The Great Waters’ vast tract of wilderness and natural wonders that define the Upper Peninsula is also home to marvels of human engineering and ingenuity.
At five miles (26,372 feet total length) the third longest suspension bridge in the world is the only physical connection between Michigan’s two peninsulas. It spans the Straits of Mackinac, the place where the Great Lakes Huron and Michigan meet, at Mackinaw City at the tip of the state’s “Mitten” and St. Ignace in the U.P. Although talk about a bridge or tunnel began in the 1880s construction on “Mighty Mac” didn’t begin until May 1954. From 1923 until the bridge opened in November 1957, ferries transported up to 9,000 vehicles a day between the peninsulas. During peak summer travel and fall hunