I did achieve my goal of getting to check the city out for myself, and while vacancy, decentralization and abandonment abounded, there was plenty of positive energy and creativity present from Eastern Market to Heidelberg to the RiverWalk.
Many people from Minnesota, Illinois and beyond vacation in Wisconsin’s Door County. In the summer the number of people on the Door peninsula can get as high as 250,000. With this sharp increase in population – year-round the Door is home to about 28,000 – comes crowds and traffic. Now, I’m not saying avoid a summertime visit, but I want to call to attention the “final frontier” of the Door: Washington Island.
Washington Island is 23 ½ square miles in size and located several miles off the tip of the peninsula. The Island’s 700 permanent residents and tourists travel between the mainland and the Island via five ferries, including one for passengers only and another with ice-breaking capabilities for winter. Despite the trip’s short duration during good weather, the ferry ride keeps the majority of Door traffic on the mainland. The many boat rides I have taken on the Washington Island Ferry Line get partial credit for giving me the idea to work in the transportation industry – they’re so fun!
Once the ferry docks at Detroit Harbor on the Island’s south side, the Island is easily traversed by bicycle, car, moped, or motorcycle. The popular destinations include Schoolhouse Beach, one of only five rock beaches like it worldwide, Rock Island State Park (accessible by Karfi, a passenger-only ferry), and several restaurants and museums.
As an adult, I now spend part of every visit supporting local farms and businesses by imbibing in Death Door’s Spirits, Island Orchard Cider and/or Island Wheat, usually somewhere outside. For those who prefer drinking indoors, the Island is also home to Nelson’s, the longest continuously-open bar in the state thanks to medicinal bitters. Visitors and residents alike are obligated to stop by and do a shot of orange bitters annually; all those who do so receive a card and get to sign the coveted guestbook.
One of the Island’s strengths to me over the mainland is the pace of life. The burger joint has a sign near the register explaining service isn’t fast like in Chicago; the coffee shop across the street doesn’t have internet access and encourages people to talk to one another instead. Of course, in moments of weakness many businesses are plugged in. One of my favorites is the Danish Mill, which offers wireless internet, coffee and fresh baked goods. It doesn’t get better than this.