GREILICKVILLE — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said it was the first time she signed a bill on a kayak, just before inking a bill for nearly $38 million in parkland purchase and development grants.
But it wasn’t the first time the governor drew a protester, this time a single heckler who yelled at the outset of her appearance at Discovery Pier in Greilickville, then cursed at a staffer who spoke to him. Leelanau County Sheriff’s deputies arrested the man shortly after the governor left. The man had grabbed and threw a TV reporter’s microphone and spit on her photojournalist colleague as deputies handcuffed him.
Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich said his deputies have contacted the man several times before, as have the Michigan State Police and FBI. But Thursday the man’s actions crossed a line.
“We’ve tried to make it very clear to him the difference between free speech and threats, and in this case it wasn’t so much mouth as it was just under the ‘what are you thinking’ category,” Borkovich said.
The governor briefly visited Thursday between stops in Clare and Petoskey, and stood on the site of one of the Natural Resources Trust Fund-supported projects. Elmwood Township will get $300,000 as part of a project to turn an old coal dock into boat docks and a park.
Whitmer echoed state Department of Natural Resources Director Daniel Eichinger in talking about how the COVID-19 pandemic made people appreciate the outdoors more than ever.
“The pandemic definitely as the director said definitely drove home the importance of quality outdoor recreation and natural spaces that people an access and enjoy in communities all across the state,” she said, adding Discovery Pier is a prime example.
That $300,000 is a piece of the $2.1 million second phase to convert the former industrial site into a park, Discovery Center CEO Matt McDonough said. So too is a $295,000 grant from the Great Lakes Fisheries Trust and more than $500,000 in private donations.
He’s hopes to raise the rest in time to break ground on an array of shoreside improvements with an aim to be universally accessible. Those will include a bathroom and paved parking near M-22 with more parking on the pier, pathways along the pier perimeter, kayak launch, railings with lower sections for kids and wheelchair users and a trio of small shelters along the east edge.
The Discovery Center will grant a public use deed on the dock to the township, McDonough said.
It has been in the works for years and started moving forward in earnest in 2016 when Traverse City sold the former property to Discovery Center Great Lakes, a sale made possible by a $1 million gift from Rotary Charities of Traverse City.
State lawmakers also put up $2 million in 2019, which McDonough said paid to dredge the waters around the dock, buy new floating docks and build a bridge to the Greilickville Harbor Park next door.
Natural Resources Trust Fund grants ratified Thursday will pay for improvements at other parks in the area, including $718,900 to expand Railroad Point Natural Area near Benzonia, $569,200 to buy land on Bass Lake in Green Lake Township, $300,000 to redevelop the Torch River Bridge boat launch near Rapid City and $300,000 for improvements to Union Street Dam Park — now on hold after litigation put an indefinite pause on the related FishPass project.
Shortly after Whitmer started speaking at the Discovery Pier, the man shouted loudly at her then swore at one of her staffers. Two Leelanau county sheriff’s deputies arrived a few minutes later, and the man walked away to speak with them.
After Whitmer left, the man and a producer for WKLT-FM engaged in an animated discussion when a reporter and photojournalist from UpNorthLive approached the two. The man told them he didn’t speak to the media, asked the photojournalist if he should smash her camera, then grabbed and threw the reporter’s microphone.
Deputies took him to Leelanau County Jail on suspicion of assault and malicious destruction of property, according to a release from the sheriff’s department. The name of the 39-year-old man from the Traverse City area was withheld pending arraignment.
Representatives from the TV station did not return a request for comment.
McDonough said he thought the incident was unfortunate but didn’t detract from the day.
“Everybody else who turned out was super excited about being there and learning a little more about our project,” he said.