Houghton County, Michigan


Excerpt from Lessons for Leaders:

The Copper Country Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities partnership in Houghton County built support among residents and elected officials for a Complete Streets ordinance and other active transportation projects by focusing on livability, economic development, health, safety and future funding opportunities from the Michigan Department of Transportation.

For more information, read the full story.

November 2013

Houghton County sits at the tip of Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula (U.P.), a rugged, sparsely populated forest region bordered on two sides by Lake Superior. Residents are accustomed to long, snowy winters. Since 1968, when Houghton’s last copper mines closed, they’ve also endured high rates of poverty and unemployment.

In addition, the harsh winter climate poses a barrier to physical activity among area residents. The challenge is even greater for Houghton County’s families of lesser means, who can’t afford gym memberships or costly sports equipment. As is common in rural areas, sidewalks, bike paths and recreational facilities are in short supply. And the geographic isolation means it’s more costly for stores to order and stock produce, which limits residents’ access to affordable fresh foods. For many in Houghton, a predominantly White county of 36,000, a healthy lifestyle is a daily struggle.

However, things are looking up. The Western Upper Peninsula Health Department is leading a movement to revitalize the community’s health and reverse obesity rates. The Copper Country Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) partnership leveraged their HKHC grant to increase the supply of affordable, nutritious foods and support physical activity with a focus on the county’s 7,000 children, particularly those from lower-income families.

By leveraging state and local funds, the HKHC partnership has made significant progress in four years:

  • Active transportation is now a priority in the area. In 2011, Houghton became the sixth Michigan municipality and the first in the Upper Peninsula to pass a complete streets ordinance. Houghton, the largest city in the county, also received a bronze-level bike friendly community award and is working on achieving silver level. In addition, a new non-motorized transportation plan was approved in 2013 to guide future development of sidewalks, bike lanes, safer intersections and an interconnected network of trails and streets for walking and biking.
  • Other active transportation efforts include multiple completed Safe Routes to School plans across the county, a new regional bike and pedestrian advocacy group, a new two-county recreational trail authority (necessary for regional trail development) and major highway repaving projects slated for 2014 that include upgraded bike facilities and multi-use paths.
  • Healthy eating also gained traction through a partnership with the U.P. Food Exchange, an agricultural hub created by the Marquette Food Co-op. They have initiated a new Western U.P. Food Hub to support local farmers and healthy food retail in the region.
  • In addition, ten new community and school gardens and two new farmers’ markets with Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) payment systems were developed and are increasing the accessibility of local, fresh produce.

“These successes wouldn’t have happened without our many amazing partners,” explained project director Terry Frankovich. “Local government agencies, schools, community organizations and residents have worked together for these victories.”

As for the impact of the HKHC work, Project Coordinator Ray Sharp, added “The culture of the region is changing. Bike ridership is growing. Active transportation is becoming a high priority. Large institutions are seeking regional, healthy produce for their cafeterias. Residents are gardening with their neighbors. It’s an exciting shift to see and one that will continue on for the foreseeable future.”

For more information, view a short film about their work.

Houghton County, Michigan