| Traverse City Eco |
Before Hemingway became obsessed with bullfighting, big-game hunting and deep-sea fishing, Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay region inspired his youthful imagination. In the woods beyond the family cottage and the opulent resort hotels, he eyed wildlife, gun in hand, and cast his line in crystal-clear streams and lakes, often making friends among the Algonquian-speaking Ottawa and Ojibwa, who lived in the shadow of a lumbering-era past…. Ernest soon saw the Native Americans’ severe poverty, with the lumber industry no longer offering employment.—John Cohassey
Things have gotten better for some Native Americans in northwestern Michigan. Today, a few miles from where young Hemingway once roamed, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians owns one of the Midwest’s premier green lodgings, Grand Traverse Resort & Spa. The resort is big, and it didn’t start out green when it opened nearly thirty years ago. It’s got 600 guestrooms and suites, as well as condos, major meeting spaces to handle gatherings of 1,500 or more, plus 54 holes of championship golf designed by Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and William Newcomb.
Altering course for this giant, we think as we check in, must be like turning a mammoth cruise ship.
“Have you seen our environmental policy?” the cheerful young lady behind the front desk asks, nodding toward a framed document on the wall. Heading the signatures at the bottom of the proclamation is the tribal council chairman’s. Since the tribe bought the resort near Traverse City in 2003, they’ve poured more than $17 million into renovations, including a huge year-long effort to gain environmental ISO 14001:2004 certification. If all goes well, it should be won this fall. In 2008 the resort was certified as a “leader” by Green Lodging Michigan, a state organization that encourages environmental stewardship in the hospitality industry.
In short, the giant is transformed—it’s now a jolly green giant.
We see evidences of this greening in our handsome Tower room—the recycling basket next to the desk, packets of Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee with compostable cups. Cleaning and laundry, we are told, are done with eco-friendly products. The indoor pool uses natural, non-chlorine filtration. The spa’s products are earth-friendly. Behind the scenes are new energy-saving systems in the laundry and boiler room. The resort’s restaurants source as many ingredients as they can from local, sustainable farms. Food waste is composted and useable leftovers go to a “food rescue” program. Targets for this year include further energy and paper use reductions. There’s more, but you get the drift.
Getting into the great outdoors is what draws most people to northern Michigan. This resort sprawls across 900 acres . Though guests have summer access to a private beach on Grand Traverse Bay, on the resort itself we’re talking golf, golf and more golf. This can be a pretty toxic sport. Think of all the chemicals and pesticides that get poured over golf’s manicured landscapes. But enlightened groundskeepers know there’s a better way. In 2006, following a multi-year effort, the resort won certification from the Michigan Turfgrass Environmental Stewardship Program for its eco-friendly practices such as integrated pest management—on its entire property, not merely the golf courses. The Environmental Institute for Golf has lauded the resort’s retrofitting of golf course maintenance equipment to reduce exhaust emissions. The resort has also partnered with the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay to “adopt” a creek that runs through the resort on its way to the bay. That means pulling on waders to get water and eco-system samples each spring.
Grand Traverse Resort was named to Condé Nast Traveler‘s Top 50 travel destinations and is a Golf Magazine Silver Medal Resort. But clearly it’s striving to be more than a luxurious vacation, golf and meeting destination. It’s becoming one of Michigan’s best green citizens.
More good green news
More good green news awaits nearby. In this photogenic and still largely unspoiled region edging Lake Michigan, a growing eco-spirit embraces farms and vineyards that grow organically and biodynamically; artisan producers of excellent products made from local, organic ingredients; healthy farm-to-table dining and conscientious stewardship of the lakes, rivers, streams and countryside. An excellent starting point for your explorations is Traverse City itself. Hop the free shuttle from the resort. Among our favs are the sourdough and other baked goods made here from ground organic wheatberries and cold well water at Stone House Bread on East State Street (the original location is in the town of Leland a short drive north) and Oryana Natural Foods Market on East Tenth Street, a worker-owned co-op that prides itself on supporting new local food products.
Bon Appetit named Traverse City one of America’s Top 5 foodie towns in 2010. We love The Cooks’ House on Wellington Street, which says 90 percent of its menu is locally grown. In the downstairs of a modest bungalow, these cooks—Eric Patterson and Jennifer Blakeslee—turn out amazing food like lake trout with cattail shoots, faro and wild violets; and roasted rabbit with chocolate, honey, hops and oats. They’ll even whip up a 5- or 7-course tasting menu. Here’s also where to sample the best in Michigan wines, from the list assembled by a master sommelier.
Another satisfying choice: The Bay Leaf, on Park Street, which prides itself on earthy, rustic flavors based on what’s in season from its local purveyors. We thoroughly enjoyed a grilled chop of Michigan co-op-raised pork served with rainbow chard, black beans and garlic confit and a potato gnocchi sauté in beurre blanc with seasonal veggies. This is among the many local restaurants serving Traverse City-made organic, fair trade teas and tisanes of Light of Day Organics.
Braking for green
But the city is just the beginning. You’ll want to explore the rural countryside, neighboring small towns and lakeside attractions as well. A good eco-sensitive online guide to local food, farms, wineries, restaurants and more is Taste the Local Difference, a project of the Michigan Land Use Institute.
Sometimes, though, serendipity is your best guide. As we happened upon the tiny, quaint village of Empire, west of Traverse City on the shores of Lake Michigan, we hit the brakes. Totally by chance had we found Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate, handcrafted, sustainably grown Ecuadorian chocolate “inspired by the food, nature and soils of Northern Michigan.” Chocolatier Mimi Wheeler uses organic fruits, edible flowers and herbs from her summer garden and packages her scrumptious chocolates in compostable bags and recyclable materials.
The lesson is self-evident: always brake for chocolate. Our visit to the greener, sustainable side of Traverse City and environs is now complete.