†††† Mackinac Island, located in the Straits of Mackinac connecting Lakes Michigan and Huron, has a long and rich history. The Island takes its name, which roughly translates to ďLand of the Great Turtle,Ē from the Anishnaabe language of the local Ojibwa, Odawa, and Potawatomi people. Native people visited Mackinac Island for thousands of years, coming to fish and for spiritual reasons. Early Native visitors were also drawn to the Island by its unique limestone formations. Several periods of glaciation formed the Straits of Mackinac over thousands of years. The Island itself first appeared about 15,000 years ago, as the glaciers retreated northward. Glacial melt water formed an inland sea called Lake Algonquin, which covered most of the Great Lakes basin. Only the highest parts of Mackinac Island remained above water. As Lake Algonquin receded, water levels in the Straits dropped until the Island was connected to the Lower Peninsula by dry land. Later, water levels rose again to form Lake Nipissing. This period of high water, about 4,000 years ago, created many of Mackinac Islandís unique features, including Arch Rock, Robinsonís Folly, and Loverís Leap. As time passed, Lake Nipissing receded until it created the five current Great Lakes. This constant movement of water continually eroded the limestone underlying the Straits, forming many of Mackinacís unique geological features. Limestone, continually broken by wave action, crumbled and formed piles and stacks. As time passed, minerals in the lake waters naturally cemented these piles together, creating brecciated (broken and re-cemented) limestone. This brecciated limestone is apparent across Mackinac Island.
†††† The first Europeans arrived in the Straits of Mackinac in the 17th century, and European settlement on the Island began in the 1670s. The British established a fort and village on the Island around 1780, and the Island remained an important fur trading center until the 1830s. The U.S. Army maintained both the fort and a national park on the Island until the late 19th century. When the U.S. government decided to decommission Fort Mackinac and the Mackinac National Park in 1895, debate arose over how to dispose of the federal lands. Citizens and tourists from Mackinac Island and across Michigan successfully lobbied to have the lands donated to the state and preserved as a park. Established in 1895, Mackinac Island State Park was the first state park in Michigan. Administered by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, the park grew throughout the 20th century. The park currently encompasses over 1,770 acres, or approximately 85% of the land on Mackinac Island. The Mackinac Island State Park is open to the public free of charge all year round. Visitors exploring the park will discover unique geological features like Arch Rock and Sugar Loaf, historic sites including Fort Holmes and the Island cemeteries, miles of trails leading through quiet forests, and panoramic vistas of Lake Huron and the Straits of Mackinac.