The Village of Ontonagon plans for future sustainability of their harbor community: Part 2

The Sustainable Small Harbors project seeks to build physical and economic resilience through economic development and placemaking strategies.

Community members review the design alternatives during the charrette open house; Photo credit: Todd Marsee
Community members review the design alternatives during the charrette open house; Photo credit: Todd Marsee

Part one of this article series highlights the Sustainable Small Harbor Management Strategy Project, and describes the first half of the public engagement process with the Village of Ontonagon on Lake Superior.

After gathering initial community feedback in early October, the project team returned to Ontonagon in early November to conduct a charrette – a multiple-day, collaborative design workshop to harnesses the talents and energies of all interested parties in the community to create and support a feasible plan for the future.

The first night of the three day charrette, the project team led more than 55 community members through a hands-on visioning session in which participants organized into small groups to write, draw, and discuss visions for the village looking up to 20 years into the future. Key visions identified included more public open space along Lake Superior and the Ontonagon River, a thriving downtown business environment, biking, walking, snowmobile and ORV trails connected to downtown and regional points of interest, and a strong industrial base supported by the village’s commercial port.

Following the visioning session, project team members quickly assessed the overall public input and began formulating three distinct design alternatives for the downtown and harbor. While the designers on the project team got to work on drawing the design alternatives, other project team members met with key stakeholders in three separate meetings focusing on 1) the marina and water-based tourism, 2) Rose Island and area recreational interests, and 3) business and industry. The intent of the key stakeholder meetings was to collect additional information on existing plans and visions and to test the feasibility of conceptual design alternatives.

By the end of the second day of the charrette, the community came back together at an open house where individuals had the opportunity to view visual depictions of design options and state their preferences for aspects of each design alternative. More than 110 community members attended the open house to express their support and offer critiques of the design alternatives.

To begin the final day of the charrette, the project team reviewed the feedback from the open house the evening before and began assembling the preferred elements of each design alternative into a single ‘preferred alternative’ that represented a mix of elements from the previously identified options. Designers had just hours to create visuals and plans for the preferred alternative to be presented later that night at a ‘work in progress’ community presentation.


Project team members work to finalize the preferred design alternative; Photo credit: Todd Marsee

Again the community came together to reflect on the process to date and review the work in progress version of the preferred alternative. Over 40 community members then had the opportunity to offer comments to further refine the community plan. With the final critiques from the community in hand, the design team is working to further refine the preferred design alternative and will be presenting a final report to the community in early 2016. In just three days, the community of Ontonagon had set a vision for the future of their waterfront.

The final reports delivered to the Sustainable Small Harbor project communities not only includes the preferred plan for each community, but also includes a toolkit and planning, technical assistance, and funding opportunities and resources to help communities implement their plans.

For more information about the Sustainable Small Harbor Management Strategy Project visit the project website where project data, presentations, and designs for each community are detailed, along with media coverage and supporting materials.

Michigan State University Extension helps communities learn how to improve their social and economic appeal to create and retain jobs. By participating in related MSU Extension programs, community leaders are given the tools they need to have a positive effect on their cities, villages, townships – and the whole state.

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