Spring Break, Blossoms & Birds in the Straits of Mackinac Area

Spring is a beautiful time of year in the Mackinaw City area, as the winter melts away and nature comes out of its deep slumber. Mackinaw City businesses and hotels are celebrating the start of spring with vacation specials and events during the 4th Annual Mackinac Meltdown, including:

April 1-16 — Spring Break Splash at Pirate Cove Waterpark

Things are heating up inside…with $5 fun, April 1-16 at the Pirate’s Adventure waterpark inside the Crown Choice Inn & Suites Lakeview (720 S. Huron Avenue). Mackinaw’s largest indoor waterpark features a pirate head tipping bucket, three waterslides, bubbler jets, crawl tunnels, water guns, climbing nets, an oversized indoor pool and a whirlpool sauna. Call 231-436-5929 for details.

Saturday, April 6 (11am-2pm) — Taste of Mackinaw

Enjoy delicious foods from local restaurants as well as craft beer and wine at the Mackinac Island Brewhouse & Mackinaw Island Winery inside the Mackinac Bay Trading Company downtown on Huron Avenue, across from Conkling Heritage Park. Tickets are $10 per person.

Saturday, April 6 (1-4pm) – Mackinac International Bridal Expo

Love is in the air and the Straits of Mackinac is an ideal (and popular) place for couples to celebrate their big day. Exhibitors will be set up inside Mackinaw Beach & Bay (929 S. Huron Avenue) throughout the afternoon showcasing dresses, cakes, accessories, wedding venues, music and more. Admission is $5 per person.

Plenty of seasonal activities are planned to celebrate the arrival of spring and all its beauty—from the flora to fauna to astronomy to aviary throughout March, April and May!

Discover Birds of Prey at Raptor Fest!

Birding is currently the second fastest growing hobby in the United States after gardening, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service who also reports that over 2 million Michigan residents are birdwatchers. Every year thousands of hawks, eagles, vultures, and owls follow the contours of Lakes Michigan and Huron, ending up at the Straits of Mackinac where they must cross a 5-mile expanse of water. To save energy, the birds use rising air drafts to lift them high in the air, and then they glide across the Straits. While no longer protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act, the bald eagle remains protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch conducts scientific studies and takes inventory of hawks, owls and other raptors migrating through this region of northern Michigan, educating the public about the birds and their migration. Their largest annual event is Raptor Fest, April 3-5. This three-day event provides great views of migrating raptors, interesting sessions and educational workshops.

Savoring Michigan’s sweet treat…maple syrup!

Did you know that maple sugaring is Michigan’s oldest agricultural activity…dating back to the earliest Native Americans? Or, that Michigan ranks #5 in the nation for production of maple syrup…generating more than $2.5 million for the state’s economy?

The longer, warmer days means sap begins to flow in the maple trees that dot the landscape around the miles of woodland trails. In the furthest reaches of Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park visitors can find the Maple Sugar Shack, nestled along one of the hiking trails. While the sugaring season will have wrapped up by the time the interpretive season begins at here in May, guests can still find the shack and interpretive panels detailing the history of sugaring in this area and the process of doing it.

Beauty from the ground…wildflowers abound!

One of the surest signs that spring has arrived in the north woods is the appearance of an abundance of beautiful wildflowers covering the forest floor. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, there are at least 18 wildflowers native to Michigan including Arrowhead, Beach pea, Black-eyed Susan, Dwarf Lake Iris (Michigan’s official state flower, a threatened species only found in the Great Lakes region), Harebell, Purple coneflower and others. Other spring beauties include the Yellow Trout-lily, Spring-beauty, the Large-flowered Trillium and the smaller Nodding Trillium, Marsh Marigold or Cowslip and Jack-in -the-Pulpit.

Head out along the hiking trails at Wilderness State Park, The Headlands International Dark Sky Park, at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park and along sections of the North Country Trail. Please remember that trillium are protected in Michigan and that picking them is illegal (but photographing them is recommended).

Foraging from the forest floor…morels, ramps and fiddleheads!

In addition to an abundance of wildflowers, spring means the arrival of wild edibles – such as morels, ramps and fiddleheads – the most hunted spring treasures. May is morel month in Michigan but depending on the weather these illusive fungi can be found as early as April and as late as mid-June, especially the further north you go. Morels begin to pop up along the woodland floor when the daytime temps reach around 60–65 degrees while the evening temps stay above 50 degrees. As you search, look along southwest facing hills where the sun’s rays warm the ground around tree groves mixed with living, dead and dying ash, elm, oak and aspen trees. Given there are a lot of “false morels” and other poisonous mushrooms, it is advised to take a guide (either a person or a printed book) to help you identify a true morel. If you can’t find them in the woods, look for them on the menu of area restaurants during the spring season – topping fish, chicken or steak, fried to a crispy goodness or cooked into a creamy bisque.

Cast a hook, line and sinker!

Fishing really is a four-season activity here in the Great Lakes State, but as the ice melts and the temperatures rise, the rivers, streams and lakes become a hotbed for a variety of species. The Straits area offers opportunities for migratory steelhead and salmon, as well as other freshwater fish. Spring fishing begins in April when the smelt begin to run, followed by trout season in late April and walleye season which opens mid-May. As we move into summer, look for lake perch and bass off the coast of Wilderness State Park or head to Paradise Lake, just five miles south of Mackinaw City, where bass, pike, walleye and panfish are plentiful. Be sure to check the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for specific season dates and licensing information.

Hunting Michigan’s beloved Petoskey Stone!

