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Ready for Michigan's Big 150th Birthday Party

February 22, 1987|FRANK RILEY | Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

DETROIT — Bob Hope, former President Gerald Ford, Esther Williams, Lee Iacocca and pianist Van Cliburn are some of the famous personalities highlighting Michigan's 150th birthday this year. More than 2,000 special events and attractions will draw millions of visitors to help celebrate.

The theme of the sesquicentennial birthday party is that the economy of the state that put much of the world on four wheels is tilting toward national and international tourism.

The yearlong spotlight will be on a blending of cultural and historic attractions with resort and recreational assets that include 3,200 miles of coastline, the longest in the continental United States, along four of the five Great Lakes.

One of the most popular events for families on cross-country vacations will be Living Legends Week, June 7-14. It will feature a statewide canoe flotilla on waterways of the early fur traders and lumberjacks. Visitors will be invited to spend a day launching boats, camping and fishing at all state park facilities, with no charge and no licenses necessary.

Michigan's sesquicentennial coincides with the 1987 Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution and will be an added attraction for people driving across the country to attend constitutional celebrations in Philadelphia, New York and Washington, D.C.

Michigan's Gov. James J. Blanchard is telling the world that his state is standing on the "platform of the present just long enough to draw on the riches of its exciting past to shape an even brighter future."

He has established a Task Force on the Future of Michigan Tourism to develop a five-year plan to raise state tourism from its present base of $13.5 billion to $20 billion. The auto industry is supporting the tourism drive and helping to finance the sesquicentennial birthday party.

Travelers who don't stop in Michigan on their way east this summer may be tempted to do so during the trip home by an event that is part of the bicentennial festivities in Washington, D.C. From June 24 through July 5 the Smithsonian Folklife Festival will present 90 Michigan folklife artists in a Michigan on the Mall celebration. Michigan became the 26th state in 1837.

Detroit, long under the banner of "Automotive Capital of the World," is also Ethnic City, U.S.A., a cross-section of more than 100 nationalities. Immigration started heavily in the mid-19th Century, then boomed early in this century when Henry Ford, of Irish heritage, announced a minimum pay of $5 a day at his auto plant.

Another appeal aimed especially at California is for "Michiganians to join our Family Reunion this year." Michiganians number high among the Midwesterners who have trekked to California.

Culture, the entertainment industry, the historic hotels and the resorts will all be on stage this year. Interlochen Center for the Arts, in the heart of Michigan's resort country, will meld its 60th anniversary and the 25th birthday of its Arts Center into the state's 150th.

Celebrities attending a performance of the World Youth Symphony Orchestra at Interlochen on July 26 will include Bob Hope, former President and Mrs. Ford, Lee Iacocca and Van Cliburn, special guests will include opera star Jessye Norman, a graduate of the University of Michigan, and CBS correspondent Mike Wallace, a native of this state.

A dozen miles from Interlochen, the Grand Traverse Resort has set daily hotel rates for two at $115 this summer. Two 18-hole golf courses, one of them designed by Jack Nicklaus, plus indoor and outdoor pools, tennis and racquetball courts and a health spa are part of resort amenities.

Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain Resorts, with a lake shimmering on one of our favorite golf courses and ski slopes rising above them, are still taking reservations for winter skiing, but will shortly announce golf packages for the sesquicentennial summer.

On Mackinac Island, the Grand Hotel is making its 100th anniversary part of the sesquicentennial. Esther Williams has been invited to return with the Peter Duchin orchestra to this hotel where she swam in the Olympic-size pool while starring in the film, "This Time for Keeps."

The Michigan Sesquicentennial Office at the Department of State in Lansing has prepared a schedule of the year's events.

The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn near Detroit is changing its impressive display for the first time since 1929 with a $6 million redesign for this year, titled "The Automobile in American Life." In Dearborn Village, which is part of this world-famous museum complex, Monday will be "wash day" for housewives in 19th-Century dress, and horses will harrow the fields.

The Iron Museum will open in May at Carp River Forge, where the state's iron industry was born. The many museum attractions of Detroit will be enhanced this year with the move of the African American Museum into expanded exhibit space.

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