2017-09-07 / Front Page

Walk Draws 25,000 And Few Backups

Traffic Lines Not a Problem at Straits as Changes Put in Place for Holiday Event
By Kevin R. Hess


Thousands of people took part in the 60th annual Mackinac Bridge Walk Monday, September 4. The average walker finished the five-mile journey in approximately one hour. Here, hundreds of walkers can be seen approaching and crossing the finish line on the southern side of the bridge. Thousands of people took part in the 60th annual Mackinac Bridge Walk Monday, September 4. The average walker finished the five-mile journey in approximately one hour. Here, hundreds of walkers can be seen approaching and crossing the finish line on the southern side of the bridge. An early morning storm, strong wind gusts, and overcast skies didn’t keep approximately 25,000 people from walking the Mackinac Bridge Monday, September 4, during the 60th annual Mackinac Bridge Walk on Labor Day.

Among several changes made for this year’s walk, the most notable was the closure of the bridge to vehicular traffic from 6:30 a.m. to noon, but backups were minimal, aside from the traffic congestion that is typical in Mackinaw City, the finish line of the bridge walk. Traffic on I-75 northbound, on the south side of the bridge, was backed up one to two miles south of exit 337 around 9 a.m. US-2 saw minimal backup, with just a few vehicles parked on the side of the I-75 southbound on-ramp around 9:45 a.m. Traffic began to build just prior to the noon opening of the bridge. Cars were backed up for about two miles on US-2, similar to what is seen on a typical Sunday afternoon throughout the summer. Portable restrooms were placed near the KOA campground in Mackinaw City and at the rest area near St. Ignace. Others were placed at roadside parks along US-2 along with aid stations offering water, juice, and snacks. Mechanics were available to assist motorists with minor car troubles.


Michigan Governor Rick Snyder greets the crowd of people awaiting the start of the 2017 Mackinac Bridge walk. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Labor Day tradition. Governor Snyder addressed the crowd, welcomed them to the event, and praised the efforts of volunteers and police. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder greets the crowd of people awaiting the start of the 2017 Mackinac Bridge walk. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Labor Day tradition. Governor Snyder addressed the crowd, welcomed them to the event, and praised the efforts of volunteers and police. The last vehicles were allowed onto the bridge just prior to 6:30 a.m. With dark skies and no traffic, walkers waiting in line commented that it was an “eerie” feeling. Gary Engle of G-Man Entertainment kept the crowd energized and filled the silence with a series of songs from ZZ Top. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, arrived shortly before 7 a.m., shaking hands and waving to the packed crowd waiting to step foot onto Mighty Mac. St. Ignace Mayor Connie Litzner welcomed everyone to the event and introduced Governor Rick Snyder, who expressed appreciation to workers, volunteers, and law enforcement agencies for their work in keeping the bridge walk a safe and fun event for all. He led the crowd onto the bridge and southward toward Mackinaw City. Thousands who had arrived early for the event poured onto the bridge behind the governor.


For many, walking the bridge on Labor Day is a family tradition. Pictured here are (back row, from left) Sierra Eden, Darcy Teeples, Chris Allen, Reilley Eden; (front) Cassidy Eden, Donnell Teeples, and Dorothy Teeples. Darcy Teeples said her grandmother began walking the bridge more than 30 years ago, beginning the family tradition. Darcy, Donnell, and Dorothy have all walked the bridge more than 20 times. For many, walking the bridge on Labor Day is a family tradition. Pictured here are (back row, from left) Sierra Eden, Darcy Teeples, Chris Allen, Reilley Eden; (front) Cassidy Eden, Donnell Teeples, and Dorothy Teeples. Darcy Teeples said her grandmother began walking the bridge more than 30 years ago, beginning the family tradition. Darcy, Donnell, and Dorothy have all walked the bridge more than 20 times. Each year there is a mix of people who have walked the bridge several times before and those taking their maiden journey across the bridge on foot. Darcy Teeples of Chelsea walked the bridge with several family members, continuing a tradition her grandmother began more than 30 years ago. Ms. Teeples was wearing a vest that her grandmother used to wear whenever she walked in the event.


