2006-09-09 / Top News

47,200 People Walk Mackinac Bridge on Labor Day

By Karen Gould

Pictured are walkers making their way across the Mackinac Bridge from north to south sharing the link between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas with buses bringing walkers back to St. Ignace. Pictured are walkers making their way across the Mackinac Bridge from north to south sharing the link between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas with buses bringing walkers back to St. Ignace. A peaceful bridge walk on a calm day drew 47,200 walkers and runners across the Mackinac Bridge Monday, September 4. The Mackinac Bridge Authority estimated the 49th annual walk across the five-mile span attracted 5,000 more people than last year.

"It was another beautiful day, another beautiful bridge walk that went very smoothly for everyone," said Bob Sweeney, the executive secretary of the Mackinac Bridge Authority.

"We're here honoring the work of those who built the bridge, those who run the bridge, those who maintain the bridge, and of course workers all over the state," announced Governor Jennifer Granholm, after finishing the 49th Labor Day Bridge Walk in a sprint across the finish line, wearing a T-shirt acknowledging the ironworkers who built the bridge 50 years ago.

Mr. Sweeney also addressed the labor theme.

"Some MBA staff have been involved with the bridge walk for 30 years, and that has gone a long way to make this event run extremely smoothly," he noted.

Bridge walk numbers rebounded this year to the 47,000 range, after suffering a dip to 42,000 in 2005. Crowd estimates are determined by certificates issued at the end of the walk, bus trip counts, and, in recent years, with the installation of bridge cameras that allow walker density counts. Approximately 25,000 to 30,000 vehicles cross the bridge on Labor Day, with the majority of travelers heading south, said Mr. Sweeney.

Marilyn McFarland, executive director of the Mackinaw Area Visitors Bureau said the number of visitors would have been better if it had not been for downstate television stations that predicted rain in the Straits area for the holiday weekend.

She said Mackinaw City hotels did as well as last year, if not a little better, and retail stores on Central Avenue definitely were up from 2005. She also said the town looked busier and there were no available parking spaces Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning, which was not the case last year.

Betty Vieau of the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau said hotels were "pretty full, especially Friday and Saturday night."

The Mackinac Bridge Authority's bridge crossing statistics for July shows an eight percent drop from 2005 for people traveling to the Upper Peninsula.

Kelly Simmons, director of the St. Ignace Visitors Bureau, said motel assessment tax revenue is down, but that could be from lower room rates.

"I can tell you my numbers are down, but that doesn't mean the people aren't here," she said.

Ms. McFarland said that for bridge walkers in Mackinaw City, the biggest disappointment over the weekend was that MaMa Mia's Pizzeria and Restaurant, and the Original Mackinaw Bridge Historic Museum and Gift Shop had not opened yet.

The structure was destroyed by fire in August 2005 and many historic artifacts used in the construction of the Mackinac Bridge were housed in the museum.

Next year will mark the 50th birthday of the Mackinac Bridge, which was open to traffic November 1, 1957, and Mr. Sweeney said his staff is working with the governor's office on suggestions for the 50th bridge walk on Labor Day 2007.

"Next year when we celebrate the 50th, it is highly symbolic of who runs our economy, not just in Michigan, but in this nation, who has built this county," said Gov. Granholm of the labor force. "It's the people who labor, it's the people who are working."

The bridge walk, she said, is "a phenomenal symbol of our respect for working men and women."

The governor ran across the bridge with 300 joggers, who were pre-selected by her Council on Physical Fitness, Health, and Sports. She made the crossing in approximately 50 minutes.

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