Mackinac Island

Covering a total area of 11.3 km2, Mackinac Island is a National History Landmark and a resort area located in the US state of Michigan. This island with its exquisite beauty serves as an ideal vacation spot for families. Mackinac Island is strategically positioned between the Lower and Upper Peninsulas of the state of Michigan. It is situated at the eastern edge of the Straits of Mackinac in Lake Huron.

The Indigenous Americans believed that the island shape resembled that of a turtle and hence they named it “Mishimikinaak” in the Ojibwe language, which means “big turtle.” The French named the island “Michilimackinac.” It was the British who shortened the island’s name to “Mackinac.”

Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island.

Geography

Mackinac Island has a circumference of only 13 km and is mostly covered by extensive forests. The island’s landscape is composed of marshes, swamps, fields, meadows, boreal forests, caves and limestone formations. The Mackinac Island State Park occupies about 80% of the island, including portions of the harbor and historic downtown district. Some of the significant natural geologic landmarks of the island are Skull Cave, Sugar Loaf, Devil’s Kitchen and the Arch Rock.

Mackinac Island coastline, Michigan, US.

The historic Fort Holmes, rising to an elevation of 98 m above lake level, is the highest point on the island of Mackinac. According to the United States Census conducted in 2010, the island has a population of approximately 492 permanent residents.

History

Market Street, Mackinac Island, Michigan, US. Image credit: Alexey Stiop/Shutterstock

Mackinac Island was formed around 13,000 BCE as a result of the deglaciation during the last Ice Age. The melting of the glaciers also led to the formation of the Great Lakes whose receding waters eroded the island’s bedrock, eventually forming the steep limestone cliffs and other rock formations around the island. 

The island was revered as a sacred place by the Indigenous tribes and therefore served as a final resting place for them. In the 1600s, French fur traders first explored the island. After a war between the French and the Indigenous peoples, the British occupied the island in 1780 and established Fort Mackinac. The United States took control of the island in 1783. However, the island was once again briefly occupied by the British during the War of 1812. The United States regained the island’s possession in 1815. The historic Fort Mackinac was then rechristened as Fort Holmes by the United States. During the 1820s, the island served as the headquarters of the American Fur Company that was run by a merchant named John Jacob Astor. The company’s establishment transformed Mackinac Island into a major commercial and tourism center.

The use of automobiles is prohibited on the island and the visitors to the island can relax and enjoy the island’s scenic beauty on horse-drawn carriages, by foot or on bicycles. Ferry services are offered from Michigan’s Mackinaw City (Lower Peninsula) or Saint Ignace (Upper Peninsula).  

Wildlife

Canada geese on Mackinac Island, Michigan, US.

The Mackinac Island comprises more than 600 vascular plant species. Numerous wildflowers and flowering plants like spring beauty, trillium, trout lily, hepatica, yellow and violet slippers, wood lilies, hawkweeds, and buttercups are also found in abundance on the island. A large variety of orchids, jack-in-the-pulpit and fringed gentian are found along the island’s shoreline. The boreal forests of the island contain several important trees such as elm, cedar, maple, pine, birch and spruce. Mackinac Island is frequently visited by a number of migratory birds like the yellow warbler, American redstart, indigo bunting, snowy owl, great gray owl and black-throated green warbler. Birds like bald eagles and golden eagles and broad-winged hawks are found on the island during late April and early May. Some birds like herrings, gulls, cormorants, and herons are mostly found along the island’s shoreline. Birds like black-capped chickadees, blue jays, woodpeckers and cardinals are found on the island throughout the year.

The Straits of Mackinac, which separates the island from the mainland, served as a barrier for large land mammals. Nevertheless, some mammals like wolves, deers, coyotes and bears are occasionally found on the island. The bat is the most abundant mammal that is found on Mackinac Island. The limestone caves of the island serve as their residing place and they feed on insects (mainly mosquitoes) and nectar from the variety of flowers that grow on the island.

Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island map. Image credit: Eric Gaba (Sting - fr:Sting)/ Wikimedia Commons
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