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Eastern UP highway project one step closer to reality

Whitefish Township Community Center
Teresa Homsi
Whitefish Township Community Center

After 20 years of planning, Whitefish Township in Chippewa County has secured a Transportation Alternatives Program grant from the state of Michigan to fund a beautification project on highway M-123.

The project's goal is to enhance the infrastructure on north M-123 in Whitefish Township through the community of Paradise, adding a myriad of upgrades, such as new crosswalks, streetlights, signs, drainage systems, sidewalks and more accessible parking lots.

Many tourists who want to get to Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Michigan's second largest state park, often pass through downtown Paradise on their way to see the falls. According to Cobalt Community Research, nearly 2 million people visit Tahquamenon Falls every year.

Picture of Tahquamenon Falls in Chippewa County, MI
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Tahquamenon Falls State Park

Justin Knepper, the executive director of the Michigan Association of Timberman, a non-profit organization that helps support and educate the forest industry community, helped the Paradise Tourism Council write their grant application. He said this is the right opportunity to modernize the 62-year-old section of road.

"All this project is going to do in terms of the grant is adding the sidewalks and streetlights and things that doesn't disrupt traffic. It's just working in correlation with the project that's already being planned by the state," Knepper said.

The Michigan Department of Transportation is planning upgrades to roadways all across the state in 2025. The M-123 upgrades will be a part of this larger statewide roadways plan scheduled to start in 2025.

"This grant opportunity allows the community to potentially utilize the same contractors, work with MDOT to put in sidewalks, gutters, you know, streetlights, all that stuff simultaneously, which is the best from a financial standpoint and from a coordination," Knepper said.

In a press release from Whitefish Township, the TAP grant will give the project $940,919 of the estimated 1.1 million they will need for the project. The remaining amount, $235,230, will be split 50/50 between Paradise and Whitefish Township ($117,615 between both townships) to finish the road enhancements.

While community leaders are voicing support for the project, Whitefish Township public meeting records show some resistance to the changes in downtown Paradise.

Jody Laub, a Paradise resident, said she is concerned about local businesses and what the project will do to their small town. Another resident voiced concern that businesses have no idea what's going on with the project.

Janeen Hall, another residence of Paradise, said the community did not get a say in how their money is being used.

Knepper said he understands the small-town politics and community push back to change, but he said he's looking at the big picture.

"Whether people have concerns about that or not, this was coming through to do construction no matter what. No one can stop that because it's their state highway and they have to improve it."

Scott Rechlin is a production assistant and on-air host for WCMU
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