Many people think that Petoskey Stones can only be found in Petoskey. Yet this hexagon fossilized coral (Hexagonaria pericarnata) from a coral reef that existed during the Devonian era 350 million years ago, can be found along the Lake Michigan shoreline from the Sleeping Bear Dunes area as far north as the Straits of Mackinac. Spring is the ideal time to scour the beaches for rocks that have been churned up over the winter, before the thousands of tourists have had the time begin their search. Established as Michigan’s state stone in 1965, the Petoskey Stones were formed as a result of glaciation, in which sheets of ice plucked stones from the bedrock, grinding off their rough edges and depositing them in the northwestern portion of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

Please note, Michigan State prohibits individuals from removing more than 25 pounds of rocks or minerals per year from state parks, recreation lands and Great Lakes bottomlands.

Look to the skies…and beyond!

Although there is no way to predict when Northern Lights (aurora borealis) will light up the sky, the Straits area provides the perfect night sky conditions for viewing this unique phenomenon. Northern Lights are collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere, creating dancing color of lights such as green, pink and purple. Located along the Lake Michigan shoreline just south of Mackinaw City, the Headlands International Dark Sky Park is a popular place for settling in for the sky show.

Dig into Local History!

The Mackinaw Area Historical Society Heritage Village invites you to learn a little about the area during their lecture series, with programs taking place at the Mackinaw Area Public Library (528 W. Central Avenue). Upcoming presentations include Native American Teaching and Learning the Traditional Way (April 13) with Adel Easterday and Gardening the Colonial Michilimackinac Way (May 11) with Lee Ann Ewer. Of particular note is that the Mackinac State Historic Parks is celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2020…with parks opening for visitors in early May.

For spring travel ideas and lodging options, visit MackinawCity.com.

Mackinac State Historic Parks Celebrates 125 Years

Mackinac State Historic Parks turns 125 years old in 2020. Established in 1895 when the federal government shuttered the country’s second national park, Mackinac National Park, the Mackinac Island State Park Commission has pursued the important mission of protecting, preserving and presenting Mackinac’s natural and historic wonders. Today, Mackinac State Historic Parks is a family of living history museums and nature parks located in Mackinaw City and on Mackinac Island.

To celebrate this milestone anniversary, Mackinac State Historic Parks will have 125 days of events throughout the 2020 season, spread across its family of sites and parks. Some highlights include Movies by the Bridge in Mackinaw City every Saturday and Movies in Fort Mackinac every Tuesday during the summer, unforgettable evening cannon firing events at Colonial Michilimackinac and Fort Mackinac, numerous events sponsored by the Mackinaw City Area Arts Council themed to the anniversary, special themed weekends at all of our historic sites, intriguing “Hidden History” evenings at Colonial Michilimackinac, guided and narrated treks to some of Mackinac Island’s most beautiful natural and historic sites, and a special gala day, July 25, with free music and fireworks to mark the actual anniversary.

“Mackinac has such a special place in the history of our state and the hearts of Michiganders,” said Phil Porter, Mackinac State Historic Parks Director. “We look forward to sharing this 125th anniversary celebration with our visitors this summer through an exciting and engaging slate of activities and events.”

New exhibits will also debut as part of the celebration. On Mackinac Island, the Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, will open May 5. Here, you will be able to step into the home of Agatha and Edward Biddle, merchants who moved in around 1830. For Agatha, and other Anishnaabek and indigenous people, the 1830s were a time of critical change. This new exhibit, created in conjunction with tribal partners, explores that story and how it still resonates on Mackinac Island and throughout northern Michigan.

At Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, in Mackinaw City, the public will be able to explore the second floor of the lighthouse for the first time in the storied station’s existence. A new gallery space and two bedrooms restored to their appearance in 1910 will tell the story of the Keeper George Marshall, his wife Maggie, and their extended family as they lived and worked at the lighthouse.

The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum on Mackinac Island will host “A Day in the Park – Celebrating 125 Years of Mackinac Island State Park” in the second-floor gallery. This juried exhibition will be on display May 4 – October 11.

An update to 100 Years at Mackinac, published in 1995, will include everything that has happened in the past 25 years, including the reopening of Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, the opening of The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, the construction of the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum, the addition of the Adventure Tour at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park, the reconstruction of Fort Holmes, the addition of the Peace Garden, and the reinterpretation of the Biddle House.

Bière de Mac Brew Works in Mackinaw City will brew a special beer in honor of the celebration, a farmhouse ale that connects to Michilimackinac with its French roots. An official release of the beer will happen in June. Ryba’s Fudge Shops, with numerous locations on Mackinac Island, will create a special fudge to celebrate. This should prove to be one of the more delicious aspects of the anniversary.

Most of the events taking place throughout the 2020 season will be free. Others will be included with regular admission to MSHP’s historic sites. Mackinac State Historic Parks wouldn’t be where it is today without the tremendous support of visitors to its state parks and historic sites. Offering a full season of events is a small way the park can say thank you for 125 wonderful years.

The Mackinac Parks: 125 Celebration is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the Richard and Jane Manoogian Foundation, with additional support from Mackinac Associates.

The Mackinac Island State Park Commission was created when the federal government shuttered Mackinac National Park in 1895. It held its first meeting in July of that year. Today the commission does business as Mackinac State Historic Parks and is chaired by Daniel J. Loepp. Porter has served as director since 2003. The commission manages Fort Mackinac, The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, Biddle House, Historic Downtown Mackinac and Mackinac Island State Park on Mackinac Island, and Colonial Michilimackinac, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park and Michilimackinac State Park in Mackinaw City.

A full schedule of events can be found at mackinacparks.com/mackinac125. Pictures, as well as the Mackinac Parks: 125 logo, are available upon request. A downloadable version of this release can be found here. For more information please visit mackinacparks.com or call (231) 436-4100.

