GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Walking across the Mackinac Bridge on Labor Day is a bucket list item for a lot of people. For some, it’s something they do every year as a point of pride. Walking the Mighty Mac was on my bucket list, but I never thought I would do it twice.
I also never thought I would get to view the bridge, the straits, and the lower and upper peninsulas from the top of one of the bridge’s two gigantic towers, but I got to do that, too.
And it’s all within the reach of ordinary people, not just media types like me.
You don’t need special access to walk the five miles from the toll plaza at the north end of the bridge to the south end at Mackinaw City. This year, some 40,000 people are expected to do that, with runners leading the way as they have done since the Granholm administration. The largest crowd was estimated at 85,000 in 1992 when President George H.W. Bush walked the bridge during the presidential campaign.
As for the trip to the top of the bridge, that’s something you could win in one of two different ways; neither of which requires walking the bridge. The Mackinac Bridge Authority and the Michigan Department of Transportation every year co-sponsor a social media contest, inviting you to use any form of social media to share your favorite Mackinac Bridge memory. Post on MDOT’s Facebook page or use the hashtag #MightyMacWalk15 on Instagram or Twitter. The bridge authority also works through charities to provide bridge tours to winners of fundraisers around the state, so you could win a tour or buy one a a charity auction.
Walkers of a wide variety of abilities make the trek each Labor Day. In my two trips I saw walkers pushing wheelchairs, strollers, using canes, and just using a dogged determination to overcome whatever it was that slowed them down. My family made it both times in about 90 minutes.
But it’s not the numbers that make the walk a special experience. It’s seeing the Straits of Mackinac at 7 a.m. from high above the water. (Walkers are allowed to start the walk from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.) It’s gazing through the metal grate at the clear blue-green water hundreds of feet below. (Some people avoid that view.) It’s doing something that ordinary people aren’t allow to do but once a year. (Even the Golden Gate Bridge has a walkway you can use any time.)
And it’s meeting people who have come from distant places to walk the Mighty Mac. In 2014, I met a woman who was traveling cross-country and had scheduled the journey specially to hit the bridge on Labor Day.
When you can’t make it to the Mighty Mac on Labor Day, there’s always the Grand Rapids Grand Crossings Labor Day Bridge Walk, also five miles long. It involves crossing the bridges over the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids from the Sixth Street Bridge to the Wealthy Street Bridge. My wife and I managed to fit in that walk between our two Mackinac Bridge Walks.
While it is tradition for the sitting governor to lead the Mackinac Bridge walk, it is tradition for the sitting mayor of Grand Rapids to lead the Community Bridge Walk.
This year, a five-mile run has been added. The run will lead the walkers, with everyone starting at Ah-Nab-Awen Park at 8 a.m.
And let’s not leave out the Saugatuck-Douglas Bridge Walk, a “grueling” walk of .19 miles on the bridge where the Blue Star Highway connects the two communities. After the 9 a.m. walk, a pancake breakfast is available to help refuel from the arduous trip.