2011-09-03 / News

Mackinac Bridge Walk Is Area’s Signature Labor Day Event

More than 40,000 walkers are expected to participate in the 54th annual Labor Day Bridge Walk Monday, September 5. The walk begins in St. Ignace at 7 a.m. and walkers must begin by 11 a.m.

At 26,372 feet, the Mackinac Bridge is the third largest suspension bridge in the world and the longest in the western hemisphere. It was opened to traffic November 1, 1957.

Michigan’s governor traditionally leads the bridge walk, and the fastest times are kept on the “Governor’s Cup” kept at the Mackinac Bridge Authority offices at the north terminus of the bridge.

Governor G. Mennen Williams established the record with his first crossing in 1958, walking the structure in 65 minutes. Governor Jennifer Granholm holds the record for the fastest time, set in 2008 when she crossed the bridge in 35 minutes, 27 seconds. She is the only governor to run across the bridge.

President George H. W. Bush is the only seated president to walk the bridge, making the trip in 1992.

The bridge’s cable suspension is monitored during the annual bridge walk to make sure weight on the bridge is distributed evenly.

“If you get people walking on one side, and there are no cars on the other side, the suspension part of the bridge will start to rock,” said Bob Sweeney, the executive secretary of the Mackinac Bridge Authority and the executive in charge of its operation.

He said an engineer at the center span monitor conditions. If there’s any noticeable change, Mr. Sweeney said the Bridge Authority slows car traffic to a crawl, to ensure equal weight distribution.

He added that the day President Bush crossed the bridge, his security team prevented cars from crossing at the same time he walked across. This lead to a significant difference in weight distribution, and Mr. Sweeney recalls, and “that’s when the bridge really started rocking.”

The annual bridge walk boosts commerce throughout the area.

“Our estimates say that the annual walk provides an economic stimulus of about $20 million for local business in the area,” Mr. Sweeney said.

Walking the Bridge

If you plan to walk the bridge this year, here are a few things to keep in mind:

•Make sure you have enough fluids for the entire walk.

•There are no public rest rooms on the bridge; plan accordingly.

•The St. Ignace Hockey Association and St. Ignace Band Boosters Club will sell refreshments at the beginning of the walk.

•Walkers receive a certificate at the end of the bridge walk. Vendors in Mackinaw City and St. Ignace offer door prizes to a bridge walker who can match their certificate number to the number posted in their window.

Coming from Mackinaw

City

The Mackinac Bridge Authority suggests parking in Mackinaw City and taking the paid bus to St. Ignace before walking across. Buses will transport walkers from Mackinaw City to St. Ignace beginning at 5:30 a.m. and ending at 2:30 p.m. Buses will load at Conkling Heritage Park and the State Dock on South Huron Avenue.

Starting in St. Ignace

To start on the Upper Peninsula side, parking for the walk can be found at Little Bear East Arena in St. Ignace, along with limited parking west of the Mackinac Bridge Authority Plaza area. Buses at Little Bear East will shuttle participants to the bridge at no charge. Buses in Mackinaw City will be available to return walkers to St. Ignace for $5 a person.

Early Ferry Departure from Mackinac Island

Ferry lines have early departures scheduled for Labor Day. Shepler’s Ferry will depart from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island at 5:30 a.m. then leave from Mackinac Island to St. Ignace at 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. They will also offer shuttles from its St. Ignace dock to the bridge.

Arnold Line will leave the Island for St. Ignace at 6 a.m., return to the Island at 6:30 a.m., and depart for St. Ignace again at 7 a.m.

Star Line will leave Mackinaw City at 6:30 a.m., travel near the Mackinac Bridge, then arrive at St. Ignace railroad dock at 7 a.m. and shuttle walkers to the starting point at the bridge.

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