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.

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.

America’s Longest-Running, Free Memorial Day Historical Program Continues in Mackinaw City (May 25-27)

Photo Credit: https://www.crazycrow.com/site/event/fort-michilimackinac-reenactment-pageant/ 

No place celebrates Memorial Weekend and the start of the Pure Michigan summer season quite like the Straits of Mackinac. For nearly 60 years, this community has hosted America’s longest-running, free Memorial Day historical program in the United States. The Memorial Pageant Weekend has been running consecutively since 1962 (although the first, small-scale pageant was first held in July 1933) and has entertained families for generations during this three-day event—Saturday, May 25 through Monday, May 27.

During this costumed live action portrayal, volunteers bring to life the June 2, 1763 battle between the French, British and Native Americans which helped shape the history not only of this “Crossroads of the Great Lakes,” but of the entire state of Michigan, the Midwest and America. More than 200 reenactors bring history to life during scheduled performances throughout the weekend at Colonial Michilimackinac, set along the shores where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron converge.

There’s even a fun game of baggataway planned, today better known as Lacrosse. This sport was actually highlighted once on the Travel Channel show “Mysteries at the Museum” as it was used as a ruse during the uprising at Fort Michilimackinac in 1763 (sometimes called Pontiac’s War). As the story goes, the local Ojibwa staged a game outside the Fort only to have the ball “accidentally” fly over the wall during play. When they were permitted inside to retrieve it (armed with concealed weapons that their women had been hiding), the Ojibwa overtook the British and maintained control of the Fort until September the following, year when it was reoccupied by the British.

Honoring local veterans, specifically those who were casualties of war, the annual Mackinaw Memorial Parade, steps off on Saturday, May 26 at 1pm from Conkling Heritage Park, near the Municipal Marina. More than 100 combined floats, bands, clowns, queens, reenactors and other entertainers from around the Great Lakes region follow a route that travels down Huron Avenue to Central Avenue to Nicolet Street at Colonial Michilimackinac.

Fireworks are planned at dusk that evening, at Conkling Heritage Park on South Huron Avenue along the shores of Lake Huron.

On Monday, May 27, a brief and informal Memorial Day observance, paying tribute to the soldiers who served at Fort Mackinac, takes place on Mackinac Island. Soldiers assembles at 8:30am at Fort Mackinac, march to the Post Cemetery, perform a short ceremony and salute, and then return to the fort. Ferry service from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island is available at 7:30am from both Shepler’s Ferry and Star Line Ferry.

A Memorial Day Service is also planned at 10am on Monday at Conkling Heritage Park in Mackinaw City.

A detailed schedule of events can be found online here: https://www.mackinawcity.com/events/memorial-weekend-pageant/.

For lodging reservations for Memorial weekend, or throughout the summer season, visit MackinawCity.com/stay/.

Mackinaw City Releases 2018 Visitor’s Guide to the Straits Area

The Mackinaw City area has been welcoming visitors for centuries, drawn to the natural freshwaters of the Straits of Mackinac, the rich woodlands and natural resources, the ongoing history and genuine Northern Michigan hospitality.

To aid travelers in their future visits to the area, the Mackinaw Area Visitors Bureau has published its 2018 Visitors Guide, available free at all Pure Michigan Welcome Centers, at select locations in the Mackinaw City area and at Midwest consumer shows represented by the West Michigan Tourist Association.* It can also be viewed online at https://www.mackinawcity.com/contact-us/visitors-guide/.

“We have created this Mackinaw Area Visitors Guide to help you plan your next visit with us,” says Deb Spence, Executive Director of the Mackinaw Area Visitors Bureau. “We hope you find it useful, educational and entertaining.”

The 40-page guide features articles about the Mackinac Bridge, Headland International Dark Sky Park, Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), Mackinac Island, sculptures of Jerry Prior, lighthouses, Day Trip Destinations and winter activities in the Straits, among others. It also includes listings for area accommodations, shops, restaurants, parks and services, as well as a list of 2018 special events, of interest to visitors and locals alike.

WMTA 2018 Consumer Shows

Cottage & Lakefront Living Show

March 1-4 in Novi, MI

Grand Rapids Women’s Show

March 9-11 in Grand Rapids, MI

Michigan Golf Show

March 9-11 in Novi, MI

Good Sam Indy RV Super Show

April 12-15 in Indianapolis, IN

International Women’s Show

May 3-6 in Novi, MI

What do archaeologists do in the winter?