20 Roaring Ways to Celebrate Winter in the Straits of Mackinac

Things have certainly changed in the Straits of Mackinac over the past 100 years. In the winter of 1920, things would have been pretty quiet as the frozen Great Lakes waterways would have restricted some visitors from making their way to this historic area. Yet, some hearty souls would have made their way here aboard trains traveling from Detroit, Chicago and other southern cities. Today, the Mackinaw City area is one of the coolest winter destinations with a variety of outdoor adventures and relaxing indoor settings to warm the mind, body and soul!

  1. Hit the trails on Saturday, January 11 as the entire Great Lakes State celebrates Winter Trails Day!
  2. Join us for the 27th Annual Mackinaw City Winter Festival, January 17-18 – with snow sculptures, a chili cook-off, ice fishing tournament and more!
  3. Build an Outhouse? Why not elevate your Winter Fest experience by competing in the 2020 Mackinaw Pepsi International Outhouse Race on Saturday, January 18. Put your creative and engineering skills to the challenge for this unique winter contest.
  4. Take to the ice. As the Great Lakes and area inlands lakes freeze over, it’s time to do a little fishing. Chas Thompson, a member of MiIceGuys.com and USA Ice Team, offers up some thoughts about this Pure Michigan winter sport: https://www.mackinawcity.com/hitting-the-ice-for-a-pure-michigan-fishing-experience/. (Note: February 15-16 is the Michigan DNR Free Fishing Weekend).
  5. Hit the trails! Mackinaw City is centrally located to provide snowmobile access to the Straits area. Utilize the north central State Trailhead located off of Crossing’s Drive to experience the DNR’s groomed routes, connecting Mackinaw to Cheboygan, Petoskey, Gaylord, Rogers City, Alpena and places south. The Mackinac Bridge Authority offers a ride for you and your sled north across the Bridge for $10 plus $2 additional for an extra passenger to access the trails north of the Bridge. For trail conditions in the area, click here.

    Did you know?
    Most years, the ice in the Straits of Mackinac is so thick that area residents place old Christmas trees along a “safe route” between St. Ignace (Upper Peninsula) and Mackinac island for those who want to snowmobile between the two communities. NOTE: The Coast Guard cautions people that the ice bridge is extremely dangerous. It usually is open for a short period due to the fluctuating winter temperatures and having strong winds blowing the ice out of the area in a matter of hours. If you have not seen the exquisite movie, Ice Bridge – Mackinac Island’s Hidden Season you must get a copy! Click here to read about it and to order it.

  6. Take a snowshoeing trek! Thousands of years ago, snowshoes were essential to travel during the winter months in the Great Lakes region. Today, it offers a fun excursion option for families.
  7. Be open to adventure. Big Bear Adventuresin Indian River (just 30 miles south of Mackinaw City off I-75) offers 90-minute guided winter rafting trips along the Sturgeon River—note as the fastest in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Offered for group up to 12, with three trips a day, seven days a week, this is a great way to experience the winter season in a unique way. Big Bear also offers cross country ski and snowshoe rentals and will help coordinate packages for all their seasonal activities.
  8. Try your luck! Kewadin Casino in St. Ignace features Vegas-style gaming and entertainment with over 1100 slots, poker, blackjack, roulette, keno, craps and more! Other Kewadin locations can be found throughout the Upper Peninsula in Sault Ste. Marie, Hessel, Christmas and Manistique).
  9. Look Up! The Headlands Dark Sky Park, stretching out along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, is the id-eal location to catch a glimpse of the illusive Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), meteor showers and other celestial events – like the January 10, February 9 and March 9 full moons.
  10. Learn more about our famed Mighty Mac! Opened in 1957, this Modern Marvel is a true Pure Michigan monument. If you’re interested in more of the history, facts and figures – as well as current conditions via the “Bridge Cam” – check out the website for the Mackinac Bridge Authority.
  11. Grab your binoculars! Be on the lookout for the beautiful Snowy Owls, which are known to spend their winters in the Straits of Mackinac area.
  12. Warm up! The Crown Choice Inn & Suites Lakeview & Waterpark is home of Mackinaw’s largest indoor waterpark with a 72,000-gallon, 84° indoor pool, an oversized whirlpool, sauna, waterslides, 500-gallon tipping bucket, water cannons and many other features.
  13. Take a trip back in time! Even though it is winter, the grounds of the Mackinaw City Historical Society Heritage Village are open for you to walk past historic structures including the Detweiler Log house, Freedom School, General Store, Stimpson Homestead, Heritage Chapel and more.
  14. Grab a bite. Pasties, whitefish and chili, oh my! When hunger strikes, stop in to one of Mackinaw City’s restaurants to satisfy your cravings and warm up with your hearty seasonal favorites.
  15. Bundle up and take in a game! The LaBatt Blue UP Pond Hockey Championships return to Lake Huron’s Moran Bay in St. Ignace, February 13-16. First held in 2007, this annual sporting event now features over 200 teams playing on 30 75-foot x 150-foot rinks with over 250 games throughout the full weekend.
  16. Try Geocaching…yes, even in the winter! This high-tech treasure hunt involves using a GPS to find a container (or cache) using specific coordinates. Northern Michigan’s many geocache spots combine hiking, birding, wildflower and leave viewing, wildlife and other outdoor recreation and natural attractions. There are hundreds in the Straits Area and some unique and amazing locations in Mackinaw City. To get started sign up at geocaching.com and download waypoints to your smart phones or visit the Mackinaw Public Library computer lab for coordinates.
  17. Go on a Self-Guided Sculpture Tour. Scattered around Mackinaw City are several wooden sculptures carved by Jerry Prior, each depicting a personal of historical importance in town. He started wood sculpting in 1989, shortly after he retired from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), where he worked as a road designer. The first was completed was Chief Wawatam, which stands in Wawatam Park. Next, it was a statue of Alexander Henry—a fur trader at Fort Michilimackinac; followed by British Major Arent Schuyler DePeyster—who once commanded Fort Michilimackinac; Perry Darrow—a civic-minded village resident; Edgar Conkling—Mackinaw City’s founder (standing proudly in the park that bears his name); and Hattie Stimpson—one of the city’s first residents.
  18. Go on an Elk Viewing Excursion. Just about 80 miles south/southeast of Mackinaw City is one of the state’s prime elk viewing sites—the Pigeon River Country State Forest and Elk Range in Gaylord, one of the largest free-roaming elk herd east of the Mississippi (with 105,000 acres). The best times to view elk are at dawn and dusk. NOTE: Elk should be appreciated at a distance and individuals should not try to approach the animal.
  19. Explore the Arts! The Mackinaw City Area Arts Council offers a series of classes and events throughout the year – including an exhibit during the annual Winter Festival, January 17-18 at Mackinaw Clothing and Sportswear Store on Central Avenue.
  20. Grab a camera (or your phone)! Winter in Mackinaw City is magical…a great time to snap pictures of everything from our lighthouse exteriors to Mackinaw Crossings to the shoreline and the ice formations under and around the Mackinac Bridge. Be sure to share these with us on social media! #MakeItMackinaw

