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Full Season Ahead After Tornado in Gaylord

By Kathy Gibbons

First came COVID. Then came the tornado.

The northern Michigan community of Gaylord was just starting to rebound from the pandemic with its groups and events business as a new season was getting underway when a rare EF3 tornado with estimated wind speeds between 136 and 165 miles per hour struck May 20.

Two people were killed and at least 44 were injured, according to official reports at the time. West Michigan meteorologist Bill Steffen said it was the strongest tornado to strike in the U.S. that month. 

Much of the damage was confined to businesses on the city’s west side and a mobile home community that was particularly hard hit.

Somehow, the key destinations for meetings and events were for the most part unscathed, including destinations Otsego Resort and Treetops Resort, says Paul Beachnau, executive director of the Gaylord Area Convention & Tourism Bureau. Gaylord bills itself as a Golf Mecca with 17 golf courses and is a popular destination for groups.

“It’s been about a month now and we have been really spreading the message that fortunately, none of our assets or our tourism community was affected,” Beachnau says. “Like by the Sunday after the tornado happened on a Friday, 98 percent of the power was restored.”

Also that weekend, about 1,500 people swarmed the community to help move debris and clear rubbish, he notes.

“They were going to schedule the National Guard to come in and help and they canceled that because there wasn’t enough for them to do,” Beachnau says.

A tornado recovery fund administered by a local community foundation has garnered $1 million in donations and counting, and has begun making grants to help those most affected by the tornado with expenses.

In the meantime, with COVID in the rearview mirror and tornado recovery continuing, it’s full speed ahead on a very busy season.

“We’re starting to see some very nice meeting and event venues for weddings and corporate events at Otsego Resort and Treetops,” Beachnau says. “The staff at Treetops told me they’re starting to see a slow return to their meeting and conference business, they’re starting to see a nice uptick there.”

The community’s annual Alpenfest will go on as normal, scheduled for July 12-16. Ditto the Big Ticket Festival, one of the largest Christian music festivals in the Midwest, coming July 7-10 at the Otsego County Fair.

“All of our downtown events are going full bore,” Beachnau says. “Our farmers market is open. 

“We had a little brief interruption for about a week or 10 days, but again, things have picked up.”