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Mackinac Island Finally Thawing Out

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Photo credit: CedarBendDrive / Flickr

While May 1st should see the Mackinac Island businesses getting ready for their first tourists of the year, many people are still chipping away the heavy ice from winter. After the coldest winter that the residents can remember, spring is barely peeking over the 10 foot snow banks dotting the island.

The impact of this winter season will be on the pocketbooks of the community since there are few ways for tourists to make it to Mackinac Island now.

A Resort Island

Located in Lake Huron in Michigan, Mackinac Island is primarily a resort destination for tourists. Covering only 3.8 square miles, this community sees a number of tourists each year who must arrive by boat or plane. With an average population of 492, according to the U.S. Census, the community also swells with temporary workers getting ready for the spring tourism season.

The island has maintained a laid-back vibe since banning motorized vehicles. Walking, bicycles and horses are the primary means of getting around the island. Businesses offering the services of horse-drawn carriages are a sign that a new tourist season is underway.

Visitors to the island can only get there by ferry, private boat or small charter aircraft. As the “fudgies” prepare to return to Mackinac Island, the winter is making it difficult. “Fudgies” is the name fondly given to the tourists who come and buy this confection from the various shops in town, says the Mackinac Island Page.

A Winter to Remember

By mid-April, this island community should be well on its way to receiving tourists. This year, the residents are just starting their spring clean-up activities. One of the island’s ferry lines, Arnold Transit, is not even open for business yet. The ice on Lake Huron is still so thick that the U.S. Coast Guard has come to help.

They’ve broken ice up to three feet thick between St. Ignace, the jump off point to the island, and Mackinac Island. This has allowed a single ferry line and private boats to get to the island with supplies, as reported by Guardian Liberty Voice.

To help with preparations, supplies for the restaurants, hotels, resorts and shops are being flown in from the mainland on charter planes, a much more expensive option than the ferry route. Flights are on a constant loop from St. Ignace during daylight hours.

Additional planes have been put into service. The planes, from Great Lakes Air, carry from five to nine passengers and are carrying such items as food, construction materials, paint and wallpaper, items normally brought over on a boat. The seasonal staff are also flying in instead of taking the ferry.

A One-Horse Town, Almost

With the ban on motorized vehicles, horses are a major source of transportation, and most of them come in from the mainland.

Ferrying them in is the only option and it’s still too dangerous to transport them all in this way. Detroit News says roughly 600 horses are used on the island during tourist season. Until they arrive, foot and pedal-power are the only ways to get around the island.

A Slow Thaw

As temperatures rise and the snow and ice begin to melt, residents have a lot of cleanup to do. There are still piles of snow in the streets and the snow melting is making walking slushy everywhere. The ice on Lake Huron is beginning to break up, but 3 foot ice is still making the major boating channels difficult to get through.

Two ferry lines are waiting for the Coast Guard to finish breaking up the ice in the channel, but there will still be ice to be moved to get to the passenger and supply docks on St. Ignace. One ferry line carries freight and will use those boats to try to break through that final ice barrier. They hope to running a regular ferry service by mid-May.

Tourist Season Is Here in Spite of It All

Hotels and resorts on Mackinac Island say they will be ready for tourists in the next week, regardless of the expensive preparations, and the ice and snow.

As the “fudgies” return for a peaceful time on this resort island, they may wish they had packed different clothing for this trip, especially their snow boots.

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