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Four Seasons, One Big Playground

Michigan is on when it comes to off time—all year long

By Kathy Gibbons

A primary factor that draws so many meetings and events to Michigan is that it has four stunning seasons. At any time of year, planners can structure events at destinations with attractions and activities that offer something for everyone.

So, make the most of that snow. Reenergize along with nature in the spring. Capitalize on summer in all its Michigan glory. Enjoy the tapestry of color and mild temperatures that come with autumn.

As a year-round playground, Michigan might even make you forget that the fundamental reason for gathering is, well, work. Here’s a seasonal sampler of spots to check out.

seasons
Spring blooms on the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing || Photo by Amie Lucas

Spring

Spring is a busy time for meetings and conventions in Detroit, says Megan Griffith at Visit Detroit. Sprawling Huntington Place, in particular, is a draw for large conventions, trade shows, and conferences. The Suburban Collection Showplace in nearby Novi hosts public expositions, trade shows, and association and corporate conferences. April, notably, brings daffodils—more than 2.5 million bulbs have been planted around the city. “That’s nice to see on your walk around and exploring,” Griffith says.

Detroit’s arts and culture scene is a big attraction. Griffith suggests touring the Detroit Institute of Arts or taking in local street art and murals. She also recommends attractions that highlight Detroit’s automotive culture, such as The Henry Ford museum and Packard Proving Grounds Historic Site. The Motown Museum with its Hitsville U.S.A. original recording studio also offers facility rentals to groups. Many visitors explore Detroit’s vibrant jazz scene, with Griffith citing Cliff Bell’s and Willis Show Bar among venues with live music.

Those who like to get out and walk or bike should head to the river, where the 3.5-mile Detroit Riverwalk has been named “Best Riverwalk in America” by USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards three years running.

Grand Rapids sees more state-based groups scheduling events during the spring, says Kate Lieto, Experience Grand Rapids’ associate vice president of marketing. “It’s pretty steady in terms of meetings bookings year-round,” she says. “A lot of national conventions are during the summer and fall probably due to weather and people flying in and travel, so I think the state business kind of fits in nicely [in the spring] when that’s not a factor.”

In Grand Rapids, DeVos Place downtown tends to be at the center of the action with its mix of exhibition and meeting space. While it’s surrounded by hotels (many also with event areas of their own), restaurants, and shops, other nearby attractions include the John Ball Zoo, which reopens for the season in late March and is available for private group rentals after normal operating hours. Nearby Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park hosts its annual Butterflies Are Blooming exhibit in March and April.

Spring also means tulips—over 5 million come into bloom in Holland, about 30 minutes from Grand Rapids. Another seasonal attraction is the minor league West Michigan Whitecaps baseball team, which launches its season in the spring. “They have group outings, and you can rent different areas and pavilions if you want to do a baseball game as a group,” Lieto says.

In Michigan’s capital city, spring signals the start of a lot of things, including Lansing Lugnuts baseball, where Jackson Field is available for off-site and after-hours networking events, according to Choose Lansing Convention Services & Events Manager Jenn Morden. Michigan State University in East Lansing could be the poster child for the best of spring with flowering trees and greenery and tours at the W.J. Beal Botanical Garden.

Hanna Hurst, director of sales and marketing for the Courtyard by Marriott Lansing Downtown, suggests meeting-goers check out the nearby Lansing Shuffle, a shuffleboard and social club with a variety of food court restaurants.

seasons - summer
Bay Pointe in Shelbyville || Courtesy of Bay Pointe

Summer

Michigan shines in the summer. Marlee Meads, marketing manager at Bay Pointe in Shelbyville, says weekdays are prime for groups, with meeting space for 10 to 300 participants. Located on the shores of Gun Lake between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, Bay Pointe makes the most of summer with outdoor barbecues and team-building activities, including yard games at the waterfront. One company recently brought in a small barge to conduct a presentation. “They used the state park public access and our docks to do this weeklong demonstration,” Meads says. Some people go fishing on their breaks. Several other area hotels provide lodging in addition to Bay Pointe’s 38 hotel rooms, 18 cottages, and a historic boathouse home that sleeps 15 family-style, and the Gun Lake Casino is in nearby Wayland.

Golf resorts are big summer destinations for meetings, with Treetops Resort and its five championship golf courses among them. It’s one of 17 properties in the Gaylord Golf Mecca area. General Manager Barry Owens says summer gatherings are typically a combination of business and pleasure. “They’ll do some meeting time, and they’ll do some recreation and leisure. … We see that both from the corporation level and also the association level,” Owens says.

Like Treetops, Otsego Resort is another destination with golf, dining, valley views, a large outdoor pool, and more. Sojourn Lakeside Resort on the shore of Dixon Lake can be reserved in its entirety.

Christy Walcott at the Gaylord Area Convention & Tourism Bureau recommends renting kayaks, paddleboards, pontoons, or fishing boats to enjoy nearby Otsego Lake. She also suggests Sturgeon River Paddlesports for rafting. Not far away, the 116,000-acre Pigeon River Country State Forest offers trails for hiking and mountain biking, rivers and lakes for fishing, kayaking, canoeing, elk viewing, and horseback riding.

