Mackinac Island State Park, Michigan, the Second-Oldest National Park in the United States



Mackinac Island is located in the Straits of Mackinac, about seven miles east of the Mackinac Bridge. The island was first named a national park in 1875, making it the country's second-oldest behind only Yellowstone National Park. Today, more than 80 percent of the island is still part of the park and intact as a public preserve that's open year-round, free of charge.

The Ojibwa and Odawa (Ottawa) Great Lakes Indian Tribes, who have visited Mackinac Island for more than 11,000 years, say this is where life began and hold the island as sacred. Visitors may well agree, as the island and the State Park provide a blend of breathtaking vistas, geological wonders and gems of history and nature - from lush forests, to high limestone bluffs, to sparkling water.

The first thing visitors may notice is that, with the exception of government vehicles, automobiles are nowhere to be found on the island. They were banned more than 100 years ago, making for a quieter and cleaner way of life, as the park seeks to preserve and protect its woods, wildlife and natural wonders.

Within the park, history is still being uncovered and discovered, and excavations have been carried out since the 1960s. In 1965, the University of Michigan Mackinac Island project excavated part of the Custer Road dump, which had been used by soldiers at Fort Mackinac.

During our country's Revolutionary War, the fort was originally located in present day Mackinac City. It was manned by the British and named Fort Michilimackinac, until they closed it, renamed and relocated the fort to the island on a majestic bluff that towers 150 feet above the Straits of Mackinac.

Over the course of the fort's history, it has been held by both British Redcoats and American soldiers. For a brief period during the War of 1812, the British retook the fort. Today, it serves as a living piece of history, where visitors can run their hands over wooden palisades, can still hear bugles, rifle retorts, cannon fire, and the tapping of Morse Cose. Visitors can even drill with soldiers, play a Victorian children's game, or dance to the beat of a 19th-century tune.

Another park historical project took place in 2002, when the Wawashkamo Restoration and Preservation fund sponsored an archaeological survey of Wawashkamo Golf Course. The land was the site of the historic battle for Mackinac Island in 1814, and the survey was conducted by a team from the Center for Historic and Military Archaeology.

The majority of Mackinac Island State Park is covered by lush forests and wildflowers. There are also a number of majestic natural limestone formations, such as Arch Rock, Sugar Loaf and Skull Cave. Arch Rock is particularly renowned, and is a source of much of the island's tourism.

In the lore and superstitions of the Ottawa peoples, the rock is a bridge over which departed souls may pass. From a more scientific perspective, the rock is a 149-foot-tall limestone arch formed during the Nipissing post-glacial period.

The State Park also features five historic buildings in the downtown area that allow visitors to further experience 18th-century French-Canadian and early American architecture and living.

Tom North
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Oct 28, 2009 @ 4:16 pm
I live near Mackinac Island and in fact, can see it off the porch of my condo where I am now. You are correct that it was the second oldest national park in the U.S., after Yellowstone. But what your article does not clarify is that it was turned over to the State of Michigan in the early 1900's and ceased being a national park at that time. It has since been a Michigan State Park (or about 80% of the Island has been anyway; the rest is comprised of a small city and private property).

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