Friday, January 24, 2014

I've Got Marquette Under my Skin

In the eight years I've lived in Michigan I've done a lot of complaining about winter. Yet somehow this week I fell in love with a fabulous northern Michigan community despite the below zero temperatures. I'm not sure if it was the great downtown or the enthusiasm from community and business leaders...or it could've been the cocktails.  At any rate I'm smitten with the City of Marquette.

Marquette is a city of just over 20,000 people located on picturesque Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. There's no easy way to get to Marquette other than driving across the UP. I can get to my parents' house in West Virginia in around the same time it takes me to get to Marquette. The UP is known for its particularly snowy and cold winters, and despite my general aversion to winter I was excited for the adventure.

View of Lake Superior from the 6th floor of the historic Landmark Inn in Downtown Marquette
Upon arriving to the hotel we met the former mayor/current state legislator for a tour of the city.  Even if you aren't a cityphile and lover of all things placemaking, it's easy to get swept up in the enthusiasm that Marquette residents have for their community.  Marquette's downtown is vibrant, dense and walkable. The city boasts miles of shoreline along the lake perfect for all sorts of outdoor activities. Marquette has become known as a biking community, and I'm looking forward to going back to enjoy the summer vibe as well.

Marquette is one of eight Michigan cities who received funding for PlacePlans, a project to help cities plan and design placemaking projects. My focus was to meet with city and legislative leaders to talk about our proactive legislative placemaking agenda, but I also got to help a little with the PlacePlans project as well. I've often said that my favorite part of my job is connecting with our communities and seeing the extraordinary projects they're working on. Seeing the great things already happening in Marquette as well as getting a glimpse into the community's energy regarding the Baraga Street (their PlacePlans project) redesign was the perfect recharge I needed to take on the next legislative battle.

Walking to meetings. It was cold, but it was beautiful.
During the few days I was there I got to spend time with the city commission and city manager to hear all of the exciting projects they're working on. Marquette's community leaders have so much passion for their projects, and their placemaking vision is infectious.  We got to enjoy some of the local establishments like Donckers restaurant where I had an amazing gouda, avocado and bacon burger. Of course you can only get to the food once you tear yourself away from the homemade candy in its downstairs store.  I had several meals at The Vierling, a restaurant that has been in downtown Marquette for more than a century.  One day for lunch I enjoyed an insanely delicious muenster and tomato sandwich while taking in a view of the lake. I learned that the restaurants in downtown Marquette get their whitefish fresh from a fishery on Lake Superior just behind The Vierling. Very cool.

One night we had dinner at Lagniappe, a Cajun place (yes you read that right) downtown. I LOVE Cajun and southern food, and any place where I have my pick of ways to have my catfish prepared is an automatic favorite.  The hushpuppies rivaled ones I had in Pensacola, Florida a few years ago - mind blowing. It seems like such an anomaly to have a Cajun restaurant in a city in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, but it's this type of creativity that makes Marquette work.

And then there is the Ore Dock Brewing Company which had been given more hype than the Beatles. I have to say it totally lived up to the expectations. We met with its owners and manager to talk about the PlacePlans redesign project, and of course we had to sample some of their beers to really get a feel for the place. Unfortunately beer and I are not friends because of my Crohn's, but I couldn't let that stop me from having at least part of one. They had just put their new Black Swan Java Stout on tap the day we were there, and it was unprecedented in its deliciousness. I have never cursed my inability to drink beer more than I did that day. I texted my husband from the Ore Dock to inform him that I loved Marquette, and we were moving there. The response I got was, "How drunk ARE you?" And the reality was that I was not drunk. Not even a little bit. Marquette just got under my skin.

It was so much fun to talk to the local paper about our legislative placemaking agena and meet with community and business leaders to talk about PlacePlans. My only regret is that I did not run in Marquette. It was bitterly cold, and we ended up being really busy. But I plan to come back to Marquette, and I won't leave next time without running by the lake.

I know what you're thinking - I'm kind of a romantic about cities. I fall often, and I fall hard. Marquette, particularly in the winter, was a surprise for me though.  I was a bit blindsided by this new city love affair. Strangely San Francisco left me needing more, yet Marquette, Michigan has stolen a piece of my heart. There may be hope left for this winter hating girl yet.           


  1. I love this post! As an NMU grad, my soul will always be drawn to Marquette and Lake Superior. And, my husband is a WVU grad and our daughter is too. Also, Ore Dock! Our favorite!! If you move to Marquette, I will be jealous :)

    1. It's such a great town. Sort of like Morgantown of the north. I think that is why Mountaineers love it too. :)