Mackinac Island Off-Season Update – Volume XXIV – 4/18/2011

Four weeks! 

Friends who have already returned to the island let me know this week that I might want to check the weather before we start north.  It was snowing on the island yesterday and 23 degrees!  Good grief, Mother Nature, let’s get with the program here!

I’ve got a brand new newsletter from Greg Main for you this week and some great photos, so here we go.

You remember that last year the Richard and Jane Manoogian Art Museum opened in the Indian Dormitory building on the island.  Well, on May 13 the museum will debut Richard Wolfgang: A Life of Painting exhibition, and I can’t wait to get to the island to see it.  Richard (Dick) and his wife Helen have become good friends over the years, and at the end of last season they permanently closed their gallery.  Ted and I visited that gallery the very first time we were on Mackinac – in 2000 – looking for a special momento to take home.  We purchased a signed lithograph of Dick’s Haldimand Bay Harbor, and they shipped it to us matted and framed.  It has hung over our bed at the lake house ever since, and it makes me smile everytime I look at it.

Haldimand Bay Harbor – Dick’s interpretation of the view as you arrive on the island.

The exhibit will include a treasure trove of Dick’s works, including many Mackinac Island-related paintings.  Phil Porter, director of the Mackinac Historic State Parks, said “We are honored to have this retrospective collection of Mr. Wolfgang’s paintings on display at the art museum.  He has been a prominent island artist whose work is loved and appreciated by island residents and visitors alike.”  From 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. on Sunday, June 12, the public is invited to celebrate Wolfgang and his work at the Richard Wolfgang: A Life in Painting exhibition open house, held at the art museum. The free event will feature short comments, music, and light refreshments.

Shepler’s Ferry started running one of their “fast boats” – the Capt. Shepler – from St. Ignace to the island this week – the first ferry company to offer fast service this season.

The Shepler Ferry Line began fast ferry service out of St. Ignace at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday. Some of the first passengers were early-arriving workers for the Grand Hotel . . .


. . . and lots of luggage for those folks who would be spending the next six months on the island. Shepler was named the "go to" ferry line for the Grand Hotel at the end of the past season.

I was able to get a few more great “behind the scenes” photos from the Grand Hotel’s Facebook page this week:

New mattresses for some of the Grand Hotel rooms arrived on the ferry with the workers and luggage.


How do you replace a worn out rope on the flag pole on top of the Grand Hotel cupola? Very, very carefully.

 I sure missed receiving a newsletter from Greg Main last week, but he more than made up for it this week!  Here’s the latest:

