Staying on a lighthouse island in Michigan
© Becky Linhardt 2013
The state of Michigan has hundreds of miles of shoreline on Lakes Michigan, Superior, Huron, and Erie and many, many lighthouses. However, few lighthouse properties offer an opportunity to overnight or stay nearby. When a friend mentioned her stay at the Middle Island Keeper’s Lodge on an unimproved island north of Alpena, I decided to do some research. Intrigued by the idea of staying on a lighthouse island, I organized a group of “girls” aged 6-64 for a two day stay – just the 5 of us and a lot of natural beauty.
As a writer/photographer I am well aware that a picture is often worth a thousand words. This blog will be more of a picture album than a detailed account. We visited in the end of August, had beautiful sunny days and cool nights, glorious sunrises and sunsets – and very few bugs! I can not guarantee that the weather will be as wonderful but I can say that each of us found time to enjoy the beauty of nature in a solitude remote from TVs, radios, telephone (though we were able to use cell phones sparingly). The silence was refreshing.
We meet in Ann Arbor and drove north in two cars, arriving at a dock in Rockport where we parked our cars and unloaded our clothing, gear, and food. The Middle Island Lighthouse Association that cares for the island provides bedding and bath towels. You need to bring your own beach towels. Note: there are no sand beaches, just rocky shoreline.
As promised, Captain Mike arrived at the dock around the 4 p.m. rendezvous time. We loaded our stuff onto the Island Freighter. Before we left shore, Captain Mike read the list of rules that we needed to follow as guests at the Middle Island Keepers Lodge.
We would be docking on the protected western side of the island. The Lighthouse and former Coast Guard buildings are on the eastern shore of the island so Captain Mike offered to take us around to see the lighthouse from the water, the view that boats have as they cruise nearby. The association fixed up the old fog horn house as The Middle Island Keepers Lodge and the rentals of the Lodge go into a fund to help preserve the island’s historic lighthouse and work that is being done to restore/renovate the two Victorian Style homes that had been occupied by the Coast Guard staff before the lighthouse was decommissioned.
Once docked, we had a short, maybe ¼ mile, walk through the wooded island center to reach the Keepers Lodge. Captain Mike loaded our baggage and food onto the jitney that the association keeps on the island and headed to the lodge on a secondary trail. We walked on a wide, wood-chip surfaced trail watching for the eagle we had seen from the boat and the deer and coyotes that Captain Mike said were on the island.
We were delighted with the Keeper’s Lodge. Captain Mike showed us through and introduced us to the wonders of modern propane technology – propane lights mounted on the wall, propane refrigerator (no freezer), propane stove, and the propane heater that warmed the hot water (on command) for the outside shower. The temperature setting was perfect, good and hot, which I appreciated greatly after a surprise dunking at the inlet by the dock the next day.
The port-a-let that sat behind the house was described by one former visitor as “the sweetest loo ever.” We had no complaints about that facility. It was and stayed amazingly fresh and clean during our stay. We had running water at the kitchen sink. Food stayed cool in the refrigerator but not cold.
The kitchen was elevated and had a great view to the front deck and Lake Huron. Downstairs there are two small rooms, each with a queen size bed and small closet area. Up a ladder is a loft with bunk and twin beds. The building can sleep 10 using the hide-a-bed/sofa in the common area by the deck doors.
Our first adventure was a climb to the top of the lighthouse, guided by Captain Mike. It was late in the day so the long shadow of the lighthouse stretched out toward the water. We had an expansive view of the horizon and of the walkway that connected to our place at the Keepers Lodge. Captain Mike left us at the Keepers Lodge with a promise to return for us in two days. Dinner time and time for lights – as Jen lit the second propane light, her daughter Nikki yelped “There’s a coyote outside the door.” Sure…… Nikki was proven right though. When the rest of us got to the screen door, the coyote had come back from the water and gave us a quick glance from 10 feet away before ambling off into the woods.
Early the next morning most of us rushed down to the rocky shore – just to see what we could see. A leisurely breakfast, coffee for the adults (with the luxury of half and half from the fridge) this was not really roughing it.
I had paid for the rental of a small rowboat for the day and we had planned to look for the sunken boat that Captain Mike said we could see in the shallow inlet waters by the dock. Jen suggested that we walk around on the shore. We took time to check under rocks, take photos, and watch for wildlife.
The rowboat launch ended up being an adventure. Jen put in only to find that we had a small problem with a plug that had popped. I slipped into the water as we were trying to launch a second time and since I was already wet we decided I would row. We faced a strong wind that kept pushing the boat back so we never did manage to get over the wreck site to see the sunken boat.
Heading back through the center of the island though, a few of us had the opportunity to see a deer, photograph flowers and fungi and enjoy a gentle breeze that rustled through the woodland. I had banged up my knee during my dunking at the inlet so after a hot shower and lunch I rested on the deck. Others went out to scout around the other side of the island along the shore and back into the woods on the trails. They saw the same or another coyote drinking at the lake near the south side but he left the area quickly when he noticed our group.
Shelley brought marshmallows, graham crackers and Hershey bars for – s’mores. So of course we had to have a bonfire on the beach. That was easy because the association had a fire pit constructed on the shore by the lodge with a supply of wood stacked and ready for guests. Jen got a fire going after dinner and we enjoyed sticky fingers and the sight of the rising moon – until it really did get a bit chilly from a wind off the lake.
The glow of the sunset behind us was as dramatic as the beautiful sunrise we had witnessed that morning. Then, the stars became more visible as it became darker, a deep rich velvet black sky over the lake with no mall light or city lights. The night sky filled with clearly visible stars twinkling above and the steady repeat flash of the lighthouse beam shining out from land to the ships that passed.
We were sad to leave our little house on the island. Most of us woke early so we could enjoy time along the shore before Captain Mike arrived with his jitney to carry us, and our garbage back to the mainland (we brought way to much food). We told him stories of our adventures with the coyote and the rowboat. Moriah and Nikki decided that a ride in the jitney would be fun and accepted Captain Mike’s offer of a lift to the dock.
As Captain Mike steered the Island Freighter into the Rockport docks area he positioned the Island Freighter over a place near the former quarry dock so that we could hover above the wreck of a small craft that had been sunk there and at least have the experience of seeing a wreck site, since we had not been successful at the inlet on the island. It was a thoughtful gesture and appreciated by us.
We have memories to last for years … and plans to return soon.
www.middleislandkeeperslodge.com or 989-884-2722
www.michigan.org or toll-free 888-784-7328