Popular Mackinac Island Ferry Docked for the Winter
The tourist season is officially over as one company has pulled all their boats for the winter. Find out how locals make the essential trip to the mainland.
December 21 is officially the first day of winter, but it begins even before the gales of November blow across the Straits of Mackinac. Shepler's Mackinac Island Ferry has just pulled The Welcome, the oldest vessel in the fleet, from the water and she will rest in dry dock until spring. The remainder of the Shepler boats will follow as the Grand Hotel closes at the end of October as the island begins to hibernate for the winter.
But what about the locals?
The top tourist destination in Michigan doesn't see many visitors during the off-season, but some call the island home year-round. Mackinac Island is a very different place in the winter and sometimes, just getting around can be a challenge. Horsepower is still horsepower, but the stallions are replaced by snowmobiles that pull sleds for transportation during the winter months. Only a few horses are kept on the island to serve as horse-drawn taxis and to deliver goods.
Doesn't the lake freeze? How do people get back and forth?
Yes, the Straits of Mackinac do sometimes freeze deep into the winter, and a hidden number of shipwrecks testify to how dangerous the waters can be. Although Shepler's shuts down, Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry continues service from St. Ignace as weather permits. There are also two airlines that fly from St. Ignace to the Island as Mother Nature allows.
Is anything even open?
A few businesses like Doud's Market, America's oldest family-operated grocery store, a hardware store, the ferry gift shop, and a salon are open all year. Of course, you can also get fudge as JoAnn's, Murdick's, and Ryba's all have at least one storefront in business. An annual Christmas bazaar lights up the holiday season and the citizens of Mackinac Island ring in the new year with the Great Turtle Drop.
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