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I’m in an Island state of mind or How it feels to permanently lose your heart to Michigan

Everyone has their happy place. It’s one spot on this Great Green Earth where you feel bliss. For me, that place is Mackinac Island.

It’s not about the tourist-driven stores or the fudge shops. It’s not about the bars or sailing scene. It’s not about the fine dining or upscale hotels.

For me, it’s the little things. It’s the state park with its mature trees, stunning views of aquamarine waters and rolling hills that get your bike moving so fast your hair flies back. It’s the rocky shoreline where you can watch families of ducks and geese trolling along. It’s the peace of a back porch overlooking the Straits, two lighthouses and a Mighty Mac bridge. It’s how you live your hours according to Mother Nature’s rhythm, doing more exercising and living in one day without ever thinking about your iPhone or what’s on TV.

Here’s what I found surprising on this particular trip. I had assumed the costs of eating and staying on the Island would be horrid. We had prepared ourselves for the worst. But, truthfully, I was pleasantly surprised. The prices are accessible for most people. Granted, the tank of gas to get there is expensive and the Island’s hotels are more pricy than the mainland. Still, this is a great get-away if you can get there.

I had a chance while on the Island to interview a variety of local business owners, including the incredibly hospitable R.D (Dan) Musser III, one of the owners of the family-held Grand Hotel. I’ve always held the Musser family in high regard, so I was pleased to have an extended conversation with “Dan the Third,” as he is known.

Mr. Musser said the Grand certainly felt the sting of the 2008 downturn, losing reservations by the tons as people canceled trips and failed to book corporate travel. One way the hotel has regained its clientele was to add more family-friendly amenities, look for ways to trim costs and to bring more value to its basic offerings.

“July was the best July we ever had. Everything’s pointing toward this season being the strongest we’ve ever had. We’ve had the ability to make up some ground in occupancy this last couple of years,” Musser told me.

The recession, which was hard on pretty much everyone in Michigan, also took its toll on the Mackinac Island. It’s tourism, after all. And when your company cannot afford to send you on business trips, areas that focus on hospitality suffer.

Finally, four years later, people are ready to start visiting their old haunts again. I’m a great case in point. We were so amazed at how many families were on the Island, and we are planning another trip back there next year for the kids, grandparents and anyone else who wants to join us.

Like most, I’m a huge fan. I’m definitely not being paid to serve as the biggest mouthpiece every for this Island. I’ll tell anyone about it just because I truly feel whole there. Everything about this Island speaks to me. It’s a stunning coup for our state that we have such a gem just about four hours outside of Detroit.

Some background: I worked on Mackinac Island for a summer almost 20 years ago. I was one of two interns for The Mackinac Island Town Crier (read: Town Liar to the locals, who thought themselves very clever for that one). We worked fiendish hours and took our lumps from said locals for asking dim-witted questions. We experienced every high and low of student journalism (I was a junior at college when this opportunity came my way; my partner in crime, Mike, was a graduate student). We learned under the direction of two very fine full-time writers who also became friends. It was a magical summer.

I loved it so much I considered dropping out of college, applying for the job opening as the Island’s librarian and staying – forever.

But reality was, I had to finish school. And then I had to find a job, a home, a family to love. So dreams of living there faded. I’ve been back a few times since then, but the pull to stay remains just as strong as it ever has.

It’s a good thing when Michigan holds a piece of your heart so tightly that you know the connection will never be severed. I’m glad to live near a big city, but I’m also the most content when I can escape to another world without even crossing a state line.

To quote the good Bard, a saying that is forever etched in tile in the Mackinac Island library fireplace: “The isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.”

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