As the Capt. Shepler pulled into the dock at Mackinac Island, the first thing we noticed were bicycles, lots of bicycles. The numerous bicycles were waiting to be rented by visitors to the island. Since the island has no vehicles, bicycles are a major means of transportation. In addition to bikes, horse drawn carriages, wagons and flatbeds ferry visitors, baggage and supplies about the Island.
Named by the aboriginal natives, Mackinac Island is thousands of years old. Looking at the island from the mainland it appeared to be a big turtle so they named the island Mish-la-mack-in-naw. The natives buried their dead in the many caves on the island.
The first white man to see the island is believed to have been Jean Nicolet. He was a French Canadian explorer sent by the governor of Canada, Samuel de Champlain, in 1634. Then came the Jesuit priest Jacques Marquette in 1671. Next the area became a French fur trading site. Mackinac Island was home to about 250 permanent residents in the early 1800s. Most of the residents were French-Canadian and the predominant language was French.
The island became popular as a summer retreat during the Victorian Era. Hotels were built, souvenirs were available, and activities abound. These activities included dances, concerts, tennis, hiking, bicycling and golf.
Automobiles are one thing never found on the island. You would think this absence would lead to a quieter more peaceful existence. Maybe at first, but today with all the visitors there are traffic jams and congestion involving bicycles, people, horse drawn carriages and wagons. Stepping off the ferry, we stepped into major congestion. It was not what we expected to find. Once we moved away from the waterfront, the pace became somewhat slower.
When planning our trip, we vacillated between bringing our bikes, renting bikes or taking a carriage tour. In the end we decided on a carriage tour and we were very happy with our decision. We spent about three hours touring the island and saw all the sites we were interested in. Times have changed over the years, the Grand Hotel now charges $10 just to step onto the porch. No we did not visit the porch or tour the hotel.
The island is unique with a large portion being a Michigan State Park. In fact it was the first state park in Michigan. We met people planning to stay the night at the hotel to enjoy a slower time. Maybe at night when all the tourist leave, the pace slows down.
We were happy to arrive at Mackinac Island and we were happy to depart also. Mackinac Island is a tourist attraction. If the day comes that we return to the island, we’ll target a time before school lets out for the summer or after it reconviens for the fall. We were glad to get back to St. Ignace and a much slower pace even with automobiles.