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. 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.
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.
Check out this wonderful #PureMichigan video – Dark Sky – which launched in early April and will run through mid-May. It will air before the start of PG and PG-13 movies playing in 261 cinemas across 2,021 screens in Michigan as well as Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin – as well as showing on 12 cable channels nationally: http://bit.ly/MiDarkSky.
For spring travel ideas and lodging options, visit MackinawCity.com.