For lodging reservations throughout the winter season, visit MackinawCity.com/stay/.

Chill Out at the 2020 Mackinaw City Winter Festival, January 18-19

For more than a quarter century, Mackinaw City has rolled out the white carpet for a weekend of seasonal fun and excitement fit for the entire family. The 27th Annual Mackinaw City Winter Festival is scheduled for January 18-19, 2020.




Please note: Ice fishing & snow sculpting are the only weather dependent events.

For lodging reservations throughout the remainder of the fall and into the winter season, visit MackinawCity.com/stay/.

PHOTO: http://www.mightymac.org/

Snowy Owls Spend their Winters Around the Straits of Mackinac

Snowy Owls have recently been observed in Cheboygan, St. Ignace and on the Mackinac Bridge. It is still early December, but these beautiful arctic visitors are starting to appear throughout the Midwest in good numbers. During the past several winters snowy owls have been frequent visitors to Mackinaw City, and there should be prime opportunities to see them here this winter.

Local places to watch for Snowy Owls include open areas along the Mackinaw City shoreline, light poles, tops of buildings and out on the ice once it forms in the Straits. If you are lucky enough to see a Snowy Owl, don’t get too close and it may just stay put for others to enjoy. If you want to see a map of where some Snowy Owls have been seen locally, visit https://ebird.org/map/snoowl1. If you want to learn more about the migration of owls and other raptors in the area, the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch is a great resource.

In early December 2017, a Snowy Owl was observed sitting at the base of the cannon located near the entrance of the Colonial Michilimackinac parking lot. It had been there for most of the day and cars entering the lot were passing within a few feet of it. Concern grew that it may have been injured, perhaps by a passing vehicle on the Mackinac Bridge which crosses over the parking lot.

Mackinac State Historic Parks Curator of Natural History Jeff Dykehouse, who has a state and federal bird banding permit, captured the owl to see if it was injured. It had no obvious injuries, so an aluminum numbered band was put on its leg. According to the Bird Banding Lab with the U.S. Geological Survey, bird banding is a universal and indispensable technique for studying the movement, survival and behavior of birds. Over 1.2 million birds are banded, and more than 87,000 encounters with banded birds are reported annually.

According to Dykehouse, the owl was most likely an immature bird, as is the case with most snowy owls in this area at this time of year. After the owl was shown to some of the other park staff members, it was released inside Colonial Michilimackinac and eventually flew up to the roof of one of the fort’s buildings.

Remembering the Straits Military Past on Veterans Day

Veterans Day originated as “Armistice Day” on this date 100 years ago…November 11, 1919 – on the first anniversary of the end of World War I. Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance, and November 11 became a national holiday beginning in 1938. In 1954, the holiday was changed to “Veterans Day” in order to account for all veterans in all wars.

Michigan is home to countless memorials, monuments and parks dedicated to the men and women who served our country. Several of our historic military forts are also still standing as a testament to our state’s earliest history as well.

Built by the French in 1715, Fort Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City is perched at the tip of the mitt and the base of the five-mile Mackinac Bridge (where an American flag flies proudly on Veterans Day and other military holidays). After the French an Indian War, the British assumed control of the fort and it remained in service until 1781 when the British consolidated forces at Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island. Today, this site operates as Colonial Michilimackinac, one of Michigan’s most popular seasonal tourist historic and cultural attractions, under the auspices of the Mackinac State Historic Parks. This fortified community became the great fur trade center of the northwest, where according to MackinacParks.org, “fur traders and Indians rendezvoused, French and British officers organized war parties and explorers began their journeys into the vast western unknown.”

In 1780, during the American Revolutionary War, the British built Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island. Also operating as part of the Mackinac State Historic Parks, this site served as more than just a military outpost, it was a home for soldiers and their families. From 1875 until 1895, it served as the headquarters for Mackinac National Park (the second American National Park after Yellowstone and Michigan’s first State Park). Today, it proudly welcomes the thousands who visit the island each year. MackinacParks.org states “The stone ramparts, the south sally port and the Officer’s Stone Quarters are all part of the original fort built over 225 years ago. The other buildings in the fort are of more recent origin, dating from the late 1790s to 1885. The buildings have been restored to how they looked during the final years of the fort’s occupation.”

