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Mackinac: America’s first ex-national park

Mackinac Island, located in Lake Huron in Michigan, holds a significant place in American history as the country’s first ex-national park. The island’s natural beauty and historical significance led to the establishment of Mackinac National Park in 1875. Although the park faced numerous challenges and was eventually closed in 1895, its preservation efforts continued through the creation of the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, and Mackinac Island State Park itself. Mackinac Island remains a popular tourist destination today.

The establishment of Mackinac National Park in 1875

Arch Rock on Mackinac Island

Yellowstone was the first National Park in the US, and in the world, established in 1872. The idea of preserving nature, and spending time in it, was just starting to take off, and conservationists were looking for a new place to designate and protect.

The establishment of Mackinac National Park was part of a larger national park movement in the United States during the late 19th century. This movement was driven by a growing appreciation for the country’s natural beauty and a desire to preserve it for future generations. Mackinac Island, with its stunning landscapes and rich history, was seen as an ideal location for a national park.

There were several reasons why Mackinac island was a good choice for the nation’s second National Park. Firstly, the island’s unique geological features, such as limestone bluffs and caves, made it a natural attraction. Arch Rock is probably the most famous of these natural landmarks. Its location in the middle of the great lakes, with blue water and amazing wildlife, also made it an ideal place to establish a new park.

Additionally, the island had a rich history, with evidence of Native American settlement dating back thousands of years and European settlement beginning in the 17th century. The park aimed to preserve both the natural and cultural resources of the island.

Key features of Mackinac National Park included scenic overlooks, hiking trails, and historic sites. Visitors could explore the island’s natural beauty while also learning about its history through visits to Fort Mackinac and other historic buildings. The park quickly became a popular destination for tourists from across the country.

The challenges faced by the park forced its closure in 1895

Despite its initial success, Mackinac National Park faced numerous challenges that ultimately led to its closure in 1895. The main challenge was that the park struggled to maintain its infrastructure and provide adequate services to visitors. The park was, quite simply, too difficult for many people to visit, which meant that visitation declined year over year. Infrastructure that would make it easier for people to visit, such as the Grand Hotel, had yet to be constructed. 

The preservation efforts of the Mackinac Island State Park Commission

Fall at fort mackinac
Donovan Squires

Following the closure of Mackinac National Park, efforts to preserve the island’s natural and cultural resources continued through the creation of the Mackinac Island State Park Commission. The commission was tasked with restoring and preserving historic buildings and natural areas on the island.

One of the commission’s first tasks was to restore Fort Mackinac, which had fallen into disrepair. Over the years, the commission has also restored other historic buildings on the island, including the Governor’s Residence and the Mission Church. These efforts have helped to maintain the island’s historical character and attract visitors interested in its rich history (and rich fudge).

The unique natural and cultural features of Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island is known for its unique natural and cultural features, which continue to attract visitors from around the world. The island’s geology is characterized by limestone bluffs, caves, and rock formations, which provide stunning views and opportunities for exploration. The island is also home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, including rare orchids and migratory birds.

In addition to its natural beauty, Mackinac Island has a rich history that spans thousands of years. Native American tribes, including the Odawa and Ojibwe, have inhabited the island for centuries. European settlement began in the 17th century, with French fur traders establishing a presence on the island. The island was later controlled by the British and then the Americans, and played a significant role in the fur trade and the War of 1812.

Today, visitors to Mackinac Island can explore its historical attractions, such as Fort Mackinac and the Mission Church. The island is also home to the iconic Grand Hotel, which has been welcoming guests since 1887. The hotel is known for its Victorian architecture and luxurious amenities, and is a popular destination for weddings and other special events.

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