Harbor photo used with permission by Keith Stokes http://www.mightymac.org/straitswinter.htm
Winter on Mackinac Island is a wonderful time of year and Islanders living here year-round have a very different experience than 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 snow and cold. And the more snow the merrier! That’s what they call Pure Mackinac! One day people and kids 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 as winter settles in, when the boats have very limited schedules, ice begins to form and the waterways start to shut down. Before the ice becomes solid and sometimes forms an ice bridge, there’s an in-between time where there’s limited access by boat. Until an ice bridge forms, Mackinac Island is in a transitional state, and transportation is determined by nature.
The Mackinac Island Fire Department (MIFD) 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 in the evenings and they also practice every other weekend for six hours a day going into frigid waters in preparation for ice rescues. This is also a very busy time of year for them and it’s very important that they can respond to calls quickly.
Snowmobiles help with quick response time and with only approximately 550 year-round residents, there’s much less traffic for the fire trucks to navigate around. Aside from their hard work, they hold monthly meetings, then host dinners for Island school teachers, families, spouses and alumni to name a few. Islanders are 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. 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 is key. 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, they wait for boats to be able to make it over.
The Lilac Tree Suites & Spa has lots and lots of upgrades for the 2020 season. New tile, carpet, cabinets, and ceiling fans. The crew is keeping very busy this Winter and you’ll love the upgrades when you come back this season!
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 that’s not taken for granted and if it gets cold enough this winter for a period of time, there could be an ice bridge this year!
George Piliouras for The Lilac Tree Suites & Spa