Mackinac Island: Access to the mainland is cut off

By Susan Bromley

Special to The Citizen

(The conclusion of, Mackinac Island: A charmed life, from the Nov. 18 edition.)

Their first Christmas on the island, Judi even found that getting the artificial tree she wanted was easier than expected. She called the hardware store in St. Ignace and told them she wanted the last pre-lit tree they had, but didn’t know how to get it to the island. The employees told her no problem, it would be put on the next boat. Even as she put on her boots and muffler, ready to go down to the dock and pick it up, there was a knock on the door. “Big Ray” from the docks had seen the tree and because he was going by the Pearce home, he offered to deliver it on his way. Judi was amazed and laughs as she recalls she asked him if he wanted to set it up, too.

“It was faster than Amazon,” she said. “That is how people are around here, it’s a remarkable place. I always wanted to live in a place where everyone knows your name.”

Judi fondly remembers the winter day when they were going down to catch the ferry to the mainland and saw a little girl wearing a Barbie helmet riding her bicycle with training wheels to the school that houses about 80 students in preschool through 12th grade, with everyone the child passed calling greetings to her.

“They were saying, ‘Good morning, Amanda!’ ‘Good job, keep pedaling!’” remembers Judi. “The shop owners were watching for her, and they even got on the phone, reporting that she had just passed their store. Can you imagine life like that here? That is what makes this island unique, they pull together. It’s one big support community.”

She loves reading about that community in the island’s weekly paper, the Town Crier, which has multiple social pages which mark birthdays of island residents, tell of their vacations, even their cookouts. Like the breeze on Mackinac, Judi said the lack of negative news is refreshing.

There is always something to do or events taking place on the island, said Dave, who particularly enjoys the Lilac Parade on Father’s Day, “the longest horse-drawn parade in the country— they pull floats with horses we go out and and sit on porch and watch it go by.”

He notes there are also festivals, beer and wine tastings, restaurants, music, golf and sailboat races. “There is always something going on,” he said. “If you want to, you can sit in and not do anything, but if you can’t find something to keep you busy, it’s your own fault. You can always find something you like to do, even if it is nothing more than putting your feet up and watching boats go by.”

In both winter and summer, the Pearces enjoy exploring the island, playing cards with their neighbors and other friends, and reading in a peaceful environment.

In winter, the island becomes quiet as the tourists leave and so do the horses— only 11 are kept on the island, while most of the rest feast at an “all-day hay buffet” on a mainland farm owned by the carriage companies, said Judi. The horses that stay have titanium composite shoes to grip the ice, while the human residents wear yaktrax (shoe grips for traction) to get around by foot, or hop on snowmobiles to go to the Mustang Lounge or the Grand Hotel’s Village Inn, popular meeting spots, or to go down to the post office to get their mail as there is no postal delivery on the island in any season.

The people who live on the island are a mix— some are retired like the Pearces, others work on the island, including the veterinarian and the doctors and nurses at the medical center.

Access to the mainland is cut off by boat once the ice forms unless they take a plane from the island airport, or use a snowmobile to cross on the ice bridge. But the Pearces don’t mind— island life suits them in all seasons.

“Winter is pristine and lovely; I love the flowers in the summer; in the fall, the colors on the island are spectacular,” said Judi. “To Dave and I, there is nothing better than getting in a carriage and riding into the woods, it’s so quiet, lovely, beautiful. I cry a lot here— the beauty strikes you and you’re so grateful to be here. What did I do to deserve this?”

Dave agrees.

“It’s our happy place for sure.”


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