Beaches | Michigan | Travel

Ferry service offered to once-elusive Michigan island

Thick with trees and a sandy shoreline, the island simply looked inviting.

So we moored our sailboat in shallow waters and waded ashore, joining sunbathers and picnickers making the most of a late summer afternoon. Trails crisscrossing the woods invited exploration, but none of my friends could be prodded into leaving the water’s edge.

While those friends have long vanished from my life, that island has anchored memories of that excursion for a long time. I had long forgotten its name – I’m not sure I ever even knew it – and its location. Until recently when I read about Grand Traverse County resuming ferry service to a 204-acre island at the entrance to Bowers Harbor after more than a century. I had rediscovered that elusive island.

I also learned a bit about its history. At the turn of the last century, Marion Island, as it was originally called, was home to a dance hall that lured boatloads of couples from Traverse City, a few miles away.  Later, Henry Ford became the island’s owner and maintained a rustic retreat, where he entertained the likes of Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and at least three U.S. presidents.

An Ann Arbor philanthropist Eugene Power eventually took ownership and donated the island to the Nature Conservancy, which turned it over to Grand Traverse County in 1975. Since then, it’s been managed as a near wilderness.

Of course, I knew none of this history then, I was simply mesmerized by a wood land mass in the middle of the bay. And I think I’ve often felt nostalgic for that weekend, recalling the sense of freedom on the water, the lure of an uninhabited island and the expansiveness of summer, one of the last before adulthood would truly take hold, whisking me away from Michigan and delivering responsibilities.

It turns out — on that long ago summer day — we were like most visitors who never leave Power Island’s shoreline. Never mind some five miles of trails wind through a maple-beach forest and lead to steep bluffs and rocky shoals on the western edge. Most are content to picnic or swim on the tree-shaded beach or hang out on their boats.

This fall, before the ferry service shuts down, I’m going to make the trip back to the island and explore its interior.

If you’re ever interested in visiting the island while in Traverse City, here’s what you need to know about the ferry service: Round trip is $30 for the first rider in a group and $15 for each additional rider. Each trip is limited to six passengers. To make reservations, call the Grand Traverse County Parks and Recreation Department at 231-922-4818.


Greg Tasker
Greg Tasker is Detroit News Arts and Entertainment Editor and has been writing about travel for more than a decade. His travel stories have appeared in AAA Living, Frommer's Budget Travel, Scouting, AMC Outdoors, Vermont Life and Island Life.