(From left) Kiera Cohoon, Maranda Duntley, Tricia Duntley, and Dulton Duntley of Alpena pose for a photograph after finishing their walk across the Mackinac Bridge. Mrs. Duntley had not walked the bridge since she was 19. It was the first time for Kiera, Maranda, and Dulton. They left Alpena around 4 a.m. to get a parking spot in be one of the first walkers in line. After navigating a dead car battery early in the morning, they were looking forward to spending time in Mackinaw City, shopping and eating lunch. (From left) Kiera Cohoon, Maranda Duntley, Tricia Duntley, and Dulton Duntley of Alpena pose for a photograph after finishing their walk across the Mackinac Bridge. Mrs. Duntley had not walked the bridge since she was 19. It was the first time for Kiera, Maranda, and Dulton. They left Alpena around 4 a.m. to get a parking spot in be one of the first walkers in line. After navigating a dead car battery early in the morning, they were looking forward to spending time in Mackinaw City, shopping and eating lunch. “My grandma walked this bridge for more than 30 years,” she said. “I’ve walked it for more than 20. We want to keep the tradition going.”


The annual Mackinac Bridge Walk is preceded by a group of runners with the Michigan Fitness Foundation. Several hundred men and women jogged the span of the bridge about 15 minutes before Governor Rick Snyder led thousands of walkers over it. Here, the runners can be seen as they cross near the southern tower and make their way down the incline toward Mackinaw City. The annual Mackinac Bridge Walk is preceded by a group of runners with the Michigan Fitness Foundation. Several hundred men and women jogged the span of the bridge about 15 minutes before Governor Rick Snyder led thousands of walkers over it. Here, the runners can be seen as they cross near the southern tower and make their way down the incline toward Mackinaw City. Cara and Juliana DeFelice are twin sisters from Detroit and enjoy walking the bridge together. This was Cara’s sixth time walking the bridge, and Juliana’s third time. They finished before their parents and took a break while waiting for them to cross the finish line.

“It’s always fun,” they said, “especially with each other.”

This was the sentiment of most who walked the bridge, even when there were difficulties in getting to the event. Tricia Duntley traveled from Alpena with her children and a friend. She last walked the bridge when she was 19 years old and his would be the first time for her children. They left around 4 a.m. so they could get to the St. Ignace side before the bridge closed and to be one of the first in line. After finding a parking spot and attempting to relax before the start of their walk, her car battery died. Fortunately, she was able to find someone with jumper cables to help her, allowing her to enjoy the walk worryfree.

“Now we’re just going to hang out, shop, and eat some lunch,” she said after finishing the walk in Mackinaw City.

Political groups and religious groups met walkers in Mackinaw City promoting their causes. A group protesting the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline held banners saying, “Water is Life,” and “Stop Line 5.” Voters Not Politicians also had representatives on both sides of the bridge and at the Little Bear East parking lotin St. Ignace gathering signatures for their petition to stop gerrymandering in Michigan. Gerrymandering is the manipulation of district boundaries to benefit one party over another. The goal of the organization is to gather 315,654 signatures by February to approve a ballot proposal for 2018 that would amend the Michigan Constitution to change how Michigan districts were drawn, using an independent commission consisting of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents to redistrict Michigan.

The estimated number of 25,000 walkers is significantly down from the 45,000 that walked last year. Participation can vary greatly each year and depends on a number of factors, the most significant usually being weather. The closure of the bridge to traffic was a unique change that has only happened once before, when President George H. W. Bush walked the bridge during his reelection campaign in 1992. Then, the bridge was closed for just two hours.

The long term plans and effects of this year’s closure are unknown at this time. Bob Sweeney, executive secretary of the MBA, said that while the number of walkers was lower, he is pleased with the number of people who participated. The weather could have been a factor, he said, but he also noted that the walk was two hours shorter than normal. Organizers did not allow walkers to begin after 10:30 a.m. and those shuttling over from Mackinaw City had to be on a bus by 10 a.m. if they wanted to walk. Rain affected people traveling north for the walk, and a gridlock in Mackinaw City was caused by a combination of later arrivals, new security procedures in bus check-in, and because the MBA employed 25 Charter buses late in the preparation.

Mackinaw City: Some Walkers Miss Bus

Joe Leghio, owner of several Mackinaw City hotels and restaurants, says that there were many other people who wanted to walk the bridge, but were unable to because they did not make it on to a shuttle bus by 10 a.m. to be shuttled to the St. Ignace side. To be fair, he said, the organizers “did exactly what they said they would do.” While some folks may have been running late, Mr. Leghio says many were in line before 10 a.m. but missed their chance to walk because the buses were often held up by long inspections.

