2007-08-04 / Top News

Bridge Celebration Tops All Expectations

By Karen Gould

Mackinac Island's 2007 Lilac Queen Kristi Kamphuis (left) and Princess Dana Roguska ride in the 50th anniversary parade of the Mackinac Bridge. They participated in both the St. Ignace and Mackinaw City parades July 28. Here, they are on Central Avenue in the Mackinaw City parade. Mackinac Island's 2007 Lilac Queen Kristi Kamphuis (left) and Princess Dana Roguska ride in the 50th anniversary parade of the Mackinac Bridge. They participated in both the St. Ignace and Mackinaw City parades July 28. Here, they are on Central Avenue in the Mackinaw City parade. With cheers, tears, and exclamations of awe, the Mackinac Bridge was celebrated by thousands over the weekend for connecting Michigan's peninsulas for 50 years. Symbolically recognizing that link, four Michigan Air National Guard fighter jets from Selfridge Air National Guard Base flew above the bridge from St. Ignace to Mackinaw City to begin the celebration, and a parade of 50 convertibles, one from each year since the bridge opened, drove across the Mighty Mac Saturday, July 28.

Residents of the two towns, along with thousands of visitors, lined streets, filled hotels, ate traditional birthday cake, pasties, and fudge, and basked in the beautiful summer weather of the Straits of Mackinac to celebrate the first 50 years of the bridge and to honor those who built and now maintain the structure.

Mackinac Island cheerleaders participated in the Mackinac Bridge 50th anniversary celebration parade Saturday, July 28. The team, headed by Donna Killips, includes Mackenzie Bean, Kyra Kolatski, Hailey Armstrong, Jessica Beaune, Sierra Kompsi, Adrienne Rilenge, Amelia Roe, Hailey Bean, and Zhan'e Nash. Lilac Queen Kristi Kamphius and and Lilac Princess Dana Roguska, also an Island cheerleader, were part of the parade, as well. Mackinac Island cheerleaders participated in the Mackinac Bridge 50th anniversary celebration parade Saturday, July 28. The team, headed by Donna Killips, includes Mackenzie Bean, Kyra Kolatski, Hailey Armstrong, Jessica Beaune, Sierra Kompsi, Adrienne Rilenge, Amelia Roe, Hailey Bean, and Zhan'e Nash. Lilac Queen Kristi Kamphius and and Lilac Princess Dana Roguska, also an Island cheerleader, were part of the parade, as well. Former ironworkers rode on floats in each parade. State and local dignitaries and parade queens crossed the bridge in the convertibles, including Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and former governors James Blanchard and William G. Milliken. Also riding in a convertible was Miss Michigan 2007, Kirsten Haglund, and in a horse-drawn carriage was Miss Michigan 1957, Valerie Strong Agresta.

Some of the participants appeared in both parades, while marching bands and local groups marched only in Mackinaw City or St. Ignace parades. Each parade contained approximately 90 entrants, including members of Mackinac Bridge Authority, and all the politicians representing the communities on both sides of the Straits: U.S. Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, U.S. Congressman Bart Stupak, State Senator Jason Allen, State Representatives Kevin Elsenheimer (105th District representing Cheboygan County) and Gary McDowell (107th District representing Mackinac and Emmet counties), St. Ignace Mayor Paul Grondin, Mackinaw City Village President Robert Heilman, and Mackinac Island Mayor Margaret Doud. Also appearing were honorary committee members William Cochran, the only living member of the Mackinac Bridge Authority from 1957, Prentiss M. Brown, Jr. and Larry Rubin, the first executive secretary of the Authority.Don and Carl Andress led the parade on horseback, dressed in Native American regalia, and marching bands from St. Ignace, Mackinaw City, Indian River, Traverse City, Holland, and Boyne City joined the festivities, as did Fort Michilimackinac soldiers, the Wheelmen vintage bicyclists, Shriners, Portage Players puppets from Curtis, wooden boats from the Les Cheneaux Islands, St. Ignace Fire Department clowns, Mackinac Island cheerleaders, and the Cedarville boys basketball state championship team.

