Phil Porter, Director
Mackinac State Historic Parks
Mackinac State Historic Parks, Two National Treasures
On a cold wintry day in February, Marcia and Kathy interviewed Phil Porter to learn what makes Mackinac State Historic Parks (MSHP) so special to Mackinac, to the State of Michigan and to the United States. Here are his answers to their questions.
Kathy: Phil, you have been involved with MSHP for a number of years. Tell us your journey and how you found yourself being the Director of such a prominent State Park in the United States?
Phil: Well, I was fortunate to become a summer tour guide at Fort Mackinac in 1970 and throughout my college years. In fact the job helped clarify to me what I wanted my major to be during my graduate studies at State University of New York which was History Museum Studies. In 1976 I joined the Staff of MSHP and have held many wonderful positions as curator of collections, curator of interpretation, chief curator and now as Director. My wife, Valerie, who I met during one of my summers on the Island, both fell in love with Mackinac and wanted to make it our home. We have been fortunate to have that dream become a reality for over 35 years.
There are hundreds of State Parks in the U.S. What are some of the unique features of Mackinac Island that contributes to the prominent status of MSHP?
Phil: Mackinac has a long and fascinating history and the
Mackinac Island State Park
is filled with the physical reminders of that history. The park has one of the largest collections of pre-1850 historic structures in the Midwest including the state's oldest public building (1780 Officers' Stone Quarters), the state's oldest residence (1780 McGulpin House), the state's oldest hospital building (1828 Post Hospital), the state's oldest church (1829-30 Mission Church), and many other buildings that are significant contributing structures to the island's prestigious National Historic Landmark status.)
Kathy: Is there one significant event that has helped retain the
history of this tiny Island?
Phil: Amazingly, the event that has helped immensely to keep the Island's history real is the automobile ban. The auto ban, dating to 1898 in the City of Mackinac Island and 1901 in the state park occurred before automobiles had an opportunity to change the character of the island. As a result we have narrow, quaint streets, barns that still house horses, no stop lights, no stop signs, no gas stations...a unique and wonderful pre-automotive environment that cannot be found anywhere else in the United States.
People are so amazed when they see old history come alive during their visit to
and the other buildings in and around town. How do you get the ideas?
Phil: MSHP brings history to life through a wide variety of live interpretation programs at all of its historic sites. This includes demonstrations, walking tours, music programs, dramatic reenactments, and hands-on activities that encourage visitor participation. The ideas come from a variety of sources, but usually from our very creative staff, including seasonal interpreters who bring fresh ideas into the mix.
Kathy: What are your 3 favorite programs that have become bigger than you ever thought imaginable for MSHP?
Phil: That's a tough question with so many terrific programs. My first choice is the Adventure Tour at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park just outside of
The tour includes the Forest Canopy Bridge, the Eagle's Flight Zip Line, and the Nature Trail Climbing Wall. All of them have become very popular with young and old and have increased our site attendance by 30%.
The second one which is also my personal favorite is the Vintage Base Ball game held on Mackinac Island. It began as a one time event that was part of our special 2003 "Summer of Sports" program. The players, participating teams, and local community have become very enthusiastic and supportive and we will keep it going as long as this support continues.(Besides, I really like playing vintage base ball!)
While it is not a specific program, the growth of
from the time that it was developed under the leadership of Dr. Eugene Petersen in 1982 has been very rewarding. The support of this wonderful group, especially in recent years as our state budget appropriation has been slashed numerous times, has been above and beyond my hopes and expectations.
Marcia: One last question: if someone only had one day to spend on the Island, where and what would Phil Porter suggest they visit?
Phil: I would recommend that they explore both natural and historic wonders of the island. Make sure to visit Fort Mackinac, the
Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum,
and the other downtown historic buildings and then go out and experience the island by walking its trails, touring its wonderful rock formations and gazing over the crystal blue waters of the Straits of Mackinac. These are experiences that are available nowhere else.
Marcia & Kathy: Thanks, Phil for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us about Mackinac State Historic Parks. We definitely realize our community is blessed to have this significant organization in our midst, as well as, having the guidance of Phil Porter to ensure that the land and its history is protected for future generations.
Insider Tip: To read more about
Phil Porter and the wonderful programs at Mackinac State Historic Parks click here.
Visiting Mackinac Island and the surrounding country side is truly a way to experience a fantastic
all-American vacation in paradise!
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