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Published: June 21st 2012
UPPER PENISULA, MICHIGAN
A short ferry ride from the mainland of the UP of Michigan lies an island lost in time. Imagine a place where the sole economy is based on fudge shops, restaurants, hotels and horse-drawn carriage rides. The season is short, but the place is thriving. Formerly the exclusive hideaway of the very wealthy in the late 1800's this island is cute, clean and oh so ritzy. Elegant mansions line the bluff ridgeline and share the wonderful view with one of the premier hotels in North America. The Grand Hotel opened for business in 1887 and is billed as having the longest continuous porch in the world. Automobiles were banned in 1898 and so all taxies, freight wagons and even the trash collection is done by horse. Many people move about by bicycle and so the roadways make you feel like you have been transported back in time to a more relaxed and less polluted age. The streets are constantly being cleaned of any horse droppings by a staff of attendants riding three wheel bicycles with large garbage cans mounted between the rear wheels.
You might think that this
would all be a little over the top and give the whole place a Disney World kind of atmosphere. Surprisingly, it feels more like an active, flourishing vacation community. Many people own homes on the island and come for the entire summer season. There are about 500 residents that stay year-round. During the winter snowmobiles are allowed and people can travel to the mainland over the frozen lake ice. Eighty-three percent of the land is a State Park and it is crisscrossed with bike and hiking trails. You can rent bicycles, saddle horses and horse-drawn buggies quite easily. Of course, this place is not for the faint-of-wallet. The Grand Hotel is pricey, but we had a nice reasonable lunch at the "Gate House Restaurant", which is part of the Grand Hotel property. The Hotel Shuttle ride by horse-drawn carriage from the waterfront up to the Grand Hotel cost $4.75 each. The downtown waterfront is filled with period shops, inns and all manner of eating establishments. Some of them seemed quite reasonable and the fudge cost about ten dollars a pound. Our round-trip ferry ride from the mainland was $24 dollars each. We found the island overall to be picture perfect
and exuded a friendly, open atmosphere.
The predicted rain came in buckets, almost to the minute from when one of the local girls said in would come. So, at 4pm with umbrella in full use and 100 pictures taken we reluctantly boarded the ferry for the twenty minute ride back to the mainland. I would say that Mackinac Island's billing as one of the top 10 most beautiful islands in the world is not exagerated. I can see us coming back here to stay for a week or more in the summer some time. Looking at the map, I can see places like Skull Cave, Sugar Loaf Rock, Crack-in-the-Island and Brown's Brook which all warrant a more thorough and careful exploration.
The whole North Woods region of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan is relatively uncrowded and unspoiled. The prices are much better than the west coast, with gasoline being over a dollar a gallon less. Of course, in this economy I did see vacant buildings and signs of the downturn, but the people were still friendly and welcoming. It is a very water-oriented area with lots of
boating, fishing and watersports activities. I think alot of people do not think of this area when planning a summer vacation, but we loved the cool, clear nights and all the lovely green forests.
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