2007-05-19 / Top News

Mackinac Tour Guides Ready for Busy Summer

By Sean Ely

Holly Scoles of St. Charles, a summer tour guide for Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, introduces herself to an afternoon group before touring Main Street. This is Miss Scoles' second year with the company. The Carriage Tours' ticket office is on Main Street, next to the Tourism Bureau. Holly Scoles of St. Charles, a summer tour guide for Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, introduces herself to an afternoon group before touring Main Street. This is Miss Scoles' second year with the company. The Carriage Tours' ticket office is on Main Street, next to the Tourism Bureau. When tourists arrive on Mackinac Island ready to explore as soon as their foot touches the dock, they are in luck. The Island has horsedrawn carriages and tour guides on Main Street ready to serve the public. Mackinac Island Carriage Tours and Arrowhead Carriages offer guided island tours, equipped with adventurous stops along the way.

Trained guides drive the horses and relate interesting history

and random facts to their customers, and they enjoy introducing them to the interior of the Island.

"The problem with a lot of the visitors is that they stay right on Main Street and don't see the rest of the Island," said Holly Scoles, a Mackinac Island Carriage Tours guide, originally from St. Charles. "When you get toward the center of the Island, you realize how much more there is to this place than just fudge."

The Mackinac Island Carriage Tours operates general tours from a ticket booth next to the Tourism Bureau, across from the Arnold Dock. The company, along with Arrowhead Carriages, operate hourly tours from in front of Marquette Park.

Tour guides from both companies hear the general questions right away. What are the names of the horses? How many fudge shops are there? Are we going to go by the Grand Hotel? How many people live on the Island yeararound?

When it comes down to it, one subject outweighs all the other inquiries.

"It seems like a majority of people are here to really just see the horses," said Grand Rapids native Daniel Sparks, another Mackinac Island Carriage Tours guide. "Honestly, I can talk about stuff out here all day long, but it really seems like they care more about the horses than the sites and different things around the Island."

Some employees even pursued this summer job because of their love for horses.

"The horses are something I never get sick of talking about," said Nora Franklin of Reed City, a guide for Arrowhead Carriages. "They are the main reason I wanted to do this."

Scott Witsman of Chicago, another Mackinac Island Carriage Tours guide, retired from the military and took this summer job as a leisurely way to make money. His interest in horses lies in his memories and experiences with them as a child.

"I had horses when I was a kid, and I always enjoyed them," he said. "I enjoy the opportunity to work behind these guys. I get all the benefits to work with horses without paying for them. It's great having a couple of kids to walk me around every day."

Tour guides appreciate clear skies and a warm sun, but they say they get most enjoyment from fun and interested people who take the tours.

"It doesn't matter what kind of weather you have," Miss Franklin said. "If you have good people, then you're fine. That's all you need."

Mackinac Island is known for its historic lifestyle, and the carriage tours play an important part in that tradition.

"You can really step back and see what life used to be like," Miss. Franklin said. "They realize that there was plenty of work that needed to be done at all times. They learn the history about what has happened here on the Island. It's such a relaxing feeling."

The negative side of the tour business is chilly, wet weather and complaining tourists.

"There can be long hours and difficult people on the tours, and you still have to be nice to them and show them respect, because they are still visitors and customers," Mr. Sparks said. "That can be challenging at certain times."

Another challenge is communicating with visitors who speak little English.

Asense of humor, a universal language and cure for grumpiness, is, therefore, a good attribute to have when driving tours.

The patrons love it.

"He mentioned everything as soon as you went by it, how long it's been here, and he was always open for questions," said James Reby, a visitor from Garden City who has thought about moving to the Island with his wife, Karen. "The tour guide was very funny, too. He was enjoyable to listen to. It made the experience a lot of fun."

Overall, the guides love the line of work they are in. They chose to be here, so visitors to the Island can sense that feeling of sincerity.

"Just the whole aspect of giving the tour is the most enjoyable for me," Mr. Sparks said. "I like it, I like informing people and helping people understand things better and learn some history they didn't know before. I love being outside all at the same time. I love doing it all."

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