A picture of the Mackinac Island State Park sign, with a small building behind it, fall colors including red and orange, and Fort Mackinac behind everything.

The Seasons of Mackinac

A picture of the Mackinac Island State Park sign, with a small building behind it, fall colors including red and orange, and Fort Mackinac behind everything.

Marquette Park in fall.

Perhaps the best part of Michigan is the changing of the seasons. Fall in northern Michigan brings a peace and calm as nature starts to go to sleep. Winter brings a respite – everything gets a fresh start. After the break, spring arrives, and everything is renewed with energy. Summer is when nature truly blooms and thrives, only for the cycle to reset in the fall. It’s fair, and possibly safe, to say Michigan is one of the best states to experience the extremes of all seasons, and what better way to experience them than by exploring the Straits area? Here is your guide…

Winter:

 The best way to spend your winter visit to the Straits of Mackinac is outside! The island can be hard to get to so try exploring Mackinaw City. Michilimackinac State Park is as beautiful in the winter as it is in the summer, with amazing views of the Mackinac Bridge, Mackinac Island, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, and the Straits of Mackinac. As winter progresses and the lake freezes, moving currents can create sheets of blue ice. Visiting Michilimackinac State Park offers the best views of the blue ice when it forms.

Snow on the ground and trees covered in snow, with the Historic Mill Creek sawmill in the background.

One of the many amazing winter views available at Historic Mill Creek.

 Historic Mill Creek, just east of downtown Mackinaw City, is also a wonderful winter spot. It offers over three miles of beautiful snow-covered trails so you can get your steps in and experience the North Woods at the same time! There are occasional winter programs hosted at Mill Creek, including a Snowshoe Stroll in March. Mill Creek State Park is always open, with parking available near US 23.

 Spring and Summer:

 Lilac season is one of the most sought-after times to visit Mackinac Island. The island is abuzz, gearing up for the annual Lilac Festival. The scent of lilacs flows through the air following you on your exploration of the island. It’s a wonderful time of year to visit as the island comes alive after the sleepy winter season.

A white and purple lilac bush with green grass around it and Fort Mackinac in the distance.

Lilac time on Mackinac Island.

 Historic Mill Creek is also special in the spring. Wildflowers are abundant along the guided trail system, and the sound of singing birds can be heard throughout. The Mill Pond is also full from the spring thaw, creating a beautiful waterfall over the Mill Dam.

 Summer is prime time in the Straits area. It’s the time for family vacations, festivals and races, chances to catch warm summer breezes and a chance to extend your Straits visit with the long sunny days. If you are looking to catch a break from the busy downtown, one of the best ways to spend a summer day on the island is to explore Mackinac Island State Park. The island has wonderful nature trails, overlooks, historical sites and more to explore. It is a nature junkie’s haven. A suggested itinerary for the more experienced nature enthusiast is taking a hike on Tranquil Bluff Trail. After visiting the new Milliken Nature Center at Arch Rock, take the stairs up to the Tranquil Bluff trailhead and begin your journey along the bluff. If you are looking for a more leisurely stroll, the Arch Rock Botanical Trail would be for you. A paved path featuring signage with information the nature of the island will give you an easy, undisturbed adventure out to Arch Rock. Bonus: If you are staying over night on the island and want to catch the sunset or go stargazing, Mackinac State Historic Parks has the perfect spots. Catch the sunset on the west side of the island either on the beach just off M-185 or up the bluff at Sunset Rock. The perfect spot for stargazing is the highest point on the island – Fort Holmes. On a clear night, it will seem like you can reach out and touch the stars. Bonus two: sunrise at Arch Rock is hard to beat, and, most likely, you’ll have the place to yourself.

People sitting on a bench looking out at the Straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Bridge.

Enjoying the view from Michilimackinac State Park.

 In Mackinaw City, there may be nothing quite as peaceful as sitting on a bench in Michilimackinac State Park enjoying the sunset as you look out over the Straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Bridge. With the lighthouse standing guard behind you, the gentle sounds of the waves reaching the shore will bring you a sense of calm to wind down your busy day in the Straits. If you want to see what Colonial Michilimackinac is like in the summer in the evening, join us for Moonlit Michilimackinac, a free special event in August.

 Fall:

View from Fort Mackinac in the fall, featuring houses, cloud cover, and colorful leaves.

View from Fort Mackinac in the fall.