Mackinac Island is also home to the recently recreated Fort Holmes, which sits atop the highest elevation on Mackinac Island. The small wood and earthen fort (originally named Fort George in honor of Britain’s King George III), was constructed by British soldiers in 1914to protect Fort Mackinac against any attacks during the War of 1812 by the United States. According to MackinacParks.org, “That attack came in the summer of 1814 although the fort was not directly involved in the battle. When United States soldiers peacefully reoccupied the island after the War of 1812 the fort was renamed Fort Holmes in honor of American Major Andrew Hunter Holmes who was killed in the 1814 battle of Mackinac Island.”

According to its website, “The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Cemetery Administration maintains 139 national cemeteries in 40 states (and Puerto Rico) as well as 33 soldier’s lots and monument sites.” In Michigan, four such cemeteries exist including Fort Mackinac Post Cemetery on Mackinac Island. FindAGrave.com states this cemetery, on Garrison Road just across the street from St. Ann’ Catholic Cemetery, “was used from the War of 1812 to about 1900 when Fort Mackinac was abandoned. The cemetery holds burials from both British and American Soldiers; having 108 graves with only 39 of those identified. The U.S. Congress granted $1,000 to Mackinac Island State Park Commission and the cemetery was landscaped and the white picket fence & arched entrance sign were added in 1906-1907. A cannon from Fort Sumter, South Carolina was mounted on a field carriage and placed near the center of the cemetery. A turnstile at the front gate was originally erected to keep cows out of the cemetery. It is currently maintained by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which contracts upkeep with the Mackinac Island State Park Commission. The Post Cemetery flag continually flies at half-mast; it is one of four National Cemeteries with this honor. During the summer months various Scout troops working on the island raise and lower the flag here.”

For additional historic sites in the Straits Area (like British Landing and the 1814 Battlefield, now home of Wawashkamo Golf Course), visit Mackinac State Historic Parks.


Just an hour north of Mackinaw City is Fort Brady, in Sault Ste Marie. According to the Michigan Department of Military & Veterans Affairs, “The original Fort Brady, established by Colonel Hugh Brady in 1822, established United States authority over the northern Great Lakes region. It was abandoned in 1892 and the New Fort Brady was completed in 1893. The New Fort Brady site is now on the campus of Lake Superior State University and has 14 of the original fort buildings repurposed and in use.”

Further north some 312 miles, in the Keweenaw Peninsula, sits Fort Wilkins in Copper Harbor “begun in 1844, Fort Wilkins was designed to keep the peace. Although re-garrisoned briefly in the 1860s, the Army abandoned Fort Wilkins only a few years after it was started.” Today, it is the focal point of Fort Wilkins State Park.

Oh Deer…Firearm Hunting Season Through the Straits

Since first opening in 1957, the Mackinac Bridge Authority has counted the number of deer taken south across the bridge during Michigan’s firearm deer season. This information helps the DNR index the size of the deer herd in the as well as the success of the firearm deer season in the Upper Peninsula.

Over the past 60+ years, those counts collectively total 278,250. The all-time high came in 1995, when 18,887 deer were tallied. Other prime years were 1959 (16,056 deer), 2000 (14,445), 1964 (13,335) and 1958 (13,065). More than 10,000 deer were also counted in 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1996 and 2000.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (M-DNR) recently released its 2019 prediction report, which states that “with overall deer numbers being low in the U.P., buck sightings have been limited. Those that have been observed look very healthy and antler development appears average for the region.”

Overall, throughout Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas, hunting (including deer and other mammals) is big business. The Michigan United Conservation Clubs report that the statewide economic impact of hunting is $8.9 billion (with 700,000 hunters) and combined with fishing put Michigan the top state in the Great Lakes region – generating more than $11.2 billion annually. This includes licenses, gear, clothing, hotels, meals and more.

According to the DNR, the 2018 hunting seasons (bow, firearm and muzzleloader) brought out more than 554,300 hunters statewide who spent a combined 7.5 million days afield and bagging more than 360,000 deer (bucks and does).

Michigan’s 2019 archery season for deer is now underway and the firearm deer season in Michigan runs November 15-30, 2019.

Mackinac Bridge Deer Crossing Totals (1957-2018)

1957       9,224

1958       13,065

1959       16,056

1960       9,798

1961       5,962

1962       9,700

1963       11,894

1964       13,355

1965       11,050

1966       10,093

1967       9,528

1968       8,283

1969       7,250

1970       3,084

1971       4,251

1972       2,466

1973       2,885

1974       3,404

1975       3,784

1976       3,175

1977       2,618

1978       3,157

1979       2,841

1980       2,695

1981       3,313

1982       3,128

1983       3,393

1984       3,922

1985       5,378

1986       4,713

1987       6,036

1988       7,960

1989       9,279

1990       8,450

1991       9,361

1992       8,581

1993       7,328

1994       8,903

1995       18,887

1996       10,900

1997       4,992

1998       6,800

1999       9,703

2000       14,445

2001       8,073

2002       8,221

2003       8,091

2004       6,598

2005       6,098

2006       5,819

2007       6,346

2008       6,813

2009       3,942

2010       4,092

2011       5,731

2012       6,460

2013       4,207

2014       2,233

2015       1,500

2016       1977

2017       2991

2018       3317


Gangster John Dillinger Escaped the Heat (and Cooled His Heels) in the Straits of Mackinac Prior to Chicago Shooting Death

The Great Lake region is rich with gangster history, steeped in the Prohibition era of the 1920s and early 1930s. Of course, when one things of mafia leaders, Al Capone immediately comes to mind. But, another leader in underground crime was John Herbert Dillinger (born June 22, 1903 in the Oak Hill section of Indianapolis)…who apparently fled to the Straits of Mackinac (specifically, to Bois Blanc Island in northern Lake Huron, about a dozen miles east of Mackinaw City).

