As an engineer, my father has a lifelong fascination with bridges. As a Michiganian, he has always longed to see and drive the Mackinac Bridge. Completed in November 1957 and spanning 8,614 feet over the Straights of Mackinac, it connects Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. It was this bridge that initially caused my family to venture up to that area at the end of August in 2001. Before our return home, we boarded Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry in Mackinac City bound for Mackinac Island. There is a public 1-runway airport on the island in case private or chartered aircraft is used.
Covering approximately 4 square miles, Mackinac Island lies east of the Straits of Mackinac in Lake Huron. Coterminous with the City of Mackinac Island, Native Americans called it Michilimackinac or “Land of the Great Turtle,” due to its resemblance of a turtle’s back. The U.S. Census Bureau reports the island had a permanent population of 492 in 2010.
Off the beaten track
During our three-day stay on the island, we roomed in a quaint bed and breakfast a short walk off Main Street. Little more than a large house, it afforded a greater homey and hospitable atmosphere in comparison to traditional chain lodging. M – 185, which encircles the island’s perimeter, is the only highway in the United States that bans motorized vehicles. While biking around this perimeter, we were treated to spectacular views of Lake Huron and the natural landscapes. We took occasional wades, as the rocky coast discouraged swimming.
In Mackinac Island State Park, through which M – 185 runs, we were able see and visit some of the island’s unique geologic formations. Devil’s Kitchen, so named in folklore from cannibalistic spirits cooking their victims, is a small cave just off the highway. Also just off the highway is the 146-foot tall Arch Rock, which was my favorite natural landmark on the island. Sugar Loaf, a large rock slab, rises 175 feet near the interior and afforded us a scenic hike. Fun factoid: Mackinac Island State Park was known as Mackinac Island National Park prior to 1895 and was America’s second national park after Yellowstone.
The remainder of our time was spent on and around Main Street. We toured and patronized many of the cozy shops and eateries, including the island’s renowned homemade fudge. Our tour included exposure to the unfamiliar odor of horse manure. Designated a National Historic Landmark since 1989, the Grand Hotel rests on a bluff overlooking Lake Huron with and Mackinac Bridge can be seen on the horizon.
Dating to 1887, it claims to have the world’s longest porch at 660 feet long. Unfortunately, our budget prevented us from lodging here, sightseeing its lobby and grounds, and partaking of the island’s horse-and-buggy taxis. We walked as close to the hotel as we could. Fort Mackinac, also part of Mackinac Island State Park, is a former British and American military outpost. We toured the fort and learned about the island’s military and battle history through exhibits, literature, reenactments, and costumed interpreters. Directly below the fort lies Marquette Park, named after French Jesuit missionary Father Jacques Marquette. Marquette founded the Mission of St. Ignace, which later relocated to the Upper Peninsula. A further walk downtown is the Mission Church. Constructed in 1829-30 as Michigan’s first church, this historic church served the island’s Presbyterian congregation. The overall aesthetics of the island contributed to a relaxing atmosphere.
These Boots were made for walking…
Mackinac Island remains one of the most unique places I have visited in the United States. A world away from the hustle and bustle of suburbia, it is very pedestrian-friendly and afforded a different atmosphere of Victorian elegance marked by tranquility, peacefulness, and hospitality. The most obvious difference is the ban and absence of cars and other motorized vehicles, including public transportation. Mobility devices for disabilities and emergency vehicles are the only exceptions. Hose-and-buggies also parallel as public taxis.
People travel by foot, horse-and-buggy, or non-motorized recreational wheels such as bikes, scooters, and roller blades. We traveled by foot and bikes. Public accommodations ubiquitous in much of the United States are absent. I cannot recall seeing any chain and/or franchised restaurant, eatery, motel, hotel, movie theater, gas station, etc. Every public accommodation we saw and visited is a local business. The use of horse-and-buggy was not simply due to tourism. They are an integral part of community life for permanent residents. It was really interesting and heartwarming to experience different hospitality and food service outside of the usual places.
In particular, the motor vehicle ban had drastic effects on land-use patterns and represents a highmark of the island’s overall sustainability. There is no traffic, road rage, billboard blight, road accidents, and less public maintenance, air pollution, and carbon emissions. The ban decreases surface runoff, the need for paved roads and parking lots, and encourages greater infiltration rates since there is less impervious cover. These enhanced rates replenish groundwater stocks, an important water source on an island with little available surface water. The landscape is completely devoid of asphalted wastelands (parking lots), which are eyesores in urban and suburban landscapes.
I think I found my retirement paradise!
~by Angelo Teachout
photo credit of Mackinac Bridge: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mackinac_Bridge_Sunset.jpg (License)
photo credit of Downtown Mackinac Island: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MackinacIslandDowntown.jpg