 There is no scientific data to back this up, but, if you ask seasonal and permanent residents of the Straits, most will likely tell you fall is their favorite season. Everything starts to change. The colors turn and cooler temperatures flow in. On the island, people (and horses) board the ferries for their final departure, and a sort of quiet sets in. This is the perfect time to hike on Mackinac Island. The color views from Fort Holmes and the bluffs are incredible. A fall bike ride to the interior and then down to British Landing has to be done to be truly appreciated.

A child throwing leaves in the air in fall at Historic Mill Creek.

Fall at Historic Mill Creek.

 Over in Mackinaw City, Historic Mill Creek is the place to be in fall, just like in winter and spring. As you walk along the trails you are enveloped in a sea of colors, with the ever-present creek noise in the background. Mill Creek is also a great place to take your dog (on a leash, of course). If there is ever a place to get those Pure Michigan vibes in the fall, it’s Mill Creek.

 No matter what season you decide to visit the Straits area, you will not be disappointed. There are always beautiful things to experience while exploring northern Michigan. Explore the different activities Mackinac Island State Park, Michilimackinac State Park, and Mill Creek State Park have to offer. And don’t forget to stop and appreciate all the natural beauty in the seasons of Mackinac.

What’s in Store for ’24?

As the calendar flips to 2024, the Mackinac State Historic Parks crew is hard at work constructing new buildings, creating new exhibits, fine-tuning programs, preparing the historic sites, and finalizing special events to share the rich historic and natural treasures of Mackinac Island and Mackinaw City.

 “We are excited to welcome visitors to experience our parks and numerous attractions,” said Steve Brisson, Mackinac State Historic Parks Director. “We are hard at work and busy preparing to have everything ready for our spring openings.”

A rendering of the new Milliken Nature Center at Arch Rock.

A rendering of the new Milliken Nature Center at Arch Rock.

 The Milliken Nature Center is built to accent the natural beauty of Arch Rock – not dominate it. The exhibit inside, Arch Rock: Unsurpassed in Nature’s Beauty, will celebrate what was known as the “Jewel of the Mackinac National Park” and is still today known as a “Star Attraction of Mackinac Island State Park.” It features dozens of stunning historic images of Arch Rock as well as a timeline on how the arch was formed. In addition, the center will highlight geology on Mackinac Island as a whole, from the formation of the island itself and how stunning features such as Sugarloaf Rock and Skull Cave came to be. A highlight of the center will be an interactive 3D map of the island. Finally, modern new restrooms will also be located at the site.

A rendering of a new exhibit inside the Milliken Nature Center at Arch Rock.

A rendering of the new exhibit, “Arch Rock: Unsurpassed in Nature’s Handiwork,” at the Milliken Nature Center.

 “The Milliken Nature Center will be a welcome and fitting addition to Mackinac Island State Park,” Brisson said. “We look forward to welcoming guests this spring. We’re honored it will feature the name of Governor Milliken, who loved this island, and are appreciative of the support of Governor Whitmer, the state legislature, and Mackinac Associates to see this project come to fruition.”

The Milliken Nature Center and restrooms are slated to open May 3.

Construction in front of a historic building with a construction worker.

Progress on the Southwest Rowhouse addition in mid-December.

 Moving to Mackinaw City, construction is underway on the first new building at Colonial Michilimackinac since 2013. Located on the east end of the Southwest Rowhouse, the building will host a new exhibit, combining archaeological and archival research to help present community life at Michilimackinac in the 1700s: Slavery at the Straits. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, slavery was integral part of the community at Michilimackinac, as well as the rest of Michigan. Enslaved Black and Native American men and women worked in all levels of society, doing everything from domestic work to skilled labor. Already a hub of the Great Lakes fur trade, Michilimackinac also served as the center of the regional trade in enslaved workers as French and British colonists exploited preexisting systems of Native American enslavement to feed a growing demand for enslaved labor.

“This new exhibit explores the lives of these enslaved individuals and how their experiences fit in with the larger story of Michilimackinac, allowing us to present a more complete vision of the site in the 18th century,” Brisson said.

An overview of the archaeological dig and historic buildings in the background.

A new tour highlighting historic architecture adds to the robust schedule at Colonial Michilimackinac.

 Staying at Michilimackinac, the year 1781 will be explored, when local and global forces uprooted the entire community as soldiers and civilians relocated to Mackinac Island. After six decades as a thriving diplomatic and economic hub, Michilimackinac came to an end in 1781. A special daily program will go into detail on the end of Michilimackinac.

