Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 22, 2012

Forum: Little train that's trying

By Jack O'Malley
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---- — Wherever I go people ask, "How's it going with the train?" No one expresses anything but concern.

There are two reasons for this. First is nostalgia. Just about everyone has a connection to The Spirit of Traverse City miniature train. Folks remember riding it or taking little loved ones for a ride.

The second — and this will make some in power roll their eyes — but the truth is the truth: The train is symbolic of many things that once were part of our lives, but are gone, and will never return.

Of course change is inevitable, and bike trails and walking paths are important to many, but this nearly endless list of lost treasures is painful to review. So, that itty-bitty train is more than just a novelty worth preserving. It has become a symbol; and symbols can be powerful things.

Some will be satisfied if our little train goes down the road and is dusted off once a year or becomes an amusement ride for mall shoppers. Neither is a fitting end for this beloved symbol, this Spirit of Traverse City.

The Spirit of Traverse City group is made up of concerned citizens, retirees, a Train magazine editor, a lawyer and a guy who talks on the radio — about as grassroots as it gets. None of us knew each other until this cause brought us together. As a unit, we fight for a beloved symbol, a victim of "progress" and urban "renewal."

There are some who don't want the train on the bay or anywhere else. We understand that position, and respect those who hold it. But respect and agreement aren't natural partners. We believe this symbol of our history, our culture, and our city, deserves a place within our city. We only ask that the Parks and Recreation Committee and the Commons Board listen to the will of the people.

Our request is simply, give us a chance to keep the Spirit of Traverse City in Traverse City. Help us preserve the train, our rich railroad history, and the wonderful family memories it carries. We will work with our elected and appointed officials to create a good fit for all.

Our goal is to create a park with the train as its central attraction. We don't want Cedar Point. A family-friendly park with a charming depot, benches, restrooms, and room for childhood wonder. We encourage walking paths through the trees where grandfathers can take grandkids, serenaded by the rhythmic sound of the train chugging by, its cheerful whistle tooting.

Also in the plan is a depot gift shop, selling train-related items to provide self-sustaining funding and a display of train history. Everything designed to encourage, entertain, and educate visitors that the north became "up north" because of railroads.

So to all: public officials, donors, train lovers, and citizens, this is your invitation. All aboard the Spirit of Traverse City. Let the train be a symbol of a unified effort, and not another regretful loss of a local treasure.

About the author: Jack O'Malley is the spokesperson for the Spirit of Traverse City group, which is asking for the chance to keep the steam train in Traverse City.

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 e-mailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.