Gogebic Community College and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) have agreed to enter into a partnership to manage and operate the Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park (PMWSP) winter downhill ski facility.
Based on ski industry suggestions, citing the college’s Ski Area Management program and associated staff expertise, the MDNR identified the college as the potential partner in early Spring. Since then, several meetings have taken place to discuss this partnership.
“As GCC regularly seeks state support in meeting its needs, i.e., appropriations, grant funding, capital outlay, etc., GCC believed it was appropriate to discuss the partnership proposal with the MDNR to determine if GCC could be of assistance,” said GCC President Jim Lorenson.
GCC Administration believes that participating in this partnership with the MDNR, will be beneficial to students and the college, would be perceived favorably regionally and on a state level, and would evince the college as being willing to put forth the effort necessary to support the state and region to improve economic conditions and governmental service operations. Further, quality and cost-effective operation of the PMWSP downhill ski operation should enrich and support the winter tourism industry in Ontonagon County and the Western Upper Peninsula.
GCC’s participation in the partnership is consistent with its mission which is to “provide educational and enrichment opportunities for its students and the surrounding communities in its service region.” Instructional programs will be enhanced: Students in the college’s Ski Area Management and business related programs will be exposed to real-life business operations, planning and marketing; and students will have access to a more diverse array of ski area equipment (lifts, groomers, etc.) and operations. “This new venture provides an opportunity to expand the Ski Area Management (SAM) program and the Summer Ski Lift Operators Training program with an added lab site,” said Jim Vanderspoel, Director of the SAM program/Mt. Zion Operations.
Two key provisions of the contract are: the incorporation of a ‘no financial harm’ clause which will protect the college from any financial loss from operation of the ski hill; GCC and the State of Michigan will cooperate on the installation of a rope tow to facilitate access to the entire hill which has not been possible for several years due to a 2-seat chairlift being inoperable.
GCC’s Ski Area Management Program/Mt. Zion Director, Jim Vanderspoel, has briefed managers of the privately run ski area in Gogebic County to make them aware of this proposed partnership. There is some angst regarding publically funded organizations seemingly competing with privately funded businesses. GCC is sensitive to this concern and plans to move forward in a manner that supports winter tourism industry growth throughout the region. The intent would be to “increase the size of pie, rather than cut the existing pie differently.”
The MDNR believes the development of the partnership is consistent with the state policy initiatives to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of state agency/government operations. Partnering with an organization, like GCC, that has relevant expertise operations should improve operations and provide greater taxpayer/resident value.
This partnership has garnered wide support within the MDNR structure, both regionally and at the state level. Recently, the MDNR’s Western Upper Peninsula Citizen’s Advisory Committee passed a resolution endorsing and recognizing the proposed partnership as an opportunity to share scarce public resources in a manner that protects and enhances one of Michigan’s most valued state parks.
The MDNR has operated the PMWSP downhill ski area, located on a 1,000 acre parcel, since the early 1940s. For the past several years, the MDNR has outsourced the ski area operation and ended their contractual relationship with their most recent vendor. A reversionary clause in the land transfer agreement calls for the parcel and ski area to revert back to the original owner/heirs should the MDNR discontinue their downhill ski operations. Over the past decades, the MDNR has constructed other facilities on this parcel, including the PMWSP headquarters and visitor’s center, a high use campground, beach areas, and several park support/maintenance facilities. The MDNR cannot risk loss of these facilities by discontinuing downhill ski operations; however, it currently does not have resources to provide for quality and cost-effective operations. This lack of resources drove the MDNR’s request of GCC to assist and enter into a partnership.
GCC also plans to engage the MDNR, PMWSP, “Wilds of Michigan” and “Pure Michigan” Programs, and others as appropriate to identify winter tourism market enhancement opportunities and resources. GCC and the MDNR believe that such a collaborative can have positive outcomes.