Bois Blanc Island (sometimes referred to as Boblo Island despite complaints from people downstate who are familiar with the Boblo Island Amusement Park in Bois Blanc, Canada, in the Detroit River) is an island in Lake Huron in the southernmost part of Mackinac County. At about 34-square miles, the island is 12 miles long and six miles long.

According to a blog post on Nailhed.com, it is “alleged that a cabin hidden deep in the woods of Bois Blanc had once been the hideout of none other than Public Enemy Number One, notorious Chicago gangster John Dillinger. As the story goes, John Dillinger underwent plastic surgery in 1934 to disguise his identity and evade capture, and while he was recovering from this surgery he hid out for several months in a log cabin somewhere in northern Michigan.’ Local tell maintains that this hideout was in fact situated on Bois Blanc Island itself, at the eastern extent of Twin Lake, where the ruins of three log cabins are still visible today.”

Although the writer won’t disclose exactly where the remains of the hideout are located, it is noted that it is “covered in moss in a shaded glen of spruces next to a cedar swamp.”

The blog goes on to say “that if there was any truth to Dillinger’s residence on Bois Blanc, those living on the island at that time have taken the secret to their graves, as island people are naturally reticent, and loathe to meddle in the affairs of others. Another factor was the bootlegging trade, in which many islanders had allegedly been complicit. During Prohibition, there was money to be made in moving illegal booze, and many otherwise legitimate folk had a hand in keeping the spigot flowing, especially if they already made their living on the water, and needed to make ends meet. Why would they rat-out Dillinger if it would bring the attention of the law to their island and potentially to their own less-than-legal actions? Not to mention the mob might take its own retribution upon anyone who snitched on them.”

FBI records note that “Dillinger, whose name once dominated the headlines, was a notorious and vicious thief. From September 1933 until July 1934, he and his violent gang terrorized the Midwest, killing 10 men, wounding 7 others, robbing banks and police arsenals, and staging 3 jail breaks—killing a sheriff during one and wounding 2 guards in another.”

Dillinger was shot and killed in an alley next to the Biograph Theater in Chicago on the evening of July 22, 1934. This past summer, 85 years after Dillinger was buried in a family plot at the Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, his nephew and niece (Mike and Carol Thompson) have filed a permit with the Indiana State Department of Health to exhume the body. They question whether the person shot on that infamous day in Chicago (and subsequently buried in Indiana) is in fact the notorious gangster and they want to conduct DNA testing to determine the actual identity of the body. The state approved the request, but the cemetery is fighting it to preserve the integrity of the site. A court battle continues…

For more about rum running, gangsters and Prohibition in the Straits of Mackinac, read “Mackinaw City at the Heart of Northern Michigan Rum Running” by author Russell M. Magnaghi.


PHOTO SOURCE: http://us.geoview.info.

Following Northern Michigan’s Autumn Monarch Migration

Probably the most recognizable butterfly in North America is the monarch, with its distinguishable and vibrant black and orange color palette.

Did you know that during the summer, millions of these beautiful winged creatures (if you recall from biology class: lepidoptera from Ancient Greek lepís “scale” + pterón “wing” – the order of insects that includes butterflies and moths) spend their summers in the northern Great Lakes region around Michigan?

While the “summer” monarchs only live for only about four weeks, the migratory winter monarchs (also known as the “super generation”) are noted as the longest-living butterflies with a life span of up to mine months. These late bloomers are just now gearing up for their 2,000-mile or so migration to winter in Mexico (as the butterfly flies, from the Straits of Mackinac to central Mexico).

“This generational difference is caused by changes in weather, aging milkweed, nectar sources and shorter photo periods. With fall quickly approaching, plants are beginning to die back and milkweed, or the caterpillar food, is beginning to brown,” according to a 2018 post on the Original Butterfly House of Mackinac Island website.

“The monarchs emerging in these cooler temperatures are slightly different from their parents and grandparents. Butterflies have a gene that produces collagen which influences flight muscle structure and growth. In the super generation, this gene, produces lower levels of collagen than in the summer monarchs. Less collagen in the flight muscles, increases the endurance of migratory monarchs so they can physically make the trip to Mexico. On top of all that, when the monarchs of the super generation, emerge from their chrysalises, cold weather stunts their development and sends them into a reproductive diapause, meaning they are not sexually active. Due to this HUGE energy reserve they have the ability to live for up to nine months.”

The U.S. Forest Service in Rapid River (located at the north end of Little Bay de Noc, northeast of Escanaba reports that monarchs typically travel 50 to 100 miles a day (although the longest daily trek was recorded at 265 miles). Some, they say, take up to two months to reach their seasonal homes. This group gathers information from tagged butterflies, which provide useful information about migration patterns, timelines and successful arrivals.

According to MonarchWatch.org, “each fall, hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies migrate from the United States and Canada to mountains in central Mexico where they wait out the winter until conditions favor a return flight in the spring. The monarch migration is truly one of the world’s greatest natural wonders.”

As of August 2019, there have been over 26,000 Monarch Waystation habitats in North America registered with Monarch Watch, including 1,950 in Michigan (the third highest state, behind Texas and Illinois respectively).

This migration season is a sight to see and throughout the months of August and September (depending on the weather each year), monarch sightings around northern Michigan are high.

