Mackinac Island Airport Project Celebrated With Rededication
Four years of planning and 16 months of work were commemorated Friday, July 27, as city, state, and contractor representatives gathered on the tarmac to rededicate the only airport operated by a state park in Michigan. The airport was the largest single construction project in Mackinac Island State Park history.
“We celebrate 78 years of this airport being here and serving the people of Mackinac Island,” said Phil Porter, director of Mackinac State Historic Parks.
Representatives from the Michigan Aeronautics Commission and the Office of Michigan Aeronautics were also present.
The airstrip was designated in 1934 as a large grass landing field and, at one time, had a small shack heated by a pot-bellied stove where Islanders waited for a plane.
The airport was expanded in 1963, when the first paved runway was built, and a terminal building was added six years later. The building was expanded in 2008.
“The improvements that we recognize today include entirely removing the old runway and placing it 65 feet to the east in order to establish the proper runway safety area,” said Dennis Cawthorne, chairman of the Mackinac Island State Park Commission. “The sinkholes created by deteriorating debris from an old landfill have been eliminated, and the hump in the middle of the runway that restricted pilots’ line of sight has been removed. The new facility has been entirely repaved, new energy-efficient LED lighting fixtures were added, a new beacon tower was installed, and new wind sensors were added to provide pilots with better information. The result is a facility that will better serve Mackinac Island residents and visitors for many years to come.”
“This is the airport for Mackinac Island, not just for the state park, but for the whole community,” said Mackinac Island Mayor Margaret Doud. “This is, I understand, one of the busiest airports in the state in the summertime but, in the wintertime, it is literally our lifeline. It is our medical transport. We have transported firemen to help fight fires, and it is absolutely essential to the yeararound community, the visitors, and everyone who comes to Mackinac Island.”
Noting that the project was a collaborative effort, the mayor acknowledged the role of two Mackinac Island residents, Larry Rickley Sr. and Larry Rickley Jr., who helped build the new facility.
The mayor’s point was further emphasized by Sue Snyder, wife of Governor Rick Snyder.
“Mackinac Island is truly a crown jewel,” she said, “for Michigan, and for its people. Over one million visitors come here every year, and this new runway will make it easier for many of them to get here and to enjoy the magic that Mackinac Island has to offer. It also serves as a vital lifeline to the Island at certain times of the year, when it is the only transportation route to and from the Island.”
The runway rehabilitation project yielded a further, unexpected window into Mackinac Island life and history, as construction vehicles unearthed a wealth of archaeological remains from the site of the old dump.
Construction crews, said Mrs.. Snyder, “worked several months to rebuild the runway while assuring all the archaeological findings were treated with respect and care.”
“We really saw a slice of everything that was available to the people of Mackinac Island during the early 20th century,” said Dr. Lynn Evans, curator of archaeology for Mackinac State Historic Parks. This included a large number of glass bottles ranging from the local Bogan Pharmacy to cosmetic bottles from France.
“One of the most amazing things we found was a series of intact lightbulbs,” Dr. Evans said. “They survived being thrown out, tossed in a dray, tossed out here in the landfill. They survived the runway being built on top of them, and then they were dug up by construction equipment. It’s really very remarkable.”
The artifacts were transported to Mackinac State Historic Parks archaeology lab in Mackinaw City, where they will be studied over the winter.
The airport project cost $4.6 million and Bacco Construction was the contractor.