       “If a survey were to be taken amongst all those who live year-round on Mackinac Island, asking which month is the most anticipated,  it would be a close race between, perhaps, September, when the normal, hectic pace of the summer tourist season begins to wind down and streets are much less congested – yet there is still enough business around to enable retail shops and others to add something to their respective coffers; or November, when Mother Nature will usually place enough snow on the streets for easy commutes on snowmobiles; or January, when ferry service usually comes to a screeching halt due to ice conditions, creating hopes for a soon-to-follow viable ice bridge; or, as it seems to me, the month of April may top them all.
     There is something about April when it comes to living on this island.  Actually, there are several ‘somethings’ about April.  The anticipation of ferry service beginning after a few weeks of speculation and rumors are bandied about, the end of winter doldrums arrive as temperatures slowly begin creeping upward on a (hopefully) weekly basis, the return of many songbirds and other aviary noise makers also indicate the arrival of Spring-like conditions, usually the first-of-the-year heavy rains fall, which not only helps clean the thoroughfares but softens the soil and begins greening the grass and, as the first ferry of the new season arrives, so, too, do familiar faces, scores of horses and enough freight to keep drays running nearly from sunup to sundown.  
     Another aspect of April are the sporadic openings of the various eating/drinking establishments.  It’s a tradition amongst many to appear on opening day at said businesses to greet the owners and veteran employees and meet some of the rookies, welcoming all of them with smiles, hugs and handshakes and to spend an hour or two exchanging quips, quotes and myriad stories in response to the usual questions regarding how and where one spent the winter months.  April is not only the month of renewal but also change.  Some businesses may  have changed names and/or locations.  Some businesses may no longer be here, some may be starting anew and always there are new people, seasonal employees, to add to the mix.  April may not be at the very top of my list of favorite months (it’s very hard to beat warm days in September and October), but it does run a very close second.
     Downtown is slowly coming to life again.  As the daylight hours increase, so does activity in the business district.  By this time next month, I would wager that most, if not all, businesses will have open doors.  Everywhere along Main and Market Streets, the usual pre-season sounds echo.  Building exteriors are beginning to be scraped and painted to the accompaniment of  oft-times-too-loud music blaring from a paint-splattered radio which is usually placed directly on the sidewalk in order to allow anyone and everyone passing by (also, anyone within 100 feet or so) to enjoy the soothing sounds of  bands who find it necessary to make enough noise with their instruments to compensate for their lack of lyrical ability.  Other common sounds echoing about are hammering, power washing, air compressors and, as of this past Tuesday afternoon, perhaps the last running of a snowmobile down the Arnold dock as it was being loaded onto a ferry for transport off the island.  
     Of course, with April comes a change in the weather.  Rain is expected as much as it is needed.  Rain, yes.  Snow, no!  While we didn’t receive as much as we could have according to our local weather forecasters, it was a bit disheartening to look out the window last night to see snow flakes being highlighted by the street lights.  We awoke this morning to white roofs and yards.  Ugh!  By early this afternoon, enough sun began poking through to melt most of it and although our long-range forecast doesn’t indicate any more of this wintry precipitation, our temperatures look as though they will continue to remain below normal for at least the next week or so.  The typical early-blooming flowers have already made appearances at various places, and tulips and daylillies are beginning to protrude at a rapid pace.  As I was collecting the last of our ski trail makers last week, I noticed several different types of wild flowers in bloom, basking in the afternoon sun.  I would like to say which day that was but they all seem to be running together lately, and I’m getting rather busy with annual to-do lists.  
     We seem to have experienced more high-wind days this month than I recall from years past.  Recently, one such persistent gale from the southeast snapped the flag pole which stands inside the fort.  I’m told about 40 feet of it succumbed.  Friday was another of those 30 mile-per-hour plus days.  It blew from the southeast with such intensity that one of my co-workers remarked;  “one shouldn’t have to pedal down hill!”  A few others I spoke to who also live in Harrisonville, also made similar comments.  All day and all night Friday, it continued.    Still howling as I awoke Saturday, huge breakers were spraying the boardwalk in front of the Benjamin’s and Cable cottages.  It was one of those days when biking was great depending on which direction you were heading.   Finding it necessary to continue on with my aforementioned list of things to do, I was on the east bluff a good deal of the day, expecting to find tree limbs and window shutters missing.  Fortunately, all was well in that neck of the woods.  
     One unusual thing about this particular day happened as the weather front passed over us.  As expected, the wind died to almost nil as the low pressure sat directly over us.  Flags suddenly hung limp and we were no longer affected by the wind chill.  What amazed me most about this scenario was how quickly and completely the lake calmed.  While it was nowhere near what one could call, ’glassy’, the huge white-capped, surf-pounding waves of just one hour prior had simply stopped.  The surface wasn’t so much as choppy.  It was reminiscent, to a small degree, of a time many years ago when one of my grandmothers and I experienced being in the ’eye’ of what was later determined to be a tornado.  We didn’t have the deathly quiet and complete stillness here, but I was simply taken by how quickly the lake changed faces.  Within a few hours, though, we were catching the back end of this same low pressure system, and the wind then began howling at a similar strength, this time from the west, churning the wave machine again and ushering in the snow we saw this morning.   
      With all three boat lines now being given the o.k. to operate, one more hurdle has been cleared as far as getting back to April’s normalcy.  Long gone is the thick ice remaining in the Straits which forced Arnold to take the long route around the north end of the island for the better part of the first two weeks.  It was good to be on the first boat off the island in order to get a different perspective of the island again and to reacquaint myself with the quirks and nuances of driving my vehicle again, but once was enough as it took nearly 50 minutes, one-way.   As I crested Fort Hill on Wednesday, I was surprised to see two moving vans in the road at the Governor’s residence.  I’m told 22 beds were removed, being replaced with brand new ones.  
      We’ve had enough to do to keep our minds occupied this past winter – bingo, trivia, euchre, movie night and live music –  just to name a few of the night-time activities.  Our ice bridge didn’t last as long as hoped, given how quickly it formed, but was well-used while we had one, skiing was less than o.k., given the lack of snow we received while many of you to our south and west were often inundated with it, but we also enjoyed the annual winter-months traditions such as the Christmas Bazaar, Winter Festival and Chili Cook-Off.  It is now time to focus ahead.  Perhaps that is what April should be, the month to focus on what’s to come.   We now look forward to sprucing up the place in time to welcome back all of you who will soon be here again.  There will be family gatherings, annual parties, lazy days and busy days.  Gardens will be reaped and sown, aerobic fitness will be tested and for an all-too-brief period of time, the aromatic fragrance of lilacs will waft ever-so-wonderfully throughout the island.”
And with Greg’s exciting words of what’s to come in the not too distant future, I’ll close today’s post.  The Grand Hotel opens its door on April 22, so the season will be officially beginning next week.  This will be the last “off-season” update, but I’ll continue posting weekly news here until these “updates” at long last become the “several times a week” reviews of life on the island.  It’s coming fast now . . . get ready!
Have a great week, and God bless.

