Mission Point Lighthouse on the Old Mission Peninsula, Parks Committee
Mission Point Lighthouse | Jane Boursaw Photo
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The recently-appointed Peninsula Township Parks Committee has been holding regular meetings over the past few months and defining their role with regard to the township parks. But one committee member has already resigned over a conflict with how the township’s historic sites should be managed.

In their meetings and work sessions, the Parks Committee, which was appointed by and reports to the Township Board, has been discussing how to oversee the township parks, as well as the historic structures, including Mission Point Lighthouse, the Hessler Log Cabin, the Dougherty House and the Mission Log Church.

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At their meeting on July 10, 2019, the Parks Committee outlined a proposal which would separate the historic properties from the other parks (such as Bowers Harbor Park, Haserot Beach, Pelizzari Park and others). The proposal also recommended that the Township Board manage the historic properties.

However, several members of the Old Mission Peninsula Historical Society and Peter Dougherty Society were present at the meeting and reminded the Parks Committee that their groups have been managing the historic properties for years, including restoring the Dougherty House on Mission Road, which recently opened to the public as a museum.

Log Cabin Day 2019 on the Old Mission Peninsula
The Dougherty Home on Log Cabin Day 2019 | Jane Boursaw Photo

Bill Cole, president of the nonprofit 501c3 Peter Dougherty Society, noted that aside from the township paying for the electric bill at the Dougherty House and issuing the appropriate building permits for the restoration project, all of the restoration funds have come from grants, donations and committed volunteers, who have donated hundreds of hours to the project.

“We do not want the township micromanaging the Dougherty House, and most of the volunteers will quit if this becomes the case,” said Bill. “Every year, we prepare a report listing our accomplishments and the plans for the upcoming year. There has never been any response or even a question about these activities and report. The only members of the Town Board who have been to the Dougherty House have been Rob Manigold and Dave Sanger. I seriously hope your recommendations to the Town Board reflect our views.”

Chris Rieser, treasurer of the Peter Dougherty Society and Secretary of the Old Mission Peninsula Historical Society, agreed.

“To move us to management by the Township Board is to leave us without your support and voice,” he told the Parks Committee. “The township has not shown any interest in these properties they own and have treated us with benign neglect. We think the Parks Committee can be the spokesperson to the Township Board for our organizations.”

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Hessler Log Home at Lighthouse Park | Jane Boursaw Photo

In a letter to the Township dated July 9, 2019, John Scarbrough, president of the Historical Society, wrote:

We live in a breathtaking place with a long, important history. That history has largely been preserved and presented to the public since 1993 by the Old Mission Peninsula Historical Society working with the excellent cooperation of the Township Board. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the OMPHS and the Township Board, many, if not all, of the physical structures would have greatly deteriorated. 

We have actively worked to preserve the Hessler Log Cabin, annually put on Log Cabin Day, helped lead the effort to preserve the Lighthouse, the Dougherty House, and the replica Log Church, set up a historical audio tour of all these sites, planted 644 trees to help restore the tree-lined roads of the past, and many other projects. 

So, I was quite surprised to learn that the Parks Committee has come up with a draft for changing oversight of Peninsula Township historical properties. That draft and the pursuant discussion have taken place with no input or communication with the Old Mission Peninsula Historical Society. 

We have worked hard, gained immense historical knowledge, accomplished a great deal, and appreciate all of the efforts of the Township Board over many years. Due to our work in the last 26 years, including our research, efforts and expertise, we have a great deal to offer. So it is not unreasonable to expect a seat at the table for the discussion of the future of these historical sites. 

And in a letter to the Township dated July 9, 2019, Historical Society member and Dougherty House docent Judith Weaver noted that the historical groups have worked successfully with the Township Board on the historical properties over many years.

OMPHS is now in its 26th year, and our track record of managing and contributing to all these properties has been exemplary.

The Dougherty House is now open as a house museum after extensive and authentic restoration over a 13-year period. Countless Peninsula residents have contributed both time and treasure to its restoration. The vast majority of the donors on our displayed Honor Roll will likely be dismayed should major management changes occur. OMPHS has operating agreements with the Township for managing both the Hessler Log Cabin and the Replica Log Cabin in the village. We have continued to upgrade each facility. 

Judith added that both the Dougherty Society and Historical Society would like to be consulted regarding plans for the future management of the properties.

Representatives of the historic groups were also present at the July 17, 2019 work session of the Parks Committee, at which time discussion took place about the historic groups continuing their work with the Dougherty House, Hessler Log Cabin, and Log Church. However, Mission Point Lighthouse was set aside, with the possibility of a new board/committee appointed to manage that property.

This idea was firmed up at last night’s meeting of the Parks Committee.

At the July 17 meeting, however, one Parks Committee member, Mary Swift, noted that the historic properties are owned by the Township and should be managed by the Township Board. She said she felt that the Parks Committee “was responding to mob rule,” at which point she left the meeting.

A short time later, Township Supervisor Rob Manigold joined the meeting, noting that Mary had called him and resigned her position with the Parks Committee.

In a letter to Peninsula Township dated July 17, 2019, Mary wrote:

It is with a very heavy heart that I have decided to resign from the Parks Committee. It became apparent to me today at our working meeting that our Committee’s thoughtful deliberations over the last couple of months could be easily cast aside when confronted by people with self-serving interests.

And, yes, the Peter Dougherty Society (PDS) and The Historical Society (HS) were representing their self-serving interests. This isn’t about not wanting the public’s input. I welcome it. As I mentioned before, all our meetings were public.

This is about nonprofit organizations dictating terms to our duly elected officials. There was nothing in the draft recommendation that would have prevented the Town Board from seeking input or even oversight from related 501c3 organizations interested in these historical properties. This was evidenced when the document became acceptable if we removed the Lighthouse and changed a few words.

However, the fact remains, the Township owns all four of these properties, and the law is clear on their responsibility regarding them now that there is not an elected Park Board. The same recommendations apply to Lighthouse management.

It became clear at our meeting that the Lighthouse remains a divisive issue, especially when the president of the Historical Society remarked they would spend the $12,000 monies directed to them by the disbanding Lighthouse 501c3, but they did not want any responsibility for the Lighthouse once the funds were spent.

As for recommending directly to the Town Board that they engage PDS and HS directly for the management of historical properties, let’s remember that one 501c3 already has disbanded. The Town Board needs to consider if contracting with 501c3 organizations is prudent and, if so, it needs to have provisions for the disbanding of the nonprofit as well as performance metrics. I would have preferred the Committee recommendation give full latitude to the Town Board to decide the best path forward.

The committee agreeing to remove the Lighthouse from the recommendation to the Board based on the PDS and HS representatives’ input is a disservice to the Town Board and the community. All the historic properties the Township owns deserve equal treatment, oversight, management and attention. The goal of the Committee should be to find sustainable solutions for ALL parks management. Personal agendas have no place in the discussion.

This Committee committed to provide the Town Board with recommendations of how parks should be operated without an elected Park Board. Those recommendations were supposed to find sustainable ways to maintain, operate, and improve the Township’s most valuable resource – its parks. Our Committee was given temporary authority, until July 1, to provide recommendation to the Town Board. We failed.

I apologize for the manner in which I delivered my very pointed remarks at the meeting. I truly respect all the Committee members and wish you well as you proceed.

Thoughts on how the historic structures on the Old Mission Peninsula should be managed? Sound off in the comments below. 

A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper.

Because Old Mission Gazette is a "Reader Supported Newspaper" -- meaning it exists because of your financial support -- I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks our way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the OMP. In a time when local news is becoming a thing of the past, supporting an independent community newspaper is more important now than ever.

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