The Thumb Quilt Trail will expand by about 50 percent this year, taking travelers past 22 new “barn quilts” in addition to the 42 sites where such quilts already exist in Tuscola, Huron and Sanilac counties.
If the longer trail boosts tourism, it also could rescue some barns from the wrecking ball, according to Tuscola County Commissioner Tom Young, a Columbia Township resident.
“The best part about it is that in a roundabout way, those quilts are going to save some barns,” said Young, who figures owners of older barns will preserve them if they know they’re places visited by travelers.
Barn quilts – typically 8-by-8 framed wooden quilt blocks — already hang on barns or other buildings at 42 locations around Tuscola, Huron and Sanilac counties as part of the Thumb Quilt Trail.
Forty applicants asked to become sites for barn quilts this year, with 22 approved in the Thumb – a heavily agricultural region with no shortage of rustic barns.
Each quilt displays its own pattern and colors. New “Thumb Quilt Trail” brochures – featuring a map of locations of existing barn quilts – have been placed at area libraries, museums and restaurants.
The brochures also are “at all 14 welcome stations in Michigan,” said Pamela Stillwell-Binder, chairwoman of a committee promoting the quilt trail.
Stillwell-Binder, who works for the Thumb Area Tourism Council, said several bus tours have come through the area showing occupants the barn quilts. Stillwell-Binder said that earlier this week a Nebraska woman called her, planning to camp in the area and travel the quilt trail this summer.
“I don’t know if people are traveling into town specifically to view (barn quilts), but I do hear customers chatting about them. They’re definitely conversation pieces,” said Krystal Cole, 30, co-owner of Charmont Lanes bowling alley and restaurant in Cass City.
Kelly Case, manager of the Executive Inn in Cass City, said her establishment regularly receives business from travelers wanting to view the Thumb Octagon Barn Agricultural Museum off Richie Road near Gagetown. Case figures the barn quilts in the area will appeal to those visitors, too.
“I also think people who come up here antiquing might take a look at these (barn quilts),” Case said.
Young said he doubted the appeal of a trail promoting barn quilts when he first heard of the project several years ago.
“At that time I was a little skeptical – I thought ‘Who’s going to come up here and see quilts?’” Young said. “Boy was I ever off base.”
Young views the barn quilts differently now, noting “These barn quilts are a good tourist draw for the Thumb Octagon Barn and some of the other things we have in the Thumb area.”
Stillwell-Binder said she, Rose Putnam, Ruth Steele and Pat Frazer have persisted in promoting recognition of the quilt trail as a committee.
“Fewer and fewer people have never heard of it,” Stillwell-Binder said. “When we first did it, people didn’t know what we were talking about, but we knew we just needed to stay the course because this is a grassroots volunteer effort, and it goes all over the country. There are 40 states that have (quilt trails).”
Those receiving new barn quilts later this year include Donna Dipzinski of Millington, Heidi Chicilli of Caro, Amanda Kohl of Kohl’s Farms near Gagetown and the Tuscola Technology Center.
Thumb Quilt Trail supporters seek volunteers to help build and paint the barn quilts. Anyone wanting to help may contact supporters at www.thumbquilttrail.com. Volunteers also may visit the “Thumb Quilt Trail” Facebook page.
Stillwell-Binder said the quilt trail draws photographers, artists, quilters and families seeking a fun trip. Young, chairman of the Tuscola 2020 committee composed of members of the private and public sectors, said the trail spotlights a resource in Tuscola, Huron and Sanilac counties – barns.
“These old barns add to the Thumb area, and take you back to a time when people were farming and milking 40 cows or 80 cows,” Young said. “Those days are over, but the barns are still there. I’m glad people are preserving them.”
Tom Gilchrist is a staff writer for The Advertiser and can be reached at [email protected]