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7 ways to make Mackinac Island memories

May 28, 2013

A Star Line ferry passes under the Mackinac Bridge twice on a small detour enroute to Mackinac Island on a May morning.

MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. — On a warm day in May, there is nowhere in the world like Mackinac Island.

It’s like summer without crowds. Like getting a seat backstage.

It’s a season of daffodils — the tulips not up yet — and clean, clear views of the Mackinac Bridge and a chance to ride a bicycle around the island practically alone.

And it’s a chance to see what’s new on this old island that has made it through yet another hard winter. Off come the shutters. Out come the bicycles. Put up the wicker porch furniture! Brush on the fresh paint!

Then take a walk and see what’s new, along with what’s old and still great.

1: Bicycle Street Inn

Chief among the new sights on the island is the brand new Bicycle Street Inn & Suites, which opened May 5 downtown. It is the first newly constructed hotel on the island in 13 years, and its grand opening will be May 31.

The 36-room hotel features 24 large balcony suites that look out over the harbor or onto the quiet neighborhoods behind Main Street. The lobby was still being completed when I stayed there, but it contains a large Sanders, a restaurant, a pretty gift store with marble floors, a sunglasses shop and an American Indian store. Hotel registration is in the rear of the lobby. On the upper levels, rooms surround an airy glass atrium. Suites feature large bathrooms, flat-screen TVs, a living area and bedroom with a door between them, periwinkle-blue satin curtains and bed skirts.

"We’ve tried to merge the historical feel with the flat-screen TV," says co-developer and general manager Melanie Libby. Tourists don’t realize the achievement of building anything on Mackinac Island, but for the Bicycle Inn, "we brought over 4 million pounds of concrete by boat, then pulled it across the street by horse, plus we brought in another million pounds of wood," says Libby’s business partner Ira Green.

The Bicycle Inn’s 1870s-style neo-classical cream exterior blends into the streetscape. Developers plan to construct another hotel directly across the street from this new hotel by 2015. I’m not sure what that will do to balcony views, but right now it is charming, with the red-striped awnings of the Mackinac Island Bike Shop and the turquoise harbor with its chugging ferries.

In the morning, I hear water running. I look down off the balcony to see a man washing the street, dawn breaking. It’s a wonderful perspective on Mackinac Island, standing on a balcony on Main Street as summer tiptoes in.

2: Sadie at the Grand

Up at the Grand Hotel, the venerable lodging is showing off its new Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor. At the east end of the hotel, Sadie’s is open even to the unwashed masses who aren’t guests. With a whimsical black-and-red interior, serving Hudsonville ice cream, it is in honor of Sadie, the owners’ Scottish terrier who won best in show at the 2010 Westminster Dog Show. The grand opening is June 1.

This is also the first year that hotel operations will be entirely on the shoulders of president R. D. Musser III and his staff after the semiretired R.D. Musser Jr. passed away in April. What hasn’t changed at the hotel? The incredible view from the long front porch. The fine breakfast. The geranium carpet in the lobby. The courtly service. The general air of civilization.

3: Good old Ft. Mackinac

Many tourists never get up to the fort because they are too lazy to walk up the steep ramp. Do it. You will never get better photographs of the island than from Ft. Mackinac. Plus, you can jolt the kids awake with cannon booms and rifle blasts this year in honor of the continuing anniversary of the War of 1812.

4: Ferry under the Mac

It started with just a few ferries, but this year many trips a day will do a small detour that takes you right under the awesome Mackinac Bridge en route to or from Mackinac Island. Don’t miss it. For summer hours and dates, see Star Line, Arnold Transit and Shepler’s Ferry.

5: Genteel Silver Birches

Ride along the lake shore about 31/2 miles north of town to see Silver Birches. The crumbling yet magnificent 1906 Adirondack-style log mansion, which had served as a resort, was a private house until a couple years ago. It will be renovated as a resort by its new owner in a sure-to-be-expensive labor of love. From the road, you can easily see the mansion and the major work that needs doing. Locals love to tell about the enormous swimming pool out back with a tree growing in the middle of it.

6: Fudge

This may seem old hat, but have some respect for island fudge makers. It’s hard to make fudge that turns out well and doesn’t burn, drip to the floor or harden in weird shapes in front of a snickering crowd (trust me, I tried it). And just watch those guys with the fudge paddles. Watch their hands.

Working amid fragrant fudge, "the first couple years, you gain a few pounds," Kelly Vincent, a manager at Murdick’s Fudge, admits. I’d say it’s worth it.

7: Cairns on the shoreline

With the water of Lake Huron receding over the last decade, Mackinac Island’s rocky shoreline now is substantial. Visitors cycling along M-185 on the edge of the island can see many cairns — little towers of stones — a case of human contributions enhancing nature.

Out by Arch Rock (whose steps to the top, by the way, are closed this season for renovation) I built a cairn. I took a photo, rode on, rode back, then couldn’t find it again.

Ah, well. Somewhere out there is my minor contribution to the scenery on Mackinac Island.

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IF YOU GO

LODGING:

—The Bicycle Street Inn, 7416 Main St. opposite Shepler’s Ferry dock: Rates are $155-$440 a night, depending on the room and the season. I like the interior and waterfront balcony suites best (www.bicyclestreetinn.com, 855-560-8005).

—Many lodging choices in the island’s tourism brochure: www.mackinacisland.org/newmackinac/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/2012
_mackinac_island_visitors_guide_web.pdf.

ATTRACTIONS:

—Ft. Mackinac: Entry fee $11, $6.50 for ages 5-17, ages 4 and younger free (www.mackinacparks.com, 231-436-4100).

—Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor, Grand Hotel, 286 Grand Ave. (www.grandhotel.com, 800-334-7263).

—Ferries that take passengers under the Mackinac Bridge leave from both St. Ignace and Mackinaw City. Check schedules at Shepler’s Ferry (www.sheplersferry.com, 800-828-6157); Star Line (www.mackinacferry.com, 800-638-9892); Arnold Transit (www.arnoldline.com, 800-542-8528).

—Fudge: Fudge is available all over town, but true fudge lovers should check out the island’s Fudge Festival Aug. 23-24 (www.mackinacislandfudgefestival.org).

 

 


Associated Press