16 thoughts on “Mackinac Island Off-Season Update – Volume XXIV – 4/18/2011

  1. Bree – I have been subscribing to your blog for some time now, and it’s about time I drop a line and say thank you so much! Mackinac Island (and the surrounding area) is one of my favorite places on earth. I’ve had the good fortune to visit there anually for several years now. This year, on Mothers’ Day weekend, will however be the first time I will be staying ON the island. My sisters, my mom and I will be enjoying the Mothers’ Day weekend at The Grand. I am looking forward to introducing my sisters to the beauty of Mackinac Island. Thanks for sharing your little bit of paradise with all of us – I will never have the good fortune to live there, merely borrow the place for moments at a time – so it’s nice to visit via your blog every now & then. I keep threatening to bring along old land patents I have from the 19th century wherein my ancestors were granted property on the island and ask if I can re-claim the property…….just kidding, somehow I think they’re no longer in effect. Anyway – thanks so much for sharing. Stay well. Take care.

    • Hello Deborah! Thank you so much for writing, and I know you will enjoy your stay at the Grand on Mother’s Day. What a wonderful way to start the summer AND honor your mom. LOL about the land patents. I’d be getting those papers checked out – you never, never know. Dreams have come true on much less.

  2. Thanks once again for your updates.It was fun to read this as I look over my snow covered roofs at the bridge and beyond to your Island. We are expected to get several more snow storms this week with possible 6 – 10 inches. The winds yesterday were wild and no one could have gotten me to ride a Ferry. My friend will move to the Island today and I will treat her to lunch when she arrives at the Straits. We will drive her car back to Mackinaw city and put it in storage for her. The season has begun!!!

  3. Spring has always been my favorite time of year and even though it seems to be taking a little longer to get here this year, I’m hoping that Summer will make up for it by sticking around a little later in the season. One can hope..right?. I can’t wait for the “several times a week” updates, which will be here before you know it. I’m ready…just waiting on you! 🙂

  4. Hard to believe that spring is here and soon you will be back on the island. We are all anxious for your arrival and the wonderful news and pictures you will send. Thank you so much! LoL

  5. Once again, enjoyed your update as well as Greg’s. We too are experiencing some snow and cold again after coming off the weekend prior of temps in the 70’s & 80’s. So far our Spring has been alittle weird to say the least. My spring flowers are probably wondering what the heck is going on. I do see alot more activity when viewing the live cams (when they are working). Looking forward to more updates once you arrive on the big rock. Thanks!