 Other programs throughout the day explore the rich history of the site and showcase how it was more than a military outpost. Get an up-close look at the merchandise that passed through Michilimackinac during the height of the fur trade; learn about the different architectural styles found at the fort; explore dining culture at a Merchant’s House; explore the 5,500 square feet of gardens during an engaging tour; have tea at a British Trader’s home and dive into the complexities of British society; find out what civilians and soldiers were up to; and, of course, feel the power of Michilimackinac’s weapons with musket and artillery firings.

 “The gorgeous setting and beautiful reconstruction of the 18th century fur trading village and fort overlooking the Straits of Mackinac are worth a visit for everyone that comes to Mackinaw City,” said LeeAnn Ewer, Curator of Interpretation. “Here you will be able to explore and learn about what the last year of Michilimackinac was like for the soldiers and civilians that disassembled the community and moved to Mackinac Island. Our newest tour will highlight the move to the island, as well as the historic architecture that would have housed the community daily from Michigan weather as well as the occasional war.”

A person holding tweezers looking for artifacts at the Colonial Michilimackinac archaeology dig.

Mackinac State Historic Parks archaeology program will enter its 66th year in 2024.

 The Mackinac State Historic Parks’ archaeology program will enter its 66th season in 2024. Work will continue in House E of the Southeast Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac. Archaeologists will be out daily (weather permitting) during the summer months. Guests will have the opportunity to see the most recent finds at Colonial Michilimackinac with a “Recent Excavations” display inside the Colonial Michilimackinac Visitor’s Center.

 Want to get closer than ever to the action at Colonial Michilimackinac? Guests have two opportunities to fire black powder weapons: an opening cannon blast, at 9:30 a.m., or they can fire the full complement of weapons at Guns Across the Straits. Reservations for either program can be made by calling (231) 436-4100. More information can be found here.

 Special events at Colonial Michilimackinac include exhilarating “Fire at Night” programs, deep dives into Michilimackinac’s maritime history, a celebration of the King’s Birth-day on June 4, a look at Askin’s Men and Women at Michilimackinac in August, a moonlit Michilimackinac evening, the ever-popular Fort Fright, and A Colonial Christmas. More information can be found at mackinacparks.com/events.

Colonial Michilimackinac opens for the 2024 season May 8.

An oil house added at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse under cloudy skies.

The Oil House added in 2023. A privy, pump, and flagpole will be added in 2024 to complete the restoration of the house to its 1910 appearance.

 Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, across the park from Colonial Michilimackinac, will see the continued restoration of the site to its 1910 appearance. This summer will see small details added to the site, including a privy, pump, and flagpole. A small sidewalk will be added to the privy and pump, and, along with the oil house that was added in 2023, new interpretive signs will be added. Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse opens for the season May 9.

 Programs at Historic Mill Creek feature daily demonstrations of a reconstructed 18th century sawmill. With the smell of fresh sawdust in the air, the awesome power of the water never fails to impress as the mill springs to life, fed by the pond and ever-flowing currents of Mill Creek. Log hewing and pitsaw demonstrations will be relocated near the millpond, providing easier access and shaded seating for visitors of all ages. At the workshop historic farming programs highlight what life was like beyond the sawmill more than 200 years ago.

A young raccoon.

Themed weeks, including a Wildlife Week, highlight the Historic Mill Creek schedule in 2024.

 During the summer months, special themed weeks will dig deeper into the story of Historic Mill Creek. From June 23-29, enjoy “Wildlife Week at Historic Mill Creek,” featuring the amazing animals of the North Woods. From July 21-27, enjoy “Hay Cutters & Summer Pasture,” as programs explore historic hay making at the Straits of Mackinac. Finally, August 18-24 will feature “Lost Rocks & Mackinac Millstones,” where guests will earn about the grist mill at Mill Creek, and how the Mill Creek millstones were hewn from “lost rocks” deposited by glaciers thousands of years ago.

 On the wild side, Historic Mill Creek’s 3.5 miles of interpreted hiking trails are always open and available to explore. During the summer months, join a trained naturalist at various times of the day for a guided walk along the trails, looking for blooming wildflowers, fruiting fungi, and singing birds among the trees, as well as for any wildlife along the banks of Mill Creek.

 “We’re excited to enter a year of transition at Historic Mill Creek,” shared Park Naturalist Kyle Bagnall. “This year, special themed weeks will highlight aspects of the site’s amazing history. Guests can join a naturalist for short, guided trail walks. We’ll bask in the summer sun as we listen for the swish of the scythe and tales of historic hay cutters. Finally, we’ll join a hunt for “lost rocks” which traveled hundreds of miles thousands of years ago before landing at Mackinac.”