One of the most popular viewing areas is Stonington Point in the Upper Peninsula near Escanaba (150 miles northwest of Mackinaw City), located at the southern tip of the 894,836-acre Hiawatha National Forest. Here, the tower of the Peninsula Point Lighthouse (c. 1865) stands watch over the kaleidoscope (the official designation for a group of butterflies) which at its peak amounts to more than 3,000.

In a 2018 Mlive.com article, writer Emily Bingham notes “because not all monarchs decide to head south at the same time, the butterflies’ migration through Michigan can take up to a month. And, because their staging points can vary based on the elements, it can be tricky to catch the pageantry of a large roost. To that end, Duke Elsner, a consumer horticulture educator with Michigan State University Extension, recommended the website www.journeynorth.org: a citizen-reported  tracking database for migratory animals, birds and insects, including the monarch butterfly.”

Are you seeing monarchs around the Straits of Mackinac? If so, share our photos at https://www.facebook.com/MackinawCityMI/.


PHOTO: Michigan State University Extension.

19 Ways to Soak Up the Fall Colors in the Straits of Mackinac

Mackinaw City is considered the “Crossroads of the Great Lakes” for good reason – it is central to dozens of unique locations and activities along both the Lake Michigan and Lake Huron shorelines, as well as the vast woods and waters of both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. This autumn, bring the family, friends or consider a solo trip to the “Tip of the Mitt” to explore Michigan’s most colorful season.

Generally, the annual seasonal show peaks in stages, beginning at the top of the state in the Upper Peninsula, where it gets cooler first. Peak color is usually found in the U.P. between mid-September and early October; in the northern Lower Peninsula between late September and mid-October and so on.

Color patterns, however, depend greatly on the weather as well as other factors including lake-effect warming, which delays color changes near Great Lakes and inland water shorelines. In addition, cooler valleys or exposed hills may see color changing faster. Weather conditions in summer and early September largely determine how brilliant each season’s colors will be. Pure Michigan is keeping an eye on the colors for us all, so bookmark this page and check back weekly for updated conditions!

There are nearly 150 different species of trees in Michigan’s 18.6 million acres of forest. Our state boasts a colorful mix of yellows, reds, golds and oranges. Some of the most beautiful colors are displayed by such hardwoods as aspen, maple, birch, sumac and oak. When combined with a background of evergreen forest, the result is one of the best shows in the nation.

As you make plans to visit the Straits of Mackinac area during the fall season, consider these unique ways to enjoy the color show!

Go with the GLOW! This exciting 5K will offer prizes for the glow-iest man, woman and team…as well as the largest team in the competition. This evening run begins at 9pm on October 5 at The Trailhead in Mackinaw City. Contact the Mackinaw City Chamber of Commerce to register!

Scare Yourself! It is Halloween season, after all. Fort Fright is a “haunted” experience held October 4-6 (6:30-9:30pm) at Colonial Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City. Explore the wooden palisade of the Fort at twilight and experience the legends and lore of the Native Americans, French Canadians and British who called this site their home.

If you’re headed to Mackinac Island, check out the Haunted Theater or Mackinaw Manor Haunted House, both located right downtown on Huron Street.

Celebrate the History of the Season! The Mackinaw Area Historical Society & Heritage Village is hosting two ghostly events on Saturday, October 26. The annual “Ghost Supper – Spirit Feast” is planned from 12-4pm. This event is steeped in Native American culture as a traditional time of remembering and honoring deceased loved ones and relatives through the offering of food and tobacco (semaa) at a community meal. The tobacco is offered to the spirit fire, in honoring our ancestors at this gathering! While a food plate is prepared to feed the ancestor’s at the spirit fire. The ghost supper shares elements of All Souls Day (November 2) and Mexico’s Day of the Dead (November 1 – November 2) and Halloween. Guests are invited to bring a favorite dish of an ancestor to share (along with one’s own table setting). The celebration also includes a sacred fire, drumming and singings throughout the afternoon.

That evening, “Fright Night” runs from 5-7pm. Here, costumed docents greet trick-or-treaters who will walk the ‘frightfully’ decorated grounds from building to building in this historic park.   There are bewitching graveyards and candle lit paths leading trick or treaters to decorated buildings.  Trick or treaters will enjoy give aways, refreshments at the bon fire and a scary story or two.

Check out the Monarch Migration. Keep your eyes open for the fluttering of monarch butterflies as they begin their 2,000-mile migration through northern Michigan to Mexico, where they’ll spend the winter season. It’s quite a site to see. Read more here.

Go on an Elk Viewing Excursion. Just about 80 miles south/southeast of Mackinaw City is one of the state’s prime elk viewing sites—the Pigeon River Country State Forest and Elk Range in Gaylord, one of the largest free-roaming elk herd east of the Mississippi (with 105,000 acres). The most popular time to view elk is during the breeding season in September and October when they are feeding in open grassy areas and bulls are bugling. The best times to view elk are at dawn and dusk. NOTE: Elk should be appreciated at a distance and individuals should not try to approach the animal. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has published a Viewing Guide online, to provide more information about this unique experience.

Photograph Waterfalls. The Upper Peninsula is home to more than 300 waterfalls, ranging in size from under five feet to more than 48-foot vertical drops. Michigan’s largest falls is Tahquamenon – located just 80 miles from Mackinaw City. The centerpiece of Tahquamenon Falls State Park’s 50,000 acres, the Upper Falls is one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi with a drop of nearly 50 feet and more than 200 feet across with a water flow of more than 50,000 gallons per second. For more, check out this feature on Michigan’s Majestic Waterfalls.

