2006-08-26 / Top News

49th Annual Bridge Walk Set for Labor Day

By Karen Gould

Michigan National Guard troops traditionally assist with safety and security measures along the length of the Mackinac Bridge, while walkers make their yearly five-mile hike across the structure. Michigan National Guard troops traditionally assist with safety and security measures along the length of the Mackinac Bridge, while walkers make their yearly five-mile hike across the structure. As families and friends lace up shoes and grab cameras for the 49th Annual Mackinac Bridge Walk on Labor Day, Monday, September 4, between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m., bridge security will be visible, though no different than in past years. Area business owners remain optimistic about the holiday weekend, with the post-Labor Day school start extending the vacation season. Motel bookings north and south of the bridge an on par with last year.

This year's level of security will be the same as it has been since September 11, 2001, said Bob Sweeney, executive secretary of the Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA). The only difference, he noted, is that more people are interested in bridge security following the allegations two weeks ago that three Texans, arrested on suspicion of terrorism, planned to target the bridge. Photographs of the structure and approximately 1,000 cellular telephones were found in their possession. The FBI later said there was no threat to the bridge.

The annual bridge walk began in 1958 with 65 walkers and reached its peak in 1992 when an estimated 82,000 people participated.

"We believe our security procedures insure the highest level of safety, provide a pleasurable experience for all participants and travelers who will cross the Mackinac Bridge during this event," said Mr. Sweeney.

Since the events of September 11, 2001, MBA has employed additional security measures and works with 13 police agencies. Though security measures are not visible to travelers on a day-to-day basis, during the bridge walk, security is very visible, said Mr. Sweeney.

Checkpoints for vehicles crossing the bridge both from the north and the south will be in place and the U.S. Coast Guard will cruise in the Straits of Mackinac and sail under the bridge along with state, county, and local marine patrols, he said. Michigan National Guard and State Police will be on the bridge.

Kelly Simmons, executive director of the St. Ignace Visitors Bureau, said most of the calls coming into her office are from people inquiring if the walk still is planned and, once they learn it is, they are concerned with parking and walking details. She said local motel bookings are running about the same as last year.

Two statewide events may play a role in this year's bridge walk on Labor Day, including the post-Labor Day mandatory school start and the upcoming general elections in November.

Bridge walkers are likely to see campaign workers wearing political T-shirts, although banners and signs are not allowed on the walk, since they could interfere with other walkers and become a safety issue, said Mr. Sweeney.

Last year, proponents of a 2005 state law requiring classes to begin after Labor Day hoped to infuse the state with approximately $10 million in tourism-related tax revenue. Some downstate schools are locked into union contracts that prohibit them from participating in the later school start this year, so the full impact of the new bill may not be evident until 2007.

Rising gas prices have been blamed for a downward trend in the number of walkers in the past few years. Local business owners remain optimistic that the event will draw tourists to the area, with area motel bookings about the same as last year, when an estimated 42,000 people made the five-mile trek across the bridge.

Marilyn McFarland, executive director of the Mackinaw Area Visitors Bureau, said funding or her organization has increased nine percent over last year. Funds for the bureau come from a two-percent tax on room rentals.

"Everyone's pretty optimistic," she said regarding the upcoming holiday. She said last year just prior

to the bridge walk, hurricanes had hammered the south, causing gas prices to shoot up. She also said visitors canceled rooms last year in response to rumors that the state's northern regions did not have gasoline.

She also noted that the bridge walk could benefit from the recent media exposure and is hopeful that the new post-Labor Day school start law will boost tourism, noting that 75 percent of Northern Michigan travelers are Michigan residents.

The Walk

Before walkers can begin on the span, the third annual bridge run will begin at 6:45 a.m. The group of 300 joggers have been pre-selected by the Governor's Council on Physical fitness.

Governor Jennifer Granholm will lead walkers at 7 a.m.

The average time to walk the bridge is approximately 90 minutes. Baby strollers and wheelchairs are allowed during the walk, though bicycles, roller skates, skateboards, and wagons are not permitted. Pets are not allowed on the walk with the exception of seeing-eye dogs.

Two lanes on the east side of the bridge will be used by walkers and the lanes on the west side will be used for motor vehicles. There are no restrooms on the bridge, though portable toilets will be located at each end of the bridge.

Walkers will begin their hike at the north end of the bridge in St. Ignace and end in Mackinaw City.

Those coming from the Lower Peninsula can drive to St. Ignace and park in designated areas west of the toll plaza, walk the bridge, and for $2 per person, ride a school bus back across the bridge to their cars. Another option is to board a school bus in Mackinaw City and ride north, and then walk the bridge.

School buses stop at Conkling Park and the State Dock on South Huron Avenue in Mackinaw City and begin transporting walkers at 5:30 a.m.

As participants leave the bridge, they will receive a numbered certificate to commemorate the accomplishment. Merchants in St. Ignace

and Mackinaw City will display numbers in their store windows and matching numbers will be offered a prize valued between $15 and $150.

Early Boats

Arnold Transit Company and Shepler's Mackinac Island Ferry will offer early boat departures to and from Mackinac Island and the mainland for the walk.

Shepler's will depart the Island for St. Ignace at 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. A boat will leave Mackinaw City for the Island at 5:30 a.m. for connection to the St. Ignace boat. A boat will leave St. Ignace for the Island at 6:30 a.m.

Arnold Transit will offer special boat departures from the Island to St. Ignace at 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., with a boat leaving St. Ignace for the Island at 6:30 a.m.

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