2016-11-17 / Views

Summit needed to discuss Leelanau County’s new reality

our opinion

Something felt different as we headed into summer, and the source of that feeling can now be verified.

Leelanau County is changing, one could say rapidly, right in front of us.

In fact, the county is more popular than ever — to the point of resurrecting a question asked many times before: With everyone wanting a piece of Leelanau, will we recognize what’s left?

But there’s hardly time to consider such an intangible subject. Looking forward, we see an immediate need for preparation. It would behoove someone — possibly county government — to pull together the many affected local governments and organizations for a large-scale discussion.

We know this has occurred before. But as stated, something feels ... different this time. It’s one thing to know growth is coming. It’s another to know it’s already here.

We would suggest our institutions consider how they would handle, say, a 25 percent increase in demand for services over the next five years.

Yes, that level of growth seems plausible. Perhaps inevitable.

Consider our front page coverage last week stating that visitation at the Lakeshore had broken the previous record by about 122,000 people — and that occurred in early October. Home sales look like they’ll tell a similar story in 2016.

Anecdotal evidence can be found every morning in longer commutes and every evening in longer waits for restaurant tables.

While deputies are still fielding their share of lost cow concerns, according to our 9-1-1 columns, critter problems don’t compare in urgency to serious accidents and domestic disputes.

It’s simple math. Having so many people trying to have fun on one peninsula is bound to cause friction. When the number of people increase, so does the friction.

Maybe this latest bout with identity crisis had its roots in the wine industry, which has introduced literally hundreds of thousands of people to Leelanau’s charms.

Or maybe it’s the Internet, whose spawning of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram has helped to put Leelanau’s beauty on the touch-screens of millions.

Or maybe it was just inevitable that the county go through another growth spurt. This is America, and America has always grown.

But, again, this feels different. Our popularity was already high enough to sustain business, keep folks employed and provide a certain level of bravado for living in a place coveted by so many.

Then park visitation and home sales records were snapped in only a little over nine months.

Regardless of our personal feelings, it’s become obvious we need to be ready for rapid growth. Will our county government, Road Commission, villages and townships, nonprofits and businesses be ready?

In one sense — that of running a business in Leelanau County — we should be overjoyed.

We recall with a chuckle the column titled, “Don’t come to Leelanau,” which was penned in 1987 by now-retired Detroit Free Press editor Kurt Luedtke.

Mr. Luedtke wrote: “For complex geological reasons, the waters of Leelanau County are uniquely vulnerable to a most violent undertow which strikes without warning even on the calmest days and against which struggle is impossible. Frankly, I don’t see the point of going out of your way to get to a place where you can’t even swim, but suit yourself.”

Despite Mr. Luedtke’s tongue-in-cheek efforts, people continue to suit themselves in Leelanau. That’s because the best parts remain, and they remain beautiful.

Many places, though, are filling up. We had better be ready for Leelanau’s newest reality.

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