Star Gazing & Moon Viewing. While there are plenty of open air places around Mackinaw City to look at the stars, the Headlands International Dark Sky Park is the premier location for unobstructed views.

Take a Scenic Drive. Michigan is home to many Pure Michigan Byways which celebrate the state’s outstanding natural beauty and many sites of historical, scenic, recreational and cultural significance. Several of these routes are easily accessible from Mackinaw City…read more here. The Mackinaw Area Visitors Bureau has even established a specific Fall Color Tour Route, which will take you along some of the most scenic sites in northern Michigan!

Celebrate Michigan’s State Parks Centennial! In May, 1919, the Michigan State Park system was officially established and today features more than 100 unique venues across the state’s two peninsulas. Locally, Wilderness State Park is a wonderful four-season destination and a highlight to the Straits of Mackinac. Here are “19 Things You May Not Know About Wilderness State Park” for those of you interested in more history!

Hike the North Country Trail. The North Country National Scenic Trail passes through seven northern states, from New York to North Dakota—traveling extensively through Michigan’s two peninsulas. When completed, the 4600-mile trail will be the longest continuous hiking trail in the United States. Coming out of Petoskey, the trail travels through Mackinac State Forest and Wilderness State Park where it follows the Lake Michigan Shoreline to Mackinaw City. The trail enters town on the southern border and its entire one-mile stretch inside the village is also a paved DNR Rails-to-Trails project named the North Western State Trail. From the trailhead, there is also access to the DNR’s North Central State Trail, which will take you from Mackinaw City south to Gaylord. For those wanting to continue north via the Mackinac Bridge, The Bridge Authority provides a shuttle to the trail’s Upper Peninsula connector. FYI – September 22-29 is Michigan Trails Week!

Explore Michigan’s National Forests & Lakeshores. In the 1920s and 1930s, the US Government started a “resettlement program” which provided for direct purchase of marginal ag land and resettled those people onto more productive lands. Most of the purchased land was set aside for National or State forests. Michigan has four National Forests, two of which are within close proximity to Mackinaw City.

Go on a Cemetery Tour. Take a ferry ride over to Mackinac Island and explore one of the three cemeteries found there—two civilian and one military. Ste. Anne’s Catholic Cemetery is the largest of the three; the Protestant Cemetery is referred to by locals as “The Mackinac Island Cemetery”; and The Post Cemetery is the military site with grave dating back to the War of 1812 with both British and American soldiers buried there. The Post Cemetery is designated as a National Historic Landmark and the flag here continually flies at half-mast—one of only four National Cemeteries with this honor. All three are adjacent to each other on Garrison Road, in the middle of the island, and are open to the public during daylight hours.

Go on a Self-Guided Sculpture Tour. Scattered around Mackinaw City are several wooden sculptures carved by Jerry Prior, each depicting a personal of historical importance in town. He started wood sculpting in 1989, shortly after he retired from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), where he worked as a road designer. The first was completed was Chief Wawatam, which stands in Wawatam Park. Read more about Prior’s unique works of art by reading “History Carved in Wood.”

Climb a Lighthouse. Michigan has more lighthouse than any other state (at nearly 120) and the Straits area is home to more than a dozen of these historic navigational aids. Among those open for tours during the fall season are Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse (1892-1957) and McGulpin Point Light (1869-1906). Read more about the history of our area lights here. And, for more about HAUNTED lights in the area, check this out!

Try Geocaching. This high-tech treasure hunt involves using a GPS to find a container (or cache) using specific coordinates. Northern Michigan’s many geocache spots combine hiking, birding, wildflower and leave viewing, wildlife and other outdoor recreation and natural attractions. There are hundreds in the Straits Area and some unique and amazing locations in Mackinaw City. To get started sign up at geocaching.com and download waypoints to your smart phones or visit the Mackinaw Public Library computer lab for coordinates.

Collect leaves. Remember in high school biology when you had to collect leaves as part of a class project. This is a great multi-generational project to get you out on the local trails and in the parks to hand select the prettiest of leaves. Consider pressing them between pieces of wax paper, just like when you were a kid. Head out into the trails at Wilderness State Park, The Headlands or Historic Mill Creek to begin your search!

Cast a Line. Michigan boasts more freshwater coastline than any other state (3,177 miles of Great Lakes shoreline) as well as more than 11,000 inland lakes (more than Minnesota, FYI) and 36,000-plus miles of rivers and streams…with nearly 150 different species of fish. There are also many “Blue Ribbon Trout Streams” within a short drive of Mackinaw City such as the AuSable, Maple and Sturgeon Rivers in the Lower Peninsula (among 35 total) and Tahquamenon, Fox and Two Hearted in the Upper Peninsula (among 13 total). For more about fishing in the area, click here.

Swing the Sticks. Fall is a perfect time for a round of golf—the crowds, bugs and prices are reduced versus the peak summer season. In the Mackinaw City area, check out Cheboygan Golf & Country Club or The Mackinaw Club.

Take a Trolley Tour. The Mackinac Old Time Trolley offers narrated historical tours of Mackinaw City’s timeless historic sites including the Mackinac Bridge, Colonial Michilimackinac, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and the Coast Guard Icebreaker Mackinaw. In the morning, the one-hour tour stays in town while the two-hour evening historical trip heads up over the five-mile Mighty Mac for a tour of Upper Peninsula sites.

As you’re out and about experiencing the Straits of Mackinac area this fall season, be sure to share your photos (including selfies) online using the hashtag #MakeItMackinaw, #MackinawCity and #FallIntoMackinaw whenever possible.

For lodging reservations for the fall season in Mackinaw City, visit MackinawCity.com/stay/.


PHOTO: Mackinaw City Chamber of Commerce.