By CARL STODDARD
Capital News Service
LANSING — If you drive far enough west through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, it’s possible to literally travel back in time.
While most of Michigan is in the Eastern Time Zone, four counties on the western edge of the Upper Peninsula are not.
Dickinson, Gogebic, Iron and Menominee counties all border Wisconsin, which is in the Central Time Zone. So those four Michigan counties opted to be in that hour-earlier time zone to stay in sync with their Wisconsin neighbors.
“It’s been that way for a very long time,” says Lynda Zanon, director of the Dickinson Area Chamber Alliance in Iron Mountain, the county seat of Dickinson County and only a short drive from Wisconsin. “I think we’ve adjusted to it.”
Visitors to the area, however, “are always surprised by the time change,” Zanon said. “They get here and say, ‘When did it change?’”
For many people in the Iron Mountain area, living in the Central Time Zone makes doing business with neighboring Wisconsin much easier, she said. But there can be challenges for county residents working outside their time zone.
Zanon said her husband works in Escanaba, which is an hour’s drive away and in the Eastern Time Zone. To get to work in Escanaba by 6 a.m. Eastern Time, she said, he has to get up at 3:30 a.m. Central Time. On the flip side, his commute home takes hardly any time at all.
“It’s crazy, but it works,” Zanon said with a laugh. “Yoopers are very adaptable.”
Gogebic County is farther west than any other county in the state and thus deeper into the Central Time Zone than any other Michigan county.
For the most part, living in the Central Zone is just a fact of life, says Charly Loper, the city manager of Bessemer, the county seat of Gogebic County.
“On a daily basis, it doesn’t affect things much,” Loper said.
She said when problems do occur, it’s usually when meeting with people from counties in the Eastern Time Zone. And someone shows up at the wrong time.
“Oftentimes, people just forget,” Loper said.
Tom Nemacheck, executive director of the Upper Peninsula Travel and Recreation Association in Iron Mountain, said he thinks the four western counties should stay in Central Time Zone.
They are closely tied to business communities in Wisconsin, he said, and he is unaware of any effort to pull them into the Eastern Zone.
Although the four counties have been in the Central Zone for decades, Nemacheck says that still comes as a shock to many people.
“The tourists, people in our own state, don’t know it. They are startled to find out there are two time zones in Michigan,” he said.
Two times zones make sense, he said, given how far west parts of the Upper Peninsula are.
“If you look at it geographically, everything west of Escanaba should be in the Central Time Zone,” he said.
Counties in the western U.P. that aren’t in the Central Time Zone have some advantages.
Ontonagon is in the Eastern Time Zone, but so far west that in the summer the sun doesn’t set until 10 or 10:30 p.m., he said.
“In Ontonagon, from a tourist standpoint, they enjoy the heck out of it,” Nemacheck said. “They love the extra daylight” for outdoor activities.
The city of Menominee, the county seat of Menominee County, sits just across the state border from Marinette, Wisconsin. The cities, built on opposite banks of the Menominee River, are so closely tied that they share the Marinette Menominee Area Chamber of Commerce. The cities also have a shared economy, says Jacqueline Boudreau, executive director of the chamber.
“We’re a border community — you just go over the bridge,” Boudreau said. “We share a workforce, no doubt.”
The largest of several local employers is Fincantieri Marinette Marine, which builds ships for the U.S. Navy. The shipyard is in Marinette but draws half of its workforce from Michigan, Boudreau said. So keeping everybody in the region on the same time makes life and work schedules easier.
The nation’s time zone system was adopted in 1883 to help the U.S. railroad industry, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), which oversees the country’s time zones.
Before 1883, local communities set their own “sun times,” resulting in a confusing patchwork of 100 or so local times around the country, the DOT says. It was no way to run a railroad.
National time zones were established. However, federal law allows counties to request a change in their time zones, the DOT says. Since 1973, most of Michigan has been in the Eastern Zone, except for those western counties in the Upper Peninsula.
Michigan isn’t the only state with more than one time zone. More than a dozen states are split between two zones, including neighboring Indiana.
Most of Florida is in the Eastern Time, but all or part of 10 counties on the western side of the state’s Panhandle are in the Central Time Zone.
By CARL STODDARD