 Historic Mill Creek will also host two special Snowshoe Strolls, on February 10 and March 3, both from 2:00-3:30 p.m. Bring your snowshoes and explore the snowy North Woods on this guided stroll. This two-mile guided hike will allow you to search for signs of wildlife and other wonders of the natural world. After the walk enjoy treats near a campfire. This event is admission by donation.

 Historic Mill Creek opens for the regular 2024 season May 10.

A person dressed as a historic soldiers leads a group at Fort Mackinac on the Parade Ground.

A new ‘Medicine at Mackinac’ tour will showcase Army Surgeons and military medicine in the 1880s.

 Moving back to Mackinac Island, Fort Mackinac opens for the 2024 season on May 3. Guests can discover two new programs: “Medicine at Mackinac,” where interpreters will provide the history of Army Surgeons and how the Army began changing military medicine in the 1880s. In addition, a Guard Mount Program will show guests how soldiers would conduct this complex military ceremony. Other programs at the fort include a walking tour about the changing face of Fort Mackinac, an exploration of the people who lived and worked at the fort, how the Army of the 1880s conducted itself, a look at Mackinac’s time as a national park, a program showcasing the equipment a soldier was issued, and an exploration of what happened at Fort Mackinac after the sun set. In addition, the classic rifle and cannon firing demonstrations will both feature refreshed presentations.

 “2024 will be an exciting year because we are continuing to expand the programs we offer as well as adding greater depth to our classic programs, creating a fun and educational experience for anyone coming to Mackinac Island,” explained Jack Swartzinski, Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Interpretation Coordinator.

 The Tea Room at Fort Mackinac, operated by Grand Hotel, will feature new menu items for the 2024 season, and, as always, will feature one of the most stunning views in Michigan. Perhaps the way to make a Fort Mackinac visit most memorable is firing the opening cannon salute, which is available to one guest daily. More information can be found here.

Fairy Arch by Henry Chapman Ford 1874

Fairy Arch by Henry Chapman Ford (1874).

 The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, located in Marquette Park in front of Fort Mackinac, will feature Mackinac Rocks!, a juried exhibition in the second floor changing gallery. From looking in wonder at the natural curiosity that is Arch Rock to skipping rocks at Windermere Point, to maybe enjoying some ‘rock’ at a local establishment or the fact that Mackinac Island is itself a large rock, it is safe to say that Mackinac Rocks!

 An art attendant will lead guided tours of the galleries, including a look at Native American art on Mackinac, and the works of photographer William Gardiner. In addition, the attendant will lead two “Kids’ Time” crafts in the lower-level art studio. The sixth nine artists-in-residence will stay on Mackinac Island throughout the summer. Each artist will host a special, free workshop on the second Wednesday of their residency.

 Elsewhere on Mackinac Island, the Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, shares the continuing story of the Anishnaabek on Mackinac Island, with daily interpretive programs and engaging exhibits. The Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, located next door to the Biddle House, is a working blacksmith shop that dives into the 1950s and the changing culture of workers on Mackinac Island. The American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum and McGulpin House have both received new exhibits in the past two years. Admission to all of these sites is included with a Fort Mackinac or Historic Downtown Mackinac ticket.

 The Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, and The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum open for the 2024 season on May 10. The McGulpin House and American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum open June 1.

A baseball player getting ready to swing a bat wearing a blue and gray uniform.

The annual ‘Vintage Base Ball’ game is a highlight of the summer season.

 Special events at Fort Mackinac and Mackinac Island include Twilight Turtle Treks on January 13, February 3 and March 2; the Fort2Fort Five Mile Challenge May 11; the annual Vintage Base Ball game July 27; special activities for July 4; special history evening programs including a guided tour of Historic Downtown Mackinac as it would have looked in the 1830s and a tour highlighting the creation of the village of Mackinac Island; special nature and birdwatching tours; night sky programs at Fort Holmes and Arch Rock; bike tours looking at Mackinac’s forgotten features and the War of 1812; and much more. More information can be found at mackinacparks.com/events.

 Every museum store will feature new items inspired by the site they represent. The Official Mackinac Island State Park Store, inside the Mackinac Island State Park Visitor’s Center, will continue to have new items inspired by the historic and natural elements of Mackinac Island.

 Most major projects were funded, in part, by Mackinac Associates. Visit mackinacparks.com for a complete listing of updates and projects at Mackinac State Historic Parks, hours of operation, daily events, special events, and more.