  6. Hi Brenda,( another Niles Michigan person here.:-) ) It’s so nice to hear the updates from the island. It’s always seemed like they’re a month behind the lower part of the state, but I think after that last storm last night, we’re all in the weird weather category.
    Deborah might want to take her land grants up to the island–she might be part owner of the Grand–or the golf course. Of course she might have a problem erecting her summer home on the back nine.
    So looking forward to our, all too short, visits to the island this summer.
    Reading Greg’s description of the spring set-up of the island is like the take- down and set-up of the old traveling shows. Ready! Set! On with the show! No place on earth is like the island.

  7. Well – the land grants do say “for perpetuity all the heirs etc etc etc” and it’s signed on behalf of President Madison in 1811…….somehow I don’t think it’d stand up in court if I decided to just ‘squat’n stay’……….but it makes for interesting conversation. However, I suspect we lost it all after the War of 1812 when everything changed around. “The island is American!” “No – it’s British” “No – it’s American” ………well……..okay – move along then. So we all trudged to Drummond Island……….several years later ……”oh – oops – it’s not British – away you go then……….” so they all moved along to Canada…….well, some of the family anyway. Many stayed – I still have dozens of cousins on the US side of the border, and on Mackinac Island. But no land……However – still my favorite spot to visit.

  8. It doesn’t seem possible that another season is around the corner. Yet with this past winter I am so ready. It seems like here in Mid-Michigan we aren’t going to get a spring, like others have said we’ve had snow the past few days.

    I’ve been watching the webcam on Main Street and there seems to be more action each and every day.

    Thanks again Brenda for the updates. I need a little Mackinac Island in my life. 🙂

  9. Hi Bree! Thanks so much for the wonderful updates and also to Greg for his updates! I can’t believe its almost that time again, and you will be back on the Island! Yeah!

  10. Hi Bree. I have enjoyed your blog for a long time. I want to thank you for providing a look at the island from a view we would never have other wise. My family loves the Mackinaw area & the island is our favorite place on earth!! My son is coming with his class to the island in 3 weeks. The count down has begun. :o) I also, had to thank you for providing the link to the Iowa bald eagles. I can’t even put into words how much we have enjoyed watching those eagles. My son has watched so much that he knows the Mother eagle calls the Dad home around 7:30 in the morning. He hurries to get ready for school so we can watch both adult eagles on the nest & the babies eat breakfast.

    • Thank you so much for writing, Lori! Are you coming with your son? Sounds like he’s going to the island about the same time we are. I’m so excited he’s enjoying the eagles. Aren’t they amazing!! Have a great rest of the week. God bless.

      • Yes, Bree my husband & me are both coming with Josh on his 3rd grade trip. It will be quite a ride with 60 3rd graders. We are about an hour south of Lansing. Josh goes to Parma Elementary. The good news is we are taking charter buses, so we will ride in comfort. I wish we could spend the summer on the island, but we did spend our Honeymoon there. I look forward to your next post. Have a blessed Easter.

  11. Thank you for the wonderful post. “Mr. Wolfgang” was my high school art teacher and taught me an appreciation of all things beautiful–perhaps this is why I love Mackinac Island and your blog. I have been following your blog for over a year; my family stays on the island every July and perhaps this year I will run into the famous Bree (you took a photo of the Inn on Mackinac for me last year!).

    Have a beautiful Easter.

    • Good to hear from you, Lisa! Enjoy your Easter weekend, and please let me know when you’re going to be on the island as the date gets closer.

  12. It needs to quit snowing in Michigan, Bree. NOW!!! Here in the U.P. we’ve had snow the last two weekends. We’re ready for it to cease & desist. 🙂

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