Not far off the shore of northwestern Michigan, off of the Leelanau Peninsula, are two islands whose history goes back thousands of years.
North and South Manitou Islands are apart of the Beaver Island archipelago and lie in Lake Michigan.
10,000 years ago a Native American group known as the Anishinabek, took what was called the “Great Walk” to the Great Lakes area and beyond.
Archaeological evidence shows the tribes stayed on these islands during the summer.
Laura Quackenbush, the Historian for the National Park Service Sleeping Bear Dunes sect, says the Anishinabek legend of the islands is an interesting one.
The legend says a mother bear and her two cubs were living on what we call now call Wisconsin. A huge forest fire broke out and they took to the water. The bears swam across Lake Michigan, but the two cubs got tired and drowned on the way. When the mother bear made it to Michigan, she sat and waited for her cubs to come back to her.
“And so the Manitou Islands are her two cubs, and on the shore line on top of the dune plateau, there is a little knob that has trees on it and that’s what we refer to as the bear” says Quackenbush.
100 years ago the islands were used as the first stopping point for boats heading north from Chicago.
The old steamboats burned veracious amounts of wood and would stop on both islands for the trees. Quackenbush says the islands were logged off by 1855.
Long after the trees grew back, the National Park Service purchased the islands in the 1970s and 1980s.
The focus is now on preserving and protecting the nature and beauty of the islands.
South Manitou has a 100 foot lighthouse, Coast Guard Station and campgrounds.
North Manitou has a Life Saving Station from 1854 and an area with eight buildings known as Cottage Row, only one of which remains in private ownership.
One of the cottages was designed by world renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.
The a family, by the name of Blossom, hired Wright when he was just 26 years old to design their cottage. The home is now known as the ‘Blossom Cottage’ or ‘Monte Carlo.’
The cottages, and other buildings, are on display only for the public.
Quackenbush says the islands make an idyllic getaway, “it’s just kind of a nice place to be alone and think about the beautiful place and away from the diversions.”
Day trips are available to South Manitou Island, and longer trips to North Manitou Island, right out of Leland. Tickets can be purchased through the Manitou Island Transit.
Quackenbush says there is a motorized tour on South Manitou, that takes around an hour and a half, in which visitors can see some of the more remote parts of the island.
Trails on North Manitou range from 1 to more thnn 4 miles long. But the trails on South Manitou are slightly shorter, maxing out at around 3 miles.
On the southeast side of South Manitou, visitors can stand on a trail and see a shipwreck that is very close to shore. The Morazan, a cargo ship, sunk in November of 1960 during a snowstorm.
The ship became lost in the storm, when they found themselves on the shore of South Manitou. Everyone on-board survived.
Throughout history, people have stayed on the island seasonally. That season of course being- summer. According to QUackenbush, the winters are very harsh on the islands, and even the Park Service stops going there in October.
For the better part of history those islands have remain largely untouched and have retained their natural beauty. With the islands now in the hands of the National Park Service, they plan to keep it that way.