GHOST TOWN? Local officials respond to TV report on blog article claiming Lake County is a dying community

LAKE COUNTY - Folks in Lake County got a shock last week.

They were informed by a local TV station that they were living in a Ghost Town.

It was exciting. With satellite trucks and reporters with microphones buttonholing local folks and “community leaders” to talk about why Lake County is dying ... or dead.

It’s not the first time. Some in the media seem to thrive on promoting the doom and gloom they feel inherent in Lake County – all while totally ignoring the good that is happening daily, weekly, and on a continuing basis.

Folks throughout the area were even more upset over the fact that the source article referring to Lake County as a “Ghost Town” as noted in the TV report apparently appeared in the prestigious Wall Street Journal.

It did not.

The report originated on a Internet blog site called “24/7 Wall St.” self-described as a “ ... corporation set up to run a financial news and opinion operation with content delivered over the Internet.”

The article referring to Lake County did potentially have considerable distribution through online offerings and other prime news sites on the Internet.

It obviously reached the local TV station.

In his article, Douglas A. McIntyre, editor of the “24/7 Wall St.” blog writes gloomily of the 10 sites noted as examples of declining communities throughout the nation.

“The future of these areas is grim,” wrote McIntyre. “Our research showed that many have sharply declining tax bases which have caused budget cuts.

“Forecasts are calling for the fiscal noose to tighten on them even tighter ...

“These are the American Ghost Towns of the 21st century. Each has a population of more than 10,000 along with vacancy rates of more than 55 percent, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.”

And Number One on this dubious list is Lake County. Number of homes: 14,966. Vacancy rate: 66 percent. Population: 11,014.

According to the “24/7 Wall St.” article:

“Lake County is located in central Michigan, a few hours drive from the industrial cities of Flint, Pontiac and Detroit. It is in the heart of the state’s fishing district and has been a vacation destination since the early years of the car industry. Many of those second home owners are now gone.

“This has helped drive nearly 20 percent of the residents below the poverty level and the median household income to under $27,000 a year.”

People with anything more than a cursory knowledge of what’s happening in the Lake County area believe the “24/7 Wall St.” article is misleading, at best.

“Lake County is absolutely not a “Ghost Town,” responded Lake County Board of Commissioners chair Bob Myers.

“I really don’t know where they came up with this information, but I’d guess it was based on summer people and seasonal home sales or something like that.”

Myers said he thought the TV news report was misleading.

“They come in here to ask about the decline of the county when a week or two before there were tens of thousands of visitors to our area,” he pointed out.

“According to the national census, we have had an increase in population. We also have continuing events - from Baldwin to Irons and all around the area - attracting thousands to our community.

“This entire report was simply unfair.”

Superintendent of Baldwin Community Schools, Randall Howes, was shocked to hear his district was part of a “Ghost Town.”

“I have no idea how this study was carried out, or how the report was made,” said Howes.

“I imagine there was some mistaken information when seasonal properties were considered abandoned properties, or homes that have been abandoned for 50 years were suddenly counted as residences.

“It is simply unfair to call this county a “ghost town,” or to spend time pushing that idea.

“You can quote me on that.”

People actively involved in local tourism and the Pure Michigan program were shocked at the “ghost town” report.

“This is not the best news - with all the good that is going on and considering how hard we’ve all been working to turn things around,” responded Sandy Crandall, past president of the Lake County Chamber of Commerce and president of Michigan’s Great Outdoors.

“Sad and disheartening to say the least. Funny too as Lake County actually had a two percent increase in its population while other counties in Michigan had declines.”

Over in Yates Township, where the community of Idlewild is preparing for it’s centennial celebration, supervisor George Walker said calling Lake County a “ghost town” was silly.

“Lake County ... a “ghost town?” said Walker.

“That’s just ridiculous.

“But then, that’s often how they report on us up here.

“Always bad news. When good news happens, nobody shows up.

“This is a community that is alive and looking to a very promising future. We’re not dead, dying, or a “ghost town.”

“Not by a long shot.”

Walker noted that not only were individual communities thriving, but also townships and county government were working together to support each other and the larger ‘whole.’

“I think this report and the follow-up is way off base.

“We need fewer nay-sayers, and more positive input.

“Lake County is not on the ‘down and out.’ We’re moving upwards.

“We are a viable community. We will continue to be so.”