2016-12-15 / Front Page

Snowmobiles To Cross Bridge Sat.

By Erich T. Doerr

History will be made this Saturday, December 17, at 11 a.m. when the first Snowmobile the Mighty Mac vintage snowmobile crossing of the Mackinac Bridge makes its way between Michigan’s two peninsulas. The event is being organized by Naubinway’s Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum with the St. Ignace Visitors Bureau handling registration and the St. Ignace Events Committee, Chamber of Commerce, and Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA) both assisting in the effort. The crossing will be followed by a snowmobile show in St. Ignace at the Mackinac Grille Restaurant.

“It’s quite an opportunity for the snowmobile community to be able to do this,” Museum Chair Charlie Vallier said. “This is a cool event and we’re all excited about it.”

The crossing is open to any snowmobile made in 1991 or earlier that is legally registered and equipped with a wheel kit for travelling without snow. Kits are required to have wheels that are at least two inches wide so the sleds will be able to cross the Mackinac Bridge’s expansion joints unimpeded. Mr. Vallier said the event has drawn interest from all kinds of snowmobile owners, and some with very early rear-engine snowmobiles have even inquired about taking part. There have been lots of owners inquiring about where they can get wheel kits, with many looking to either build their own or trying to acquire vintage ones. Temperatures are expected to be just below freezing for the crossing, providing fitting weather for the classic sleds.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Mr. Vallier said. “This cold weather will help…It will prevent our machines from overheating.”

The crossing is expected to draw more than 20 snowmobiles. The goal is for the crossing to become an annual event and there is an expectation that it will grow in size in the coming years. Mr. Vallier said the event’s organizers deliberately held back on heavily advertising the crossing this year because of the short amount of time to set it up.

The registration fee for the event is $35 per snowmobile with an additional $30 charge for a second passenger to ride along. The fee includes bridge fare and a lunch at the Mackinac Grille. Those who want to take part may register by phone by calling the visitors bureau at (906) 643-6950 or (800) 338-6660.

Saturday’s crossing will be dependent on weather with the Mackinac Bridge Authority rules for the event requiring safe conditions without high winds or heavy snow. Everyone who makes the crossing Saturday must be at least 16 years old and wear a helmet for safety.

The route will focus on the Mackinac

Bridge itself, rather than downtown areas, beginning in Mackinaw City at Fort Michilimackinac and proceeding across the bridge to the St. Ignace Welcome Center. The crossing will take place at 11 a.m. with all the sleds needing to be dropped off in Mackinaw City by 9:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. Vehicles transporting the sleds will then be taken across the bridge to the Welcome Center to await the procession. A shuttle, departing at about 10:15 a.m., will bring riders back to Mackinaw City to board their sleds for the crossing. Volunteers from the museum, chamber of commerce, and the St. Ignace Events Committee will staff both sides of the bridge during the event. The museum is providing a truck with a trailer that will drive behind the snowmobiles during the crossing to retrieve any sled that breaks down and cannot complete the trip.

Once all the sleds reach the Upper Peninsula, they will be placed back on their transport vehicles and driven into St. Ignace for the display at the Mackinac Grille. The display will run through about 3 p.m. The museum will present six fun awards, such as honoring the youngest and oldest riders to take part in the crossing.

Mr. Vallier said that this year’s Antique Tractor Parade and Show in September inspired the creation of the snowmobile crossing. The snowmobile museum holds a small show at Little Bear East Arena in St. Ignace in conjunction with the tractor event.

Wheel kits were common accessories for sleds in the 1970s with many options available in that era, some direct from the manufacturer and others as aftermarket items. There were designed to allow snowmobiles to be used in warmer months, with many using them for competitive drag racing events on either grass or pavement. Most of the kits continue to use the snowmobile’s track for power while focusing on adding wheels to skis. Some even added an axle between the skis in an effort to improve the steering.

The museum will make up commemorative T-shirts for Saturday’s ride. They will be sold as a fundraiser for the museum expansion currently under construction. Mr. Vallier said the shirts have already drawn interest from across the snowmobile community, and he said a couple from Connecticut called and bought one because they couldn’t make it to the crossing, but still wanted a souvenir.

The Snowmobiles on the Mighty Mac crossing will not be first snowmobile crossing of the Mackinac Bridge. In 1979 a group of four new Yamaha snowmobiles were allowed to drive across the bridge as part of a 1,700-mile journey from Goodrich to Yellowstone National Park to raise money for diabetes-related causes. Interest in this year’s ride inspired Dallas Fisher, one of the riders in that trip, to contact Mr. Vallier. A scrapbook with information on that charity ride could soon be displayed at the museum.

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