Lost Rocks & Mackinac Millstones at Historic Mill Creek

While limestone formations are famous at Mackinac, other geological wonders lie hidden underfoot. Today at Historic Mill Creek special programs highlight the grist mill which once ground grain into flour. Our millstones were hewn from “lost rocks,” boulders deposited by glaciers thousands of years ago. Learn what evidence of milling has been found here, how the process worked, and what grains were grown at the Straits of Mackinac. Also enjoy a lost rock scavenger hunt along the trails. #thisismackinac

Special programs at 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m.

A young raccoon.

Wildlife Week at Historic Mill Creek

Today’s nature programs at Historic Mill Creek feature amazing animals of the North Woods. We’ll peek at what’s swimming in the mill pond, find signs of life along the forest floor, and watch for birds overhead. Guided trail walks lead to fresh beaver activity along the creek as we look and listen for other wonders. Or, explore on your own with a nature discovery scavenger hunt. #thisismackinac

Special programs at 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m.

Residents Appreciation Day

For residents of Mackinac, Cheboygan, or Emmet counties, for one weekend, we discount the admission prices for all of our sites to what they were when we first began operating our modern museum programs for the public in 1958. (.50 cents adults, .25 cents children). Thank you for supporting Mackinac State Historic Parks!

This special offer includes residents of Mackinac, Cheboygan and Emmet counties. Proof of residency is required (e.g. driver’s license).

Snowshoe Stroll at Historic Mill Creek

Bring your snowshoes and explore the snowy North Woods on a guided stroll at Historic Mill Creek. Meet Kyle Bagnall, Park Naturalist, in the parking lot where we’ll begin a leisurely stroll of about 2 miles. Along the way, we’ll search for signs of wildlife and other wonders of the natural world. After the walk, we’ll stop at the Forest Clearing to enjoy treats near a campfire. Admission by donation.

Preserving History and the Natural Beauty of the Straits

Enchanting. Relaxing. Magical. Mackinac evokes so many memories and images of a special place that has allowed individuals and families to create memories and unique experiences. In managing more than 80% of Mackinac Island and the properties at Michilimackinac State Park and Mill Creek State Park, Mackinac State Historic Parks has the unique ability to protect and preserve our most treasured natural and historical resources in the Straits of Mackinac. And through the park’s friends’ group, Mackinac Associates, you can be a part of preserving these wonderful resources for generations to come, too.

 Since 1982, Mackinac Associates has provided over $3 million of support for Mackinac State Historic Parks with funds raised through membership fees, sponsorships, and fundraising campaigns. These funds have supported an expansive and remarkable list of projects both large and small in every area of Mackinac State Historic Parks operation. Gifts made through Mackinac Associates make possible the interpretive programs, publications, new and renovated exhibits, natural history education, and park improvements that visitors enjoy every year.

 How can you be a part of preserving and sharing Mackinac’s heritage?

  1. A cannon firing demonstration at Fort Mackinac. Become A Member

 Mackinac Associates members are passionate about preserving the rich history and natural beauty of the Straits of Mackinac and can treasure the fact that they have a direct hand in helping to protect, preserve, and present Mackinac’s rich historic and natural resources.  There are two branches of membership – Annual Members and Heritage Season Pass holders.

 Annual members receive a wide range of social and education benefits, including:

  •  Unlimited admission to all Mackinac State Historic Parks sites during the operating season
  • 15% discount at all MSHP museum stores and on the Forest Adventure Experience at Mill Creek
  • Guest admission passes at a reduced rate
  • One-year subscription to Curiosities, our newsletter
  • Invitations to Mackinac Associates member-only events and free admission for annual members to special MSHP events and programs such as Fort Fright and A Colonial Christmas

 Heritage Season Pass holders enjoy free admission at all Mackinac State Historic Park sites for two adults and children or grandchildren under age 18 during the current season. Heritage Season Passes expire October 31 of each year and do not include the additional benefits available to annual members.

 Learn more about available member benefits and how to become a Mackinac Associates member today: https://mackinacassociates.com/benefits

  1. Make a Donation

 Every dollar has an impact. Mackinac Associates helps fund projects both large and small and this past year was no exception with nearly $200,000 in projects sponsored across Mackinac State Historic Parks sites and operations, including:

  • -Continuation of the McGulpin House Dendroarchaeology Study
  • -Purchasing of supplies for the blacksmith shop at Colonial Michilimackinac and the repurposing of a barn building to move the blacksmith shop outside fort walls to a more historically correct location
  • -Updates to the Dr. Beaumont Museum exhibition in the American Fur Company building
  • -Colonial Michilimackinac Southwest Rowhouse addition design plan
  • -Sign upgrades and replacements for Mackinac State Historic Parks
  • -Electrical upgrades for Schoolhouse building in Fort Mackinac
  • -Replacement circuit panel in Hill Quarters
  • -Touchscreens within exhibits at Fort Mackinac and Colonial Michilimackinac
  • -New projector for Fort Mackinac Post Hospital
  • -Funding for The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum annual art contest prize money
  • -Support for Mackinac State Historic Parks’ education outreach programs
A trail at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park.The dendroarchaeology study at the McGulpin House.

Entrance to the Dr. Beaumont exhibit at the American Fur Co. Store. A blacksmith at work at Colonial Michilimackinac. With your help, we can continue to support the programs, projects, and park improvements throughout all Mackinac State Historic Parks that will be impactful for many years to come. To make a donation and see other projects we have funded, visit https://mackinacassociates.squarespace.com/current-completed-projects.

  1. Leave A Legacy

 In managing more than 80% of Mackinac Island and the properties at Michilimackinac State Park and Mill Creek State Park in Mackinaw City, Mackinac State Historic Parks has the unique ability to protect and preserve the most treasured natural and historical resources in the Straits of Mackinac. Through the Mackinac Associates Legacy Society, you can help us preserve these wonderful resources for generations to come. Common considerations when thinking about planned giving include remembering Mackinac Associates in your will, designating our organization as a beneficiary, or the gift of retirement assets or stocks. If you have already remembered us in your estate planning, please let us know so that we can extend our gratitude and provide the recognition you deserve.

 Join us in this partnership to ensure future generations will be able to visit and enjoy our special place: https://mackinacassociates.squarespace.com/current-completed-projects.

  1. Support Our Wish List

A view of Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.  If you enjoy the interpretation and programs at Mackinac State Historic Parks, we support an ongoing wish list of items requested by staff for the Parks’ gardens such as plants, seeds and tools, period-appropriate clothing and accessories for our hard-working interpreters, equipment for our blacksmiths, carpenters, and fort soldiers, and publications for the Keith Widder Library. Items on our wish list usually range between $50 and $300 and represent supplies that we can always use more of as we continue our interpretive programs and demonstrations throughout our sites.

A historic interpreter watering flowers at Colonial Michilimackinac.  A gift of any size can fulfill a tangible and essential need, to help us fulfil our current needs, visit https://mackinacassociates.squarespace.com/fund-a-need.

 Mackinac State Historic Parks has the unique ability to protect and preserve our most treasured historic and natural resources in the Straits of Mackinac. Thanks to the generosity of members, donors and sponsors, Mackinac Associates has provided over $3,000,000 in support of programs, projects and park improvements since its inception. Through Mackinac Associates you too can be part of preserving these wonderful resources for generations to come. To learn more, visit https://mackinacassociates.com/.

Artifacts stored at Mill Creek.

Archaeological Collections Management at MSHP and the IMLS

Mackinac State Historic Parks has been conducting archaeological excavations at its sites for over sixty years. This has resulted in the recovery of over one million artifacts and reams of field notes, maps and other documentation of the excavations. Because excavating a site destroys it, preserving these artifacts and records is a crucial part of MSHP’s stewardship mission.

Field books stored in the Keith Widder Library in the Petersen Center in Mackinaw City.

Archaeological field records stored in the Petersen Center in Mackinaw City.

 For many years the artifacts were housed in Lansing, while the records were stored in Mackinaw City. Paper records were microfilmed, with the microfilm stored in a separate location as a physical back-up copy. Today the paper records are scanned instead.

 In the mid-1990s, MSHP purchased a computerized collections database package. We subsequently received a grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to enter all the archaeological artifact catalog information into the database. Three data entry clerks were hired for two years to accomplish this task. The biggest gap in the initial data entry project was that the artifacts were still in Lansing, so their exact storage locations could not be entered.

Archaeological artifact cabinet in the Petersen Center in Mackinaw City.

Archaeological artifact cabinets in the Petersen Center.

 With the completion of the Petersen Center in 2001, the archaeological collections were moved north. The vast majority are housed in the Petersen Center, but building materials, such as chinking and nails, which have less strict climate control requirements, are stored at Mill Creek. Once the collection was moved north, staff attempted to update the database with location information, but the task was too big to complete alongside other duties. In 2010 another IMLS grant was secured to hire three inventory assistants. Over the course of two years, they physically inventoried and updated the database record for all the Michilimackinac archaeological artifacts housed in the Petersen Center.

