Tom Lounsbury: A Fall Stay on Mackinac Island

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Getting off a ferry at a dock on Mackinac Island is literally going back in time. There is a distinct 19th century accent throughout the atmosphere as the island relies on real power to function.

Apart from emergency vehicles and utility vehicles, motorized vehicles are not allowed (due to a far-sighted ordinance adopted in 1898) and the only modes of travel are by horse, bicycle or on foot. Needless to say, this provides a really relaxed setting that a lot of people enjoy. On July 15, 2009, Mackinac Island celebrated its 20 millionth visitor.


Eighty percent of the island is a state park, covering over 1,800 acres and featuring 70.5 miles of roads and trails, most of which are carved through scenic old growth forest.

In 1875, Mackinac Island became the second national park in the United States, preceded by Yellowstone National Park in 1872 (both parks were selected for their amazing natural wonders). Initially, prior to the National Park Service, national parks were overseen by the U.S. military, and this was the case for Mackinac Island for 20 years until it was determined that maintaining a military post was no longer needed, and the park was handed over to the state in 1895.

This, in a sense, means that Mackinac Island is Michigan’s oldest state park, but the island’s transition from federal to state control preceded the creation of the parks system by 25 years. of Michigan State. So Michigan’s first official state park, in 1920, was Interlochen State Park near Traverse City (the Michigan State Park System celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2020). However, despite these technical details, Mackinac Island gets my vote to be Michigan’s oldest state park.

Due to certain stipulations that the island was once a national park, its management falls under the Mackinac State Park Commission, which is a separate entity from the Michigan State Park Commission.

One of my favorite times to visit Mackinac Island is early October, when the fall colors start to create an incredible backdrop and there are fewer visitors, creating a less crowded (and stores, which are always open, often offer attractive discounts).

Our good friends Jim and Judy Brown from Cass City joined my wife Ginny and I on our recent visit to the island. We booked at the historic Windermere Hotel, which was a short walk from the wharf after disembarking a Shepler’s ferry that had just taken us for a ride under the Mackinac Bridge as a detour.

The Windermere Hotel was built in 1887 and still retains a very quaint and elegant 19th century feel, and its spacious porch offers stunning views of the Straits of Mackinac. Up front is also Windermere Point and Park (owned by the hotel), which explains the fantastic view from the porch.

I can say for sure that watching a night freighter go by with all of its twinkling and shining lights can be a fascinating moment. I have to admit, gentlemen, I’m very good at making some serious “porch moment”. It takes a certain relaxed attitude that I have discovered I have a natural talent for! will definitely add to this unique vibe.

The island also includes the town of Mackinac Island, whose mayor is Margaret Doud, who also owns the Windermere Hotel and its associated properties. Doud has been the devoted mayor for over 30 years.

Besides horses providing real power, Mackinac Island is also famous for its local crafts involving the making of specialized fudge. The fudge is made from scratch using cold marble slabs for the finishing touch, which can be easily seen by visitors (and it’s certainly a great way to sell fudge to slobbering onlookers).

A regular smell in the air during downtown is the smell of fresh fudge, which I’m sure is vented from the various fudge shops and offers an additional beacon to attract potential customers. Yes, folks, that sounds, or should I say, smells like, a great publicity technique to me!

Fudge is so popular that the islanders call tourists “fudges”. require a permit, but the ferry tag attached to the handlebars acts as a temporary permit).

For some reason a lot of bikes are now made without a fender, and I guess that’s because of providing a more ‘trendy’ look. Locals, however, are fully aware of the need for mudguards on Mackinac Island due to all the horse traffic, and when you have a lot of horses on the roads there will be a lot of ‘debris. of horses ”.

Although the streets are regularly cleaned by dedicated sanitation workers (who are unsung heroes, in my opinion), a certain amount of debris (a mixture of manure and urine) is embedded in the pavement and is easily removed. every time it rains. The real culprit here is when a bike does not have a rear fender, which allows the rear tire to project a straight line of debris up to the center of the rider’s back, from the tailbone to the top of the head. . Locals call it a “fudgey stripe”.

I really like renting a horse and carriage to drive from Jack’s Livery Stable, but this limits where you can go, mainly due to the fact that rental carriages don’t have brakes which may be a necessity. primordial on certain hills. To take a full tour of the island, we hired a car and driver from Jack’s Livery Stable, who picked up the four of us one morning from the Windermere hotel and would later drop us off at a location of our choice. .

Our driver was Blake Ruddle, who was born and raised on Mackinac Island and knows every nook and cranny (he even got a ticket once, at age 13, for cycling down a long outdoor staircase from Fort Holmes). Ruddle gave us a fantastic tour, even to some isolated sites that most visitors never see. One of my favorite sites is Fort Holmes, which is the highest point on the island. However, there was a lot of fog limiting our view from there, but it was still beautiful with a fall accent.

There are a lot of good restaurants on the island. For our last night, we opted for the Woods Restaurant, which usually requires a horse-drawn taxi to reach it. Belonging to the Grand Hotel, it resembles a German hunting lodge in the Black Forest and has a fireplace and a gourmet meal served by candlelight.

Far too soon, our fall vacation on Mackinac Island came to an end. We all got our bags on the Shepler’s ferry early to do some shopping before we left. That’s when Ginny realized that our return ferry tickets were stowed in our luggage. However, the Shepler’s ticket office was very helpful, used the last four digits of our credit card, located our purchase information, and printed new tickets. I was impressed with the lady’s patience and efficiency, and very grateful that we didn’t have to buy more tickets!

Watching Mackinac Island drift away in the ferry’s wake always puts me in a whimsical mood, and I can’t wait to return at the first opportunity.

Email Tom Lounsbury at [email protected]


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