2018-04-07 / Opinions

A Look at History

Spring Run Will Follow Century-old Island Road Network
BY FRANK STRAUS

The Fort2Fort Five Mile Challenge, a spring sporting event, will be run for the first time Saturday, May 12. Registered runners will follow a challenging course that will include Fort Mackinac, Fort Holmes, Arch Rock, Sugar Loaf, and other landmarks of the Mackinac Island State Park. The spring event’s looping course will, however, follow pathways already laid out by Islanders long before the State Park was founded in 1895.

Early maps of Mackinac Island, drawn in the 1800s, show established pathways from Fort Mackinac and the small settlement along the Island’s harbor shoreline into the Island’s interior. When European-Americans first settled on Mackinac Island in 1781, they quickly cut paths into the Island’s forests to extract timber and firewood. Cleared spaces, such as the Mitchell farm at what is now called Harrisonville and the Dousman farm that included and surrounded Wawashkamo, became pasturelands and even farm fields, and trails to these open spaces widened into roads.

The War of 1812 further developed the Island’s road network. In their attempt to maintain control over the Great Lakes strongpoint for the British crown, the royal garrison at Fort Mackinac cut more timber and raised a subsidiary redoubt on the island’s highest point, Fort George. The fortified blockhouse, renamed “Fort Holmes” by the Americans, will be one of the focal points of the Fort2Fort run. The British cut at least one construction road up to the fortified summit point. Although this road – Fort Holmes Road – is pretty enough today, its distant ancestor 200 years ago was used for the harsh practical work of hauling tools and timbers up to the security-minded construction site.

With the coming of peace in 1815, the Americans regained control of Mackinac Island. Soon adventurous visitors began to come to Mackinac Island to see natural curiosities already made famous in Mackinac Island folklore. Islander Henry Rowe Schoolcraft’s journal describes trips from the Island’s har- bor up to Arch Rock and Sugar Loaf. Muddy paths, the ancestors of today’s Arch Rock Road and Sugar Loaf Road, were already in steady use in the 1830s.

The invention of scheduled steamboat traffic made further growth in visitation possible. The U.S. Congress encouraged road building on Mackinac Island by creating Mackinac National Park in 1875. There was as yet no federal National Park Service, and the small Island park was overseen by the U.S. Army through the commanding officers of Fort Mackinac. As part of the overall Park development process, the Army decided to lease out some of the park blufftop land for private cottage spaces and to use land-parcel lease payments to develop the new National Park and build new roads. The Michigan officer George Armstrong Custer, killed by Indians in 1876 in what was to be the state of Montana, quickly got a Mackinac Island road, Custer Road, named after him. The road led from a location adjacent to Fort Mackinac into the Island’s interior and its newly developed Fort and civilian cemeteries.

All of the Mackinac National Park roads were designed for horse and buggy use. The late 1800s saw the summit of hooved driving in the United States, and the National Park fort commanders gave their roads names that encouraged carriage use. In some cases this included the renaming of existing roads and trails, while other roads were entirely new as of 1875-1895. An existing road from Sugar Loaf to the centerpoint of the Island was renamed “Crooked Tree Drive.” By contrast “Leslie Avenue,” from Arch Rock to British Landing Road and Wawashkamo, was cut and landscaped in the 1880s to improve the National Park and give visitors numerous panoramic viewpoints from the eastern blufftop. A smaller loop was cut to lead Island guests from the existing Fort Holmes road to an overlook over Sugar Loaf, called “Point Lookout.”

By the time the National Park gave way to the new Mackinac Island State Park in 1895, almost all of the roads on the Island’s heights that exist today in 2018 were already in active use. The State Park’s “Morgan Wright” Island map, drawn in 1915, shows almost all of the roads now in use on southeastern Mackinac Island’s upper heights and plateau. The runners’ feet of the Fort2Fort Five Mile Challenge will pound down these now century-old roads.

Three new paved ways have been cut in Mackinac Island’s southeastern quadrant since 1915. Starting in the 1930s, a new Carriage Road created a curving path from the heights above Grand Hotel to the Island cemeteries and Skull Cave. As with the National Park roads, Carriage Road was designed for horse-pulled tourism use. Further growth in tourism in the 1960s brought many more bicycles to Mackinac Island, and longtime State Park superintendent Eugene T. Petersen supervised the construction of a secondary loop to and from Fort Mackinac, Arch Rock, and Sugar Loaf. Called simply the “Bicycle Trail,” the narrow paved pathway was meant to get people closer to the great trees of the State Park than could be experienced on a carriage road. And in 1980, the new Rifle Range Road extension created a direct route for tourist buggies from Skull Cave to Arch Rock.

The current map of Mackinac Island’s southeast quarter, as of 2018, closely matches the road network in place as of the closing months of 1980. Over the past century, many of these 2018 rights-of-way have been “improved” from earthen pathways into paved roads, but their locations closely follow tracks that existed more than 125 years ago. Now these roads will be used for the Fort2Fort Five Mile Challenge. Details of how to register for the May 2018 crowd run can be found elsewhere in this newspaper and at RunMackinac.com.

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