Busses were inspected for bombs each time they left the staging area.

“We absolutely needed to assure that the event was safe, and everyone involved did a great job,” he said. “But I hope in the future they will work to be more efficient. We could’ve gotten more busloads over the bridge had the inspections been a little quicker.”

Mr. Leghio acknowledges that all of this was new and that it is a “learning process,” but says the event is important to the Straits area and the state of Michigan.

Carolyn Robertson is a grandmother from Chicago. She traveled to the Straits area to participate in the bridge walk but was unable to because the line for the bus was too long and she missed the cut. Mr. Leghio says there were others with similar stories. He said the signs saying the bridge was closed confused some, believing it meant that the bridge walk had been cancelled.

“I think everyone that stayed in Mackinaw City or St. Ignace was able to walk,” he said. “It was mainly those who traveled up here to participate that missed. Again, it’s new and we’re learning, but I think it can be more efficient. This event is too important to see people get turned away.”

Mr. Sweeney told The St. Ignace News that the bus check-in and inspection procedure was revised this year and that it will be “tweaked” in the future to improve that process. There were 130 buses this year. There were only 90 in 2016.

St. Ignace: Business as Usual

On the St. Ignace side, it seemed to be business as usual. Straits State Park was full and many of the campers walked the bridge. Assistant Park Ranger Sam Freel said most people stayed until Monday afternoon, choosing to leave after the bridge was reopened. Mike Lilliquist, manager of the St. Ignace Welcome Center, said everything seemed to go smoothly with the event, reporting that there were no difficulties.

“We didn’t have crowds that were stuck or any major or even minor traffic delays,” he said.

Quincy Ranville, executive director of the St. Ignace Visitors Bureau, said that while some hotels reported lower numbers than normal, others reported having guests stay an extra night on Monday, departing on Tuesday instead.

“The reports I received didn’t seem as if there was a significant impact on the numbers of people who stayed in St. Ignace,” she said. “Some probably decided to stay in Mackinaw City so they could avoid any major traffic delays on the bridge, but many hotels in town were still full.”

Mr. Sweeney says the bridge will be closed to vehicles for future bridge walks, but he expects changes will be made to improve the efficiency. He says the two most important issues the MBA wanted to accomplish were to make the event as safe as possible and to minimize the delays and impact of those who simply wanted to cross the Mackinac Bridge and were not participating in the event.

The Mackinac Bridge Authority, with other organizers, will be analyzing the event in the next month and will decide what changes may be made for the 2018 bridge walk at its October 26 meeting in Mackinaw City. The time and location are yet to be determined.

The MBA, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), and the Michigan State Police (MSP) spent the past three months advertising the closure in hopes that motorists would get the message and avoid traveling to the bridge during those times. They used press releases, handed out flyers from the tollbooths, posted information on their websites, and used MDOT’s traffic message signs along major roadways. In addition, people could sign up for text alerts to stay informed of traffic. The alerts were free and made possible through Mackinac County 911’s RAVE Alert System.

Sponsors Help This Year

To help curb some of the increased cost owing to the changes, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Consumers Energy, Grand Hotel, Meijer, and DTE Energy contributed to the walk, specifically with the courtesy stations set up along the routes approaching the bridge. Meijer donated snacks, water, and juice for the stations.

“The Mackinac Bridge Annual Walk is a beloved Michigan tradition, but closing the bridge to traffic for safety during the walk was sure to inconvenience some travelers on Labor Day,” said MBA Chairman Bill Gnodtke in a press release. “Many people helped make this event go as smoothly as possible, but we couldn’t have done it without these sponsors.”

The MBA made the decision to close the bridge during a special board meeting May 16, citing safety and security recommendations by the MSP and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Expectations were that traffic delays would be worse, but the advertising campaign seemed to have worked, as there were very minimal traffic issues.

“The preparation and planning that went into this event addressed those items which we feel made this event a huge success,” Mr. Sweeney said. “We are grateful for all of the assistance we received from MDOT, MSP, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and the Secretary of State, as well as several other local law enforcement agencies.”

Return to top


Click here for digital edition
2017-09-07 digital edition