The Timeless Retreat of Mackinac Island
The scenic Mackinac Island is located in Lake Huron nestled in between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. It is sometimes considered the “crowning jewel” of the state of Michigan. A visit to Mackinac Island today carries on a long held tradition of pursuing rest and respite on this lovely island retreat. Tourism became the dominant industry on the Island in the years following the Civil War and today during the spring and summer months, the ferry boats bring flocks of tourists seeking to capture the beauty of the island. Access to Mackinac Island is through two “point of entries” via either St. Ignace, Michigan from the northwest or from Mackinaw City to the south, or “lower peninsula” of Michigan. Traveling from northern Wisconsin, we made a bee line across the state on Highway 8 and into St. Ignace. Ferry services operate to the island from both St. Ignace and Mackinaw City. The ferry ride itself is great to get an overall view of the island and of course a view of the Infamous Mackinac Bridge! That famous bridge is a whole topic in and of itself: check out my June 8 blog: Facing My Fears: Mackinac Bridge
Part of the nostalgic charm of the island is the fact that automobiles were banned from the island in 1898. No smelly exhaust, traffic jams or car crashes. Getting around the island is done on foot, bicycles or by horse-drawn carriages. Both bicycles and carriage ride tours are available for rental, making easy accessibility to the entire island; the perimeter is relatively small: only eight miles. While there, my husband and I enjoyed one of the Carriage Ride tours; which not only gave us a great view of the Island, but was also very educational. The drivers give you terrific history lessons as well as many comic insights. Also available are horse drawn taxis and horseback riding for the more seasoned equestrian. I was glad that we choose the carriage ride, otherwise it might have been just a bit too much walking and/or biking. I was amazed to find out that on this island, where “the horse is king”, the general population of horses working on the island is around 400. During the peak of the tourist season the group of working horses on the island is expanded to about 600. That’s a massive amount of horsepower!
Most of the horses are draft horses and capable of pulling quite a bit of weight. Alot of horsepower and frankly alot of horse poop. When the wind is just right , you do smell it in the air, but it is not too overpowering. The folks that work on the island try very hard to keep the streets clean of any ahhh….er…”residue” from that large population of horses. Frankly I was impressed at how well they kept up with the old boys. Also, it’s probably important to note that although these horses are accustomed to being around people, they are NOT pets. Also they are working, not socializing. As tempted as I was to reach out and pet them, as tourists and travelers, it is wise to refrain from that. You could talk to the driver first if you really wanted to pet them, but every horse has different temperaments. I will say, however, I am sure they don’t mind a bit having their picture taken. Probably happens several times a day. (Stupid Tourists….) “Say cheese!”
A culinary delight that the island has become synonymous with is the famous Mackinac Island Fudge. What traveler doesn’t like to treat themselves to a melt in your mouth delight! The merchants on the island have known this for decades and began enticing tourists to the island with their treats, some starting back as early as 1887. The early, early days of Mackinac Island (1820’s) the island become a very important market for the fur trade industry and then became important for commercial fishing. After the Civil War the tourism boom to the island began and with it the need of treats for the tourists. Of course, I could not leave the island without a purchase of several different types of fudge. Good thing I shared it with family and cousins, because I think I bought way too much. There are just so many choices! (Is there really such a thing as too much fudge? I think not.) I think it is interesting to note that the locals have developed a term of endearment for the tourists coming to the Island: “Fudgies” Well, I think that fits. There are worse things one could be called.
Prior to all the tourism coming to the island, Fort Mackinac was established as a military outpost for British soldiers and later, American soldiers from 1780 to 1895. Every building on the premises is original and was built by soldiers more than 100 years ago. The fort has been maintained and preserved to recreate life at the fort. Tours are available, with some of the historic events recreated by costumed guides. In addition to the historic Fort Mackinac, there are nine other museums on the island highlighting a variety of topics from art history to horse carriages.
Another intriguing part of history about Mackinac Island history that many don’t realize is that it held the title of a national park for twenty years. Yellowstone was named our first National Park (1872), then in 1875 Mackinac National Park was established. It operated as a national park from 1875 to 1895. By 1894, Fort Mackinac was not an active military post. Several US government officials decided to revise the fort and the park and turn it over to the state of Michigan. Then in 1895, the state of Michigan established their first state park: Mackinac Island State Park. With all the beautiful state Parks established subsequently in the state of Michigan, it’s compelling that Mackinac Island State Park is Michigan’s first.
During the time period of its tenure as a national park, one of the most recognizable and historic buildings was built: the Grand Hotel. It was opened in 1887 and helped to meet the needs of the growing tourism industry on the island with 393 rooms. It has been named a National Historical Landmark and boasts the title of the world’s longest porch. It really is an amazing and grand site to behold. I did not stay there, but it is a very beautiful building with an impressive history. It faces the water welcoming incoming travelers to the adventures and beauty at Mackinac Island.
For more information on planning a trip there, a good place to start is with their Tourism board: https://www.mackinacisland.org/ Put your traveling shoes on. JES