Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 29, 2012

Forum: Hickory Hills is TC

By Doug Stanton

---- — Hickory Hills is a 60-year-old Traverse City institution and its activities are civic multipliers: you put in $1 and get a multiple of that in return in terms of youth, family and general engagement among tens of thousands of people living and paying taxes in Traverse City.

Like Thirlby Field, another Traverse City institution, Hickory Hills has been a stepping stone into successful adult life for many thousands of people — in Traverse City and across the United States. Hickory Hills, like the Open Space, is Traverse City.

Like the Open Space, Hickory Hills is a signature park; both places are "central activity hubs" for thousands of people. And as we have decided to spend several million dollars refurbishing the Open Space, it needs to be said that Hickory Hills is deserving of the same consideration. It wasn't too long ago in the city's history that the Open Space was an abandoned industrial site.

The best recent evidence of Hickory's impact on life in Traverse City is the new book "Light The Night," by Molly Tompkins and Ryan Ness. This history of Hickory Hills charts the growth and dynamism of a growing city and the role this place has played in that growth for the last 60 years.

At this point, we are now considering how to shepherd both the city's and Hickory's growth for the next 60 years. I know that this book and Hickory's story has reached many thousands of people in Michigan and in the United States. Having grown up on Hickory's slopes, when the Open Space was still the Morgan McCool plant — a collection of ramshackle buildings alongside the "steam plant" where my father worked — I wrote this about Hickory Hills and its place in Traverse City's daily life:

" ... In this spirit, please pick up a copy of the new book 'Light The Night,' if you want to give someone an idea of what living in this part of the world is like. Written by high school students Molly Tompkins and Ryan Ness, the gorgeously designed book, illustrated with dozens of classic photographs, describes the origins of the local ski 'resort' called Hickory Hills. I was reading it last night, and I woke up thinking of the book early this morning, when I was also thinking of writing this letter.

"In the book, you find a Traverse City filled with people who started organizations, created things, simply out of a sense of wonderment — with no regard for taking credit. Reading 'Light the Night' is a step back in time and a magnificent accomplishment for these two young authors. Congratulations to them both.

"As I was reading the book, I remembered being a kid going up one of Hickory Hill's slopes called 'Birch,' the snow sharp as salt, the snapping sound of the tow rope bouncing off the trees when I let go at the top. You looked down and saw the lights of the city, the bay covered in snow, someone laughing in the dark, and all good things seemed inevitable."

A "good thing" like Hickory Hills needs support and focused discussion about how it can be maintained — not shut down. We, as a city, have underperformed — not Hickory — in ensuring Hickory's future.

About the author: Doug Stanton's writing has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The New York Times, TIME magazine and the Washington Post, and his feature writing has appeared in Esquire, Outside, and Men's Journal magazines (where he was a contributing editor). He has written two books, "Horse Soldiers," and "In Harm's Way." Stanton is a founder of the National Writers Series, a year-round book festival. He learned how to ski at Hickory Hills.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing Please include biographical information and a photo.