Winter is barely in the rear-view mirror in the Straits of Mackinac, but special events season at the Mackinac Bridge is ready to begin.
Friday, April 21, is the second annual Jeep the Mac event, a crossing of the bridge involving hundreds of Jeeps. Organized by the St. Ignace Events Committee, it’s the first special event at the bridge each year.
“People come to cross the Mackinac Bridge throughout the year, and spring begins our annual upswing in traffic,” said Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA) Executive Secretary Bob Sweeney. “Special events like Jeep the Mac not only bring a lot of customers to the bridge, but also a lot of publicity for the bridge and the surrounding communities.”
Other upcoming special events at the bridge include: the 14th Annual Memorial Bridge Run sponsored by the Mackinaw Area Visitors Bureau on May 27, the 42nd Annual St. Ignace Car Show Weekend sponsored by the St. Ignace Visitors Bureau June 22-24, and the 4th Annual Mustang Stampede sponsored by the Mackinaw Area Visitors Bureau on July 15. The Mackinac Bridge special events schedule is at www.mackinacbridge.org/events/event-schedule/.
Spring is also the start of the tourism season, when the bridge sees traffic volumes begin to pick up again as tourists head north to the Upper Peninsula to see the Soo Locks, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and Michigan state parks. The lowest traffic levels are from December through March, and start rising in April, building through the summer to their annual peak in August.
The start of special events and tourism season coincide with two changes in the straits: an improvement in weather and an increase in activity to see. At times it is foggy at the bridge in the spring, but the ice is gone and the winds that prompted high wind warnings and even some brief closures during the winter have abated. The Soo Locks have opened for the new shipping season, and anyone on the bridge can see freighters plying the Great Lakes alongside Mackinac Island ferries, fishermen, and pleasure boaters. The trees of both peninsulas and Mackinac Island are budding and leafing out, replacing the white backdrop of winter with a green panorama.
This is also the time of year when MBA maintenance crews are sweeping up and washing off sand that’s accumulated on the causeway and bridge over the winter. Bridge steeplejacks are also out inspecting the bridge for any damage that may have occurred during the winter months. They’re looking for areas of the steel grating that need some reinforcement, or bridge deck joints (there are more than 200 of them) that have been damaged by snowplows.
This year also marks the beginning of a two-year project to completely strip the lead-based paint from the bridge’s north tower and replace it with zinc-based paint. The $6.3 million project began earlier this month, and customers will notice lane closures and traffic shifts near the north tower. Delays should be minimal, as lane closures will be removed for holidays and peak traffic periods.
For more information on the bridge, a gallery of pictures from all four seasons, and links to the bridge webcams, visit www.mackinacbridge.org.