The Long Way Home 1.5.2024

Headline writers in all media often come across as condescending twits. They don’t always mean to, but they appear condescending in their haste to be clever and eye-catching.

I know this is true because, in my role at this fine publication, I write headlines for my stories. It takes a condescending twit to know one.

The day after Christmas, I saw this headline on an article posted by Minnesota Public Radio, and I thought, “Well, that’s condescending.”  

MPR Headline:

"Along the North Shore, sleepy Silver Bay embraces development to put itself 'on the map'"

Collins Online Dictionary states, “A sleepy place is quiet and does not have much activity or excitement.”

The article appeared in MPR’s “Business and Economy” section. It explained the realities facing the city, built by a mining company decades ago to make little taconite pellets out of big rocks and ship them out over Lake Superior. 

Even before the mill shutdowns of recent years, the city fathers and mothers of Silver Bay have focused on finding ways to spur development to insulate the local economy from dependence on the steel industry. Diversifying the economy is the term in favor. Steelmaking is a brutal industry inside a ruthless capitalist system. Fluctuations in world markets and the limits of local resources will someday force a shutdown again. City leaders would be derelict if they didn’t plan for that possibility. 

On the other hand, writing that the city wants “to put itself ‘on the map’” is a bit of a slam. It is already there.

The comparison, of course, is 55 miles east and north. Last August, Grand Marais was named "America's Best Small Lake Town" by Travel & Leisure Magazine. It is a prized tourist destination following decades of development and aggressive promotion by a county tourism agency primarily funded by lodging taxes paid by visitors. 

Silver Bay was built inland from Highway 61. The selfie-taking, SUV-driving tourists, the 1.3 million visiting “America’s Best Small Lake Town,” essentially bypass Silver Bay. 

Grand Marais, built around its harbor, had several decades under its belt when Silver Bay was created. It thrived in those decades with logging, trapping, and commercial fishing. As those industries faded, the greater Grand Marais area realized that tourism might be its only option for economic development. 

Silver Bay wants to develop its waterfront area, from Black Beach to the highway, to attract tourists and new residents. The plans outlined in the MPR story include a development at Boathouse Bay, including 24 townhomes priced over $600,000 each. Other housing and commercial options are in the plans, too. It is a massive development project for any “sleepy” town that will likely succeed if the tourism industry continues to expand.

Of course, such developments are not universally welcomed in the community. Many local people wouldn’t mind seeing Silver Bay stay about the way it is. For them, though, they won’t have much say in the matter.

Area business leaders from Duluth to the Cook County line have tried many different ways, with varying degrees of success, to hoover a few bucks out of tourist’s pockets as the traffic heads toward Grand Marais. 

The prevailing wisdom is that tourism and real estate development are essential to “saving” America’s small towns. I admire city leaders for trying to build a future that will keep headline writers from calling it “sleepy Silver Bay.” 

But most of my sympathies lie with local residents who don’t want this development.