By Dr. Lynn Evans, Curator of Archaeology – Mackinac State Historic Parks

Archaeological excavation has taken place at Michilimackinac, in Mackinaw City, every summer since 1959, making it one of the longest on-going projects of its kind in North America. The excavation takes place within the palisade walls of Colonial Michilimackinac State Historic Park, in full view of visitors to the fort. One of their most common questions, after “What are you looking for?” is “What happens in the winter?”

Late in August, after the last dirt is excavated and sifted, and the last map is drawn, the archaeological team packs the site for winter. Exposed charred wood timbers from the house are sprayed with preservative and covered with plastic tubs. The entire site is lined with plastic sheeting and filled with bales of straw. This protects it from rain and snow until the site is re-opened in late May.

The summer archaeology crew goes back to the rest of their lives, graduate school, teaching and other jobs, and family. Mackinac State Historic Parks [MSHP] Curator of Archaeology Dr. Lynn Evans and lab assistant Erin Meekhof Sturgill turn to the seldom-seen indoor part of archaeology. All season, as artifacts are excavated, they are placed in bags marked with what square, level, and soil type they come from. These are taken to the archaeology lab in the Service Center on the park grounds.

The first step is to clean the artifacts. Glass, ceramic, and animal bone can be carefully washed. Metal artifacts are gently brushed. The artifacts are packaged in archivally-stable containers and put back in their context bag. Each context (square, level, soil type) is assigned a catalog number.

Once the numbers are assigned, the artifacts and/or artifact containers, depending on artifact size, are marked with the catalog number. A catalog sheet is created for each context bag. Artifacts are identified and described in as much detail as possible, and counted or weighed. This information is entered into MSHP’s computerized collections database.

The artifacts are then stored by type, that is, ceramics with other ceramics from the fort, beads with beads, and so on. They are always connected back to their original context, or provenience, by their catalog number. All of the MSHP archaeology collections are stored at the Petersen Archaeology and History Center in Mackinaw City. By the time all of these steps are complete, it is early spring and time to plan a new excavation season. The artifacts remain safe in their secure, climate-controlled facility until they are needed for exhibits or study by researchers.

For the past ten seasons, the archaeology team has been excavating a fur traders’ house. This house was one unit in the southeast rowhouse at Michilimackinac. A rowhouse is like a townhouse or condominium, several independently owned houses in one larger structure. At Michilimackinac these were an efficient use of space and easier to heat in the winter.

In 1749 a French military engineer named Lotbiniere drew a map of Michilimackinac, and labeled each house. The house currently being excavated is labeled Gonneville for Charles Henri Desjardins de Rupallay de Gonneville, who traded at Michilimackinac from c1727 -1754. He owned this house as late as 1758. By 1765, according to a map drawn by British Lieutenant Perkins Magra, the house was occupied by an unnamed English trader.

The house site is incredibly rich, and every day we find small items that might have fallen through the cracks in the floorboards, such as bones from the trader’s meals, especially fish bones, seed beads and lead shot. We also find larger artifacts. This summer was particularly rich in trade goods. Notable artifacts included three pieces of trade silver, including a triangular pendant, a cone and a circular brooch. Trade silver is a good time marker for the British fur trade in the Great Lakes region, but has not been commonly found at Michilimackinac. Other adornment items included several buttons, a buckle frame, and two brass rings with glass or “paste” stones.

A more personal, rather than trade good, find was a small cast brass crucifix. It is 1.5” tall and 1” wide. The letters INRI appear above the crucified body of Christ, and a skull, signifying Golgotha, the place of the skull, as the site of the crucifixion, is at the bottom of the cross.

In addition to artifacts, we find evidence of the structure itself. Late in the season we found a row of burnt posts from a previously unknown interior house wall. They extend north into an unexcavated area. We are only a little over halfway done excavating this house.  Who knows what discoveries await in 2018 and beyond?

Lynn L.M. Evans is the Curator of Archaeology for Mackinac State Historic Parks, a position she has held since 1996.  She began excavating at Michilimackinac in 1989 while conducting research on craft industries.  A native of Cincinnati, Lynn holds a B.A. in anthropology and museum studies from Beloit College and a Ph.D. in American Civilization – Historical Archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania.  She resides with her husband, Jim, in Mackinaw City.

NOTE: Mackinac State Historic Parks will reopen for the 2018 season in early May (please check www.MackinacParks.com for specific dates for individual parks).