The trip Put-in-Bay island people from the Bass Islands took to Mackinac Island accompanying the Put-in-Bay High School Panther Basketball Team was a fascinating delight because of the similarities and dissimilarities both islands’ residents share. Mackinac Island is located just off the Mackinac Bridge in northern Michigan. Like Put-in-Bay Island, it is a popular tourist destination. It is also known for its rich history, horse and carriage transportation, the Grand Hotel and its beautiful village and setting.
Traveling to Mackinac from St. Ignace on the Upper Peninsula mainland was a step back in time for Put-in-Bay Island folk. The Arnold Line ferry M/V Huron was similar to Miller Ferry’s long-gone M/V Wm. Miller, M/V West Shore or M/V South Shore. It was built in 1955 and later lengthened, but still retained that old-time look. The look of the Huron actually reminded us of the Neuman ferries that used to come into Put-in-Bay. In talking with a couple of Mackinac islanders on board returning home, we learned a season pass on the ferry for islanders is $100. When we arrived at Mackinac Island, the dock was crowded with workers waiting for the last ferry back to the mainland for the day. Construction on the island, like on Put-in-Bay, generally takes place during the offseason.
A special permit is needed for large construction equipment coming over to the island. We later talked to a fellow who brought a
large crane to the island to put up a cell phone tower and to place two modular homes. He said there was a ferry fee, a fee to cross the dock and another fee to use the roadway. All this cost is passed along to the consumer. Mackinac Islanders depend on snowmobiles to get around in the winter, but when we were there, there was no snow, so people either walked or rode bicycles. The roadways were icy, so doing either was precarious. There are a few motor vehicles on the island. One belongs to the police department. Islanders call it “the Jeep.” The police will sometimes give rides to islanders, but according to one resident, being seen riding in the car is embarrassing.
There is no doubt, the Mackinac Islanders are a hardy and proud lot. One lady who recently had surgery was walking everywhere and only took advantage of a ride when there were protests from her doctor and family. Besides the police car, the department also has a snowmobile. During the summer tourist season, the force has five officers and two state troopers. Because Mackinac is quite hilly, riding a bike on the ice can be extremely dangerous. Since the school is located by the water, students coming down from the upper portion of the island park their bikes alongside the road on icy days and walk the last third mile downhill from the Grand Hotel to school. After school, they would walk back uphill to their bikes. That way they wouldn’t have to ride their bikes up and down a slick roadway. For those islanders who were really brave, there were studded bike tires.
We saw one fellow riding down the same icy hill at breakneck speed, something impossible without the studs. When we saw the island medical center, we just had to stop in and ask for a tour. Ed, the nurse, was more than accommodating. Mackinac has a full-time doctor, an emergency room, X-Ray Room, a nurses desk, offices, an intern doctor program, a separate house for the doctor, plus accommodations for other medical staff who come to the island. The facility was absolutely first-class. Ed’s biggest problem is bicycle accidents, but in his twenty-plus years at the medical center, he has had two golf cart incidents. One was for a golfer (golf carts are allowed on the golf course) who broke a leg on the course, and the other was to give a blood alcohol test to a fellow who decided he’d drive his cart through town. Speaking of alcohol, those who want a real bottle of booze can find it behind the counter of Doud’s Mercantile, Mackinac’s equivalent to our Island General Store.
Like Put-in-Bay Islanders, many have to wear several hats. We met one island resident who sells real estate, runs a small shop in
the village, DJ’s at island events, and does computer work from his island home back to California from where the family moved.
His wife is a teacher at the school and also works in their shop. And on top of it all, they have four kids under five. Ferry service to Mackinac generally goes into mid-January and then islanders can either fly round-trip to the island for $48 or run snowmobiles over the ice to St. Ignace. Prescriptions don’t come over for free unless you are of Native American descent.
Both islands have catamaran ferry service, but unlike our Jet Express, the Arnold Transit Co. puts passengers on the bow of their catamaran for an exciting ride. Put-in-Bay Island once had the Hotel Victory, billed at one time, the largest summer resort hotel in the world. Mackinac still has the Grand Hotel, and it is huge. But it is no comparison to anything we have here on South Bass Island with Put-in-Bay Hotels & Resorts. Downtown Mackinac Island is filled with quaint shops and not so many restaurants and watering holes as Put-in-Bay. There is no doubt there’s big money at Mackinac compared to Put-in-Bay Island, but that hasn’t spoiled any of the islanders we met while there. Like all of us islanders, they’re proud of their island and being fortunate to live there, and we came away impressed with both the differences and similarities of our two Great Lakes islands.