A member of the High 5 Guys stilt-walking group makes a big impression on children at the St. Ignace parade. Following close behind are the Portage Players from Curtis. A member of the High 5 Guys stilt-walking group makes a big impression on children at the St. Ignace parade. Following close behind are the Portage Players from Curtis. From Friday through Sunday, 5,442 more vehicles crossed the bridge than over the same period last year, about an 8.5% increase, said Bob Sweeney, executive secretary for the Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA). The greatest number of travelers were on Friday, and over the three-day period, 69,510 crossed Mighty Mac, compared to 64,068 vehicles in 2006.

Crowds gathered along beaches on both the north and south shores of the Straits to view evening fireworks, which burst above the road at both sides. The normally quiet Boulevard Drive in St. Ignace was lined with vehicles, which honked horns in approval of each favorite fireworks shot from the MBA property just east of the bridge. From Straits State Park to Lakeside Cemetery and all the way to the point, people filled the shoreline.

Bridge traffic was halted during the fireworks displays, as it was for the jet fly-over at 10:30 that morning.

Mackinac Island sent its own fireworks salute, which ended just as the twin Mackinac Bridge displays began.

Mackinaw City, Mackinac Island, and St. Ignace reported heavy visitor traffic over the weekend.

"I saw 'sorry' and 'no vacancy' signs everywhere I went," said Lynne Piippo, executive director of the St. Ignace Visitors Bureau.

Of the bridge celebration, Cheryl Schlehuber, St. Ignace Chamber of Commerce board president, said, "I live here, and I got chills. It was better than you could possibly imagine. What a great tribute to the visionaries who brought it here, to the ironworkers who built it, to the crews that maintain it, and the people who cross it."

"Anyone who was here for the weekend, how could they not want to come back?" Mrs. Schlehuber asked.

Eileen Evers, administrative assistant at the Chamber, agreed.

"The weather was gorgeous and people were ready for a good time," she said. "I think we gave it to them."

Approximately 30 volunteers helped with parade details in St. Ignace Saturday, she said, and 40 additional volunteers worked at the marina for the city's inaugural Fish Feast.


        
        
          
        
          At left: 
            Crossing the Mighty Mac Saturday, July 28, are 50 years of 
            convertibles, seen from the south tower looking toward St. Ignace. 
            The parade was similar to the 1958 celebration parade, which had 50 
            white Oldsmobile convertibles. The cars took part in parades in St. 
            Ignace and Mackinaw City. Riding in them were dignitaries and 
            queens. (Photograph courtesy of the Michigan Department of 
            Transportation) 
At left: Crossing the Mighty Mac Saturday, July 28, are 50 years of convertibles, seen from the south tower looking toward St. Ignace. The parade was similar to the 1958 celebration parade, which had 50 white Oldsmobile convertibles. The cars took part in parades in St. Ignace and Mackinaw City. Riding in them were dignitaries and queens. (Photograph courtesy of the Michigan Department of Transportation)

"There were a lot of volunteers, who worked very, very hard and gave up their whole day," said Mrs. Evers. "The events couldn't have happened without their help. It was great."

Mackinaw City was packed with people, reported Greg Hokans, chief of Development and Marketing for Mackinac State Historic Parks, and Marilyn McFarland, executive director for the Mackinaw Area Visitors Bureau.

About 1,500 people paid to watch the fireworks from in front of Colonial Michilimackinac and along the beach. He estimated 10 times that number stood outside the park area.

"It was a huge amount of people, a very appreciative crowd, and a safe event," he said of the Mackinaw City display. "It was well organized by the MBA and Mackinaw City police."

The fireworks were a success and he hopes this will develop a relationship with out-of-town visitors who now will want to return to the area.


        
        
          
        
          The Mackinac 
            Bridge 50th fireworks display in St. Ignace was visible from the 
            Lake Huron shore in Mackinaw City, where this photograph was taken 
            Saturday, July 28. Large crowds lined the shorelines along the 
            Straits to see the colorful display. Fireworks also were shot from 
            Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island. (Photograph courtesy of Michigan 
            Department of Transportation) 
  The Mackinac Bridge 50th fireworks display in St. Ignace was visible from the Lake Huron shore in Mackinaw City, where this photograph was taken Saturday, July 28. Large crowds lined the shorelines along the Straits to see the colorful display. Fireworks also were shot from Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island. (Photograph courtesy of Michigan Department of Transportation) "Everyone was just delighted with the display and the beautiful night," said Mr. Hokans. "It was a great family event."