Summer meeting-goers at Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge & Suites in Alanson can access complimentary paddleboats and kayaks and explore nature trails. Petoskey is just to the south, offering shopping, restaurants, an area wine trail, Odawa Casino, and Great Lakes Center for the Arts hosting live performances with rental availability as well. Mary Chris Hotchkiss at the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau recommends summer cruises on the Little Traverse Bay Ferry and Harbor Princess and says Lavender Hill Farm in Boyne City is a treat for the senses.

Mackinac Island is heaven during the summertime—especially for groups staying overnight and experiencing the island at a calmer pace after day tourists have departed. Multiple properties offer lodging and meeting spaces, including the iconic Grand Hotel, The Inn at Stonecliffe, Mission Point Resort, Island House Hotel, and Murray Hotel.

Steph Castelein, event and content manager for the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau, says planners can organize activities like kayaking, bicycling, and walking tours. Other draws include carriage rides, an art studio at Watercolor Cafe, and private group charters with Sip n’ Sail Cruises.

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The patio at Left Foot Charley winery in Traverse City || Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Fall

In Southwest Michigan, fall is just an extension of summer—only with slightly cooler temperatures. Marcy Simpson, executive director of the Southwest Michigan Tourist Council, says several properties serve groups, including all-inclusive The Inn at Harbor Shores in St. Joseph and Hilton Garden Inn Benton Harbor/St. Joseph and Courtyard by Marriott Benton Harbor St. Joseph. Multiple eclectic venues range from contemporary ballrooms and halls to performance spaces and farm settings. Simpson says those planning autumn events might consider Peat’s Cider Social, a cidery with bowling; Eden Springs Park and its miniature train rides; and Lake Michigan Vintners for its tasting room and meeting space. Multiple wineries operate nearby as well.

Jamie Furbush at the Frankenmuth Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau says midweek in the fall is a great time to convene. Two big fall festivals—Frankenmuth Auto Fest and Oktoberfest—provide entertainment opportunities for conferencegoers, she says. The Bavarian Belle Riverboat can accommodate up to 150. She also recommends Grandpa Tiny’s Heritage Farm, a historic agricultural destination that accepts group outings.

In the Traverse City area, wineries come into their own in autumn with harvest under way and many offering breathtaking views of fall color. Sarah Bernard, director of meeting services at Traverse City Tourism, says many give tours and advises, “Put on your flannel or sweater, and sit outside and enjoy a glass of wine. It’s great.”

It’s also an ideal time for “anything outdoors,” she adds. “Really, the appeal to be here in the fall is to be outside, so you’re hiking or biking or wandering around downtown through the shops.”

Those traveling to the Upper Peninsula’s Keweenaw Peninsula will want to get out and explore autumn views from the scenic Brockway Mountain Drive at Copper Harbor. Other attractions include copper mine tours and the historic sites in the Keweenaw National Historic Park and Fort Wilkins, says John Mueller at Keweenaw Mountain Lodge.

seasons - winter
Guests enjoy a surrey ride at Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville || Courtesy of Crystal Mountain

Winter

Many ski resorts provide facilities and activities for meetings and events year-round. Come winter, they’re in their element.

Judy Booth, vice president of sales for Boyne Resorts, notes that in winter, resorts themselves are the playground. Guests at properties like Boyne Mountain in Boyne Falls and Boyne Highlands near Harbor Springs can enjoy snowmobiling, snow-shoeing, and snow biking in addition to skiing and tubing. At Boyne Mountain, event participants can also take advantage of the Avalanche Bay indoor water park, which she notes is 82 degrees year-round. The Highlands has a lighted trail through the woods that leads to a yurt, s’mores, a bar, and a fire pit. “It’s something that’s unique,” Booth says. “You’re coming into a resort and getting a plethora of resort activities you wouldn’t be able to get in an urban destination.”

It’s similar at Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville, where in addition to skiing, ice skating, and other seasonal pursuits, winter groups enjoy booking services like massages in the award-winning Crystal Spa, says Brittney Primeau, director of communications. And when guests want to venture out, there’s a lot to choose from.

Crystal Mountain is the perfect basecamp to work and play for those who want to explore the area,” she notes, suggesting visits to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and nearby Lake Michigan towns. She also recommends Iron Fish, Michigan’s first field-to-glass distillery, which is a few miles away and offers workshops that include curated whiskey tastings.

Robert A. Kuras, owner of The Homestead in Glen Arbor, says winter provides an opportunity for participants to devote part of their stay to the slopes and cross-country ski trails. The Homestead features several restaurants as well as multiple winter activities. “It’s pretty fun in the winter to have two big fires and the fireplace going,” Kuras says.

Shanty Creek Resort Marketing Director Lindsey Southwell also suggests winter is ideal for gathering at the resort near Bellaire. Some groups come and bring their families to enjoy skiing, tubing, and even winter rafting on the Jordan River. She notes,“A good chunk of the time the ski slopes are open at night, so you can meet all day and still go skiing afterward.”

In the Upper Peninsula, Marquette is brimming with winter activities for meeting attendees. The area offers fat tire biking, skiing at Marquette Mountain, and snowmobiling throughout the region. Visitors should also check out Travel Marquette’s Winter Adventure Pass that rewards attendees with prizes for visiting local trails, attractions, or recreation complexes.

discoverkalamazoo.com

experiencegr.com

frankenmuth.org

gaylordmichigan.net

lansing.org

mackinacisland.org

petoskeyarea.com

swmichigan.org

travelmarquette.com

traversecity.com

villageofalanson.com

visitdetroit.com

visitkeweenaw.com

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