Mackinac Island Rides Into Summer with Plenty of Horsepower

MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich., May 25 /PRNewswire/ — When you host more than a half million visitors on an island that banned private vehicles in 1898, people and goods have to get around somehow. Now through June, more than 600 horses are making their way across the Straits of Mackinac to spend the summer on Mackinac Island transporting everything from freight to newlyweds.

The arrival of the horses via the Arnold ferry line is an annual sight that signals the official start of the summer season and the continuance of a century-old tradition.

“Because we have chosen to keep restrictions on automobiles, our way of life revolves around real horsepower,” said Dr. Bill Chambers, chief executive officer, Mackinac Island Carriage Tours Inc. “Keeping the island horse drawn is instrumental to its culture and natural ambiance.”

While many visitors prefer to hoof it around Mackinac Island’s 2,200 acres on their own feet, the island has always relied on horsepower as its primary form of transportation.

By June most of the island’s horses have arrived in time for the annual Lilac Festival (June 10-19). The festival, the first and largest Mackinac summer event, typically draws thousands of visitors and celebrates the island’s glorious lilac blooms brought during the colonial era with a parade with horse-drawn floats. New festival events this year include the Grand Hotel Garden Tours, Jean Nicolet Tall Ship Wine Tasting and Excursion Around the Island, Drive in Movie at Mission Point Resort, Feast of Epona, Epona and Barkus Parade and the Dog & Pony Show.

Taste of Mackinac, held during the Lilac Festival, provides locals and visitors the opportunity to nibble on cuisine from island restaurants. Tickets to all events go on sale May 15, 2005.

Other 2005 events include:
* Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce Mackinac Policy Conference
(June 3-5)
* Lilac Festival (June 10-19)
* Fudge Festival (August 26-28)
* Fourth of July Celebrations
* Chicago Race to Mackinac (July 16-20)
* Port Huron to Mackinac yacht race

Along with a full summer schedule, the island offers live entertainment, art and history, including Fort Mackinac (constructed by British soldiers during the American Revolution) historic architecture and natural island features Arch Rock, Devil’s Kitchen and Sugar Loaf, as well as more than 80 miles of horseback riding, biking, hiking and walking trails.

“Mackinac Island welcomes more than a half million yearly visitors offering activities and accommodations for everyone,” said Mary McGuire Slevin, executive director, Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau. “Visitors to the island will find lodging to suit every budget and activities to please any outdoor, cultural or dining enthusiast.”

And again, it’s those horses that get the goods where they have to go. Mackinac Island Carriage Tours is the world’s largest and oldest operated horse and buggy livery and maintains a fleet of about 400 horses that include Belgian, Clydesdale, Irish Hackney, Percheron, Standard-Bred and others. Each breed is assigned to a transportation division best-suited to their skill and strength.

Horses hitched to flatbed wagons, known as drays, haul island waste to composting facilities and deliver perishable and non-perishable goods to island homes and businesses. Teams pull VIP and wedding carriages as well as the horse-drawn taxis.

“I often laugh that our horses are cared for as well as our Island visitors, they work in shifts that allow for 24 hour rest periods, and are fed over 1,250 tons of hay, 370 tons of oats and 250 tons of special feed supplement a year to ensure their health and well-being,” said Chambers. “During their scheduled days off the horses relax in indoor barns and are cared for by experienced equine handlers.”

Each year about 30 horses are retired to farms located in the Upper Peninsula and replacements are scouted in markets across the country. They must be at least three years old and already trained. Once purchased the horses are paired with experienced drivers or newly recruited drivers from qualified equestrian schools.

About Mackinac Island:

Mackinac Island is a National Historic Landmark located between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas and covers 2,200 acres of land. The Island banned private motor vehicle use during the last century and today relies on the services of over 600 horses to provide residents and visitors navigation around the Island.

Mackinac hosts more than a half million visitors each year and is home to the Lilac Festival, Chicago to Mackinac Boat Race, Fudge Festival and the Zoo- De-Mackinac Bike Race. For more information visit, http://www.mackinacisland.org/ or call 1-800-4LILACS.

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