Ms. McFarland agreed.

"The parade exceeded my expectations, and the weather could not have been prettier," she said.

From a Friday night banquet in St. Ignace to the parade, fireworks, and other events, Ms. McFarland said the MBA and the events committee did a great job.

"It was just a class act all the way," she said. "It was fabulous."

The celebration added to the area economy by bringing in visitors, said Ms. McFarland.

"It was Labor Day all over again," she said. "It came early this year."

Mackinaw City hotels were full and the Visitors Bureau received calls from people telling them all campgrounds were full north of Alpena.

"We were just bursting at the seams," she said, adding that it was about 2 a.m. before traffic cleared and most people were able to leave Mackinaw City after the fireworks.

Community cooperation helped to ensure the success of the weekend, said Bob Felt, from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) office of communications.

"MDOT worked very closely with local communities and the MBA, and indications point to an event that exceeded our expectations," he said. On a personal note, he added, "It was the best fireworks show I've ever seen."

Concerned that more people were going to attend the events than initially expected as area hotels filled rooms and with limited parking at Bridge View Park, the MBA set up a last minute shuttle service of school buses to reduce congestion at the Bridge View Park activities area. Off-site parking was made available from Little Bear East Arena and Convention Center in St. Ignace. The MBA also uses school buses during the Labor Day bridge walk. About 155 people took advantage of the service.

The MBA also made the toll booth canopy available to Bridge View Park visitors walking from St. Ignace and the Straits State Park. The canopy allows passage over I-75. Others parked near Bridge View Park and along Boulevard Drive.

Events began early in the week, when the Budweiser Clydesdales arrived in preparation for leading the St. Ignace parade Saturday. Informational talks about the bridge by Chief Engineer Kim Nowack were held at the St. Ignace Library and Little Bear East Arena.

A new bridge commuter token was dedicated to bridge designer and engineer David Steinman in a special ceremony Thursday.

Ironworker stories were told at the arena and at Bridge View Park, along with demonstrations of their work on I-beams that towered over the gathered crowds Saturday. A bronze statue honoring the men work built the bridge and the five who died during its construction was unveiled in an emotional ceremony at Bridge View Park Saturday.

A 101-foot-long Erector Set model of the bridge by Forrest Wyrick was on display there, complete with toy trucks and cars on the bridge deck. Authors signed books about the bridge, and commemorative tokens, posters, and T-shirts were sold.

The Oral History Association of Michigan recorded memories of persons involved in the construction and 1957 dedication of the bridge, and amateur radio operators broadcasted from Bridge View Park Saturday afternoon.

A banquet was held Friday night at Kewadin Shores Casino in St. Ignace, featuring a nearly seven-foot-long cake replicating the bridge. The next day, renowned cake makers James Aslanian and Kevin Pavlina, who made the bridge cake, judged a cake contest, with creations made by local and downstate chefs. Gloria McLennan of TasTCreation of St. Ignace won the event.

Boat lines offered cruises to view fireworks. The traditional amber bridge lights twinkled as an almost-full moon lit the sky, and the weather was warm and calm as spectators climbed aboard boats and stood on the shoreline viewing the simultaneous fireworks display.

"From my vantage point, all local participants and visitors appeared to be having a great time," said Barbara Brown, a Bridge Authority member who chaired the three-day celebration. "It exceeded all of my expectations and hopes for this event. Everyone was so cooperative and happy, and appeared to be so proud of be a part of this event."

She was assisted in the preparations by event organizer Anne Ottaway, who has a summer home in Cedarville.

Congressman Stupak brought from Washington a leather-bound Congressional tribute to the Mackinac Bridge from the Congressional Record.

Now, at the MBA's request, Ms. Brown will begin planning a small ceremony to mark the historic opening of the bridge, which took place November 1, 1957.

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