Winter on Mackinac Island is a wonderful time of year and Islanders living here year-round have a very different experience from everyday life on the mainland. In winter, school days start off like other families living on the mainland with school starting at 8:20 am. But once people leave their homes, things immediately change to the Islander’s way of life. You can never be sure what the weather will be from one minute to the next so closets are ready for every weather condition.
Instead of getting on a bus or starting cars, snowmobiles are put into action and Islanders brave the cold. And the more snow the merrier! That’s what we call Pure Mackinac! One day people are riding snowmobiles, the next day, kids will be walking a mile or more to school and the next day they’ll be riding bikes in the cold, or freezing rain.
Did you ever stop to think how you get your house supplies, groceries and your mail? On Mackinac Island, all of the supplies and mail are brought in daily by boats coming from the mainland. But there’s a period of time aswinter settles in, when the boats have very limited schedules, ice begins to form and our waterways start to shut down. Before the ice becomes solid and forms an ice bridge, there’s an in-between time where there’s limited access by boat. Until an ice bridge forms, we’re in a transitional state, and transportation that we normally take for granted, takes on a new course, determined by nature.
This is also a very busy time of year for the Mackinac Island Fire Department (MIFD) and it’s very important that they can respond to calls quickly. In winter, many of the buildings are closed and unoccupied so if there’s a fire, the notification time can be much longer making the fires much more severe. Snowmobiles help quick response time and with only approximately 550 year-round residents, there’s much less traffic for the fire trucks to navigate around. The MIFD also does Ice Rescue Training when there’s a good amount of ice in the Harbor that’s critically important for this time of year. They train very hard two times a week from 6:00 PM- 9:00 PM and they also practice every other weekend from 9AM- 3PM going into frigid waters in preparation for ice rescues. Aside from their hard work, they hold monthly meetings, then host dinners for Island school teachers, families, spouses and alumni to name a few. We’re all extremely grateful for the hard work and dedication that the MIFD does for the Island community.
Shipping supplies usually takes longer when the boats don’t run as frequently or they have to take a longer route around the island before they dock to avoid getting stuck in the ice. The Mackinac airport can get backed up quickly with items that need to leave or arrive to the island. That means a package can sit for hours or days, depending on the next run so being patient runs in our veins. From the airport, packages, supplies and mail are loaded on a large cart or sleigh and pulled by a snowmobile to their final destination.
Larger items that don’t fit on a plane are usually delivered to the dock in St. Ignace and are picked up by boat when they are running. The planes have limited weight capacity and can’t fit large supply items so at The Lilac Tree Suites & Spa, and our sister hotel The Chippewa, we wait for boats to be able to make it over. We also wait with eager anticipation for a strong ice bridge so our large supplies will make it over from the mainland.
There’s lots of construction going on at The Chippewa this winter. (read our Chippewa blog too!) There are many construction people that work on the island during the winter months. When the boats stop running, housing is provided for workers during the weekdays, then they go to the airport to fly home on weekends to be with their families. Winter on Mackinac is a beautiful time of year and it also has its challenges when it comes to transportation to and from the island. That’s something we don’t take for granted and if it gets cold enough for a period of time, we just could have an ice bridge this year.
George Piliouras for The Lilac Tree Suites & Spa