Artifacts stored at Mill Creek.

Building materials stored at Mill Creek.

 While the Michilimackinac collection makes up the majority of the archaeological collection, major excavations have been carried out at Fort Mackinac and Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park as well. Last year MSHP received another IMLS grant to inventory and update records for the Mill Creek artifacts and some of the Fort Mackinac artifacts. This grant will also include inventory and re-housing of a portion of the architectural artifacts stored at Mill Creek. This project began in October 2022 and will continue through August 2025.

Staff member Alex Michnick inventorying items.

Alex Michnick inventorying Mill Creek ceramics.

 These grants have assisted MSHP in fulfilling the preservation aspect of its mission. By making the archaeological collection more accessible to staff and researchers, they also have made presenting the results of our archaeological investigations easier as well. Archaeological artifacts are exhibited to the public at all MSHP sites providing a tangible connection to the lives of the people who lived and worked at the sites in the past.

 

What’s New for 2023?

As the calendar flips to the new year, the Mackinac State Historic Parks crew is busy preparing its historic sites and parks for an exciting 2023 season.

 “We are excited to welcome visitors to experience our parks and numerous attractions,” said Steve Brisson, Mackinac State Historic Parks Director. “We have added a variety of new exhibits and programs over the last few years, and our staff is busy preparing to have everything ready for our spring openings.”

2023 marks the 125th anniversary of the automobile ban on Mackinac Island. Mackinac State Historic Parks will mark this occasion with a special event on July 22, complete with an 1886 Benz Motorwagen on the island. The “horseless vehicle” will also be on display outside Fort Mackinac during the day on July 22. A special commemorative logo has been developed and will be found on merchandise at Mackinac State Historic Parks museum stores, as well as on the license plates found on carriages throughout the island. A new vignette, written by former Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Director Phil Porter, will also be published for the anniversary.

“Mackinac Island is famous for many things, but the century and a quarter-old ban on motorized vehicles is truly at the top of why it is such a special place,” Brisson said.

Staying on the island, Fort Mackinac opens for the 2023 season on May 4. The museum store and theater have swapped spaces, with the store now in the Commissary and the theater now in the Soldiers’ Barracks. The swap is part of a larger interpretive plan for the barracks which will happen in stages in coming years. The Fort Mackinac Museum Store will continue to feature publications, apparel, and one-of-a-kind souvenirs.

Additionally at Fort Mackinac, a new program titled “Soldier’s Gear and Quartermasters’ Storehouse” will allow visitors to see what soldiers would have been issued at Fort Mackinac in the 1880s and how that had an impact on their daily lives. Classic programs, such as the rifle and cannon firing demonstrations, will feature fresh perspectives. Other programs will highlight the changing face of Fort Mackinac, the historic residents who called the fort home, a look at Mackinac as a national park, the role women played at the fort, and what happened in the evening at Fort Mackinac.

“We hope to display the unique mix of the military culture and tourism at Fort Mackinac in those last years of Mackinac National Park,” explained Jack Swartzinski, Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Interpretation Coordinator.

The Tea Room at Fort Mackinac, operated by Grand Hotel, will feature new menu items for the 2023 season, and, as always, will feature one of the most stunning views in Michigan. Perhaps the way to make a Fort Mackinac visit most memorable is firing the opening cannon salute, which is available to one guest daily. More information can be found here.

Elsewhere on Mackinac Island, the McGulpin House, one of the oldest residential structures on the island (built in 1790) and a rare and excellent display of French Canadian domestic architecture, will receive brand new exhibits for the 2023 season. The Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, shares the continuing store of the Anishnaabek on Mackinac Island, with daily interpretive programs and engaging exhibits. The Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, located next door to the Biddle House, is a working blacksmith shop that dives into the 1950s and the changing culture of workers on Mackinac Island. The American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum received a new exhibit in 2022. Admission to all of these sites is included with a Fort Mackinac or Historic Downtown Mackinac ticket.

At The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, located in front of Fort Mackinac in Marquette Park, a new juried art exhibition will debut on the second floor – “A Mackinac Day.” There’s always something special about being able to spend a day on Mackinac. The sun seems to shine a little brighter. The sky seems a little bluer. Even days where things don’t go to plan can seem perfect. Everybody has their “Mackinac Day.” The gallery will be on display from May 12 – October 8. An art attendant, new for 2023, will guide guests through the museum and provide a better understanding of the art and artists who have created art inspired by the Straits of Mackinac. Additionally, eight artists-in-residence will stay on Mackinac Island throughout the summer. Each artist will host a special, free workshop on the second Wednesday of their residency.

The Biddle House, featuring the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, and The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum open for the 2023 season on May 12. The McGulpin House and American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum open June 3.

Special events at Fort Mackinac and Mackinac Island include Twilight Turtle Treks on January 7, February 7 and March 7; the Fort2Fort Five Mile Challenge May 13; the annual Vintage Base Ball game July 29; special activities for July 4; special history evening programs including a guided tour of Historic Downtown Mackinac as it would have looked in the 1830s and a tour highlighting the creation of the village of Mackinac Island; special nature and birdwatching tours; night sky programs at Fort Holmes and Arch Rock; bike tours looking at Mackinac’s forgotten features and the War of 1812; and much more. More information can be found at mackinacparks.com/events.

The year 1780 will be explored at Colonial Michilimackinac, in Mackinaw City, where mischief and mayhem reigned. 1780 saw this isolated British outpost become a scene of paranoia, military mischief, and, from a certain point of view, mutiny. A special daily program will explore this spirit of dissention and disobedience that destabilized Michilimackinac’s garrison.

Other programs throughout the day explore the rich history of the site and showcase how it was more than a military outpost. Get an up-close look at the merchandise that passed through Michilimackinac during the height of the fur trade; explore dining culture at a Merchant’s House; learn about the enslaved community at Michilimackinac; explore the 5,500 square feet of gardens during an engaging tour; have tea at a British Trader’s home and dive into the complexities of British society; find out what civilians and soldiers were up to; and, of course, feel the power of Michilimackinac’s weapons with musket and artillery firings.

The Mackinac State Historic Parks’ archaeology program will enter its 65th season in 2023. Work will continue in House E of the Southeast Rowhouse at Colonial Michilimackinac. Archaeologists will be out daily (weather permitting) during the summer months. Guests will have the opportunity to see the most recent finds at Colonial Michilimackinac with a new “Recent Excavations” display inside the Colonial Michilimackinac Visitor’s Center.

Guests now have two opportunities to fire weapons at Colonial Michilimackinac: an opening cannon blast, at 9:30 a.m., or they can fire the full complement of weapons at Guns Across the Straits. Reservations for either program can be made by calling (231) 436-4100. More information can be found here.

Special events at Colonial Michilimackinac include exhilarating “Fire at Night” programs, deep dives into Michilimackinac’s maritime history, a celebration of the King’s Birth-day on June 4, a look at Askin’s Men and Women at Michilimackinac in August, a moonlit Michilimackinac evening, the ever-popular Fort Fright, and A Colonial Christmas. More information can be found at mackinacparks.com/events.

Colonial Michilimackinac opens for the 2023 season May 10.

“Colonial Michilimackinac will continue to provide an interesting and unique look into the early history of the Straits of Mackinac in 2023, and we invite you to explore Colonial Michilimackinac and the exciting history of the great lakes fur trade,” said LeeAnn Ewer, Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Curator of Interpretation.

The ongoing restoration of Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse continues in 2023, as an oil house will be reconstructed on the property. The last few years have seen several gallery openings at the lighthouse – the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum, a Science and Technology Exhibit, and the Marshall Gallery on the extensively renovated second floor. Throughout the day guides will sound the Fog Signal Whistle and provide tours of the lighthouse tower. Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse opens on May 11.

Programs at Historic Mill Creek feature daily demonstrations of a reconstructed 18th century sawmill. With the smell of fresh sawdust in the air, the awesome power of the water never fails to impress as the mill springs to life, fed by the pond and ever-flowing currents of Mill Creek. Near the workshop, sawpit demonstrations and historic farming programs highlight what life was like beyond the sawmill more than 200 years ago. On the wild side, guests will make new discoveries as wildflowers bloom and wildlife flourishes along 3.5 miles of nature trails. Historic Mill Creek opens for the 2023 season May 12.

“The story of Mill Creek links all MSHP sites together,” said Kyle Bagnall, Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Park Naturalist. “Whether you’re watching sawdust fly in the sawmill or perched on the treetop discovery tower, you’re sure to experience Mackinac’s natural and cultural wonders in many unique ways.”

Every museum store will feature new items inspired by the site they represent. The Official Mackinac Island State Park Store, inside the Mackinac Island State Park Visitor’s Center, will continue to have new items inspired by the historic and natural elements of Mackinac Island.

Most major projects were funded, in part, by Mackinac Associates.