Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge is either the third, tenth, or twelfth longest suspension bridge in the world, depending upon how you measure it. Most sources list the longest bridges by the length of their main span—the length of the suspension (usually a roadway) between its two main towers. Other lists measure it including its anchorages or where its roadways touch land. Using the first measure, it is the twelfth longest in the world, and the third longest in the Western Hemisphere. Whichever measure you use, the longest is the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Kobe, Japan. The history of the Mackinac Bridge is as long as its physical length.

The annual Mackinac Bridge Walk is a very large public event that has occurred every year on Labor Day since 1958, less than a year after the bridge was completed and celebrates the idea of connecting to the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan that had been brewing as far back as the 1880s. These two peninsulas are within five miles of each other and separate the two Great Lakes of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. The Mackinac Bridge is anchored to the town of Mackinaw City on the Lower Peninsula and to the town of St. Ignace on the Upper Peninsula. St. Ignace is the gateway to Sault Sainte Marie State Forest and is on the highway to the city of Sault Sainte Marie and, ultimately, Ontario in Canada.

The history of the Mackinac Bridge began with an encouraging newspaper editorial in the local Lansing Republican in 1884, and it appears that the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City a year earlier might have been the impetus for the article. In the next few decades, a number of ideas were floated, including the idea of a “floating tunnel” and a series of bridges that would snake around the islands to connect mainland to mainland. It wasn’t until the 1930s and 1940s that credible plans for what would become today’s bridge came to fruition, and the history of the Mackinac Bridge took a turn for the concrete. Construction was finally started in 1954. What resulted was the five-mile-long graceful curved stretch that participants on the Mackinac Bridge Walk traverse each year.

The Mackinac Bridge Walk has become, since its inauguration in 1958, as one of the premier Michigan events, led by governors and even the President of the United States. The first walk occurred on the day of the bridge’s dedication in 1958, and a mere 68 people walked across the span. Today, thousands of people take the day off to assemble and walk across the bridge en masse. You can begin about 7:00 a.m. (after the Governor’s group has started), and you cannot begin walking after 11:00 a.m. The entire walk takes reasonably fit person about two hours. There are no toilets along the way. Baby strollers and wheelchairs are allowed, but bicycles and roller skates are not. This is the only day of the year that pedestrians are allowed on the bridge.

The walk is one huge event. For the rest of the year, the Mackinac Bridge fulfills its main function—as a route for transportation. The amount of tourism in these formerly remote areas increased dramatically when the bridge was completed. Today, a large number of Michigan vacations that concentrate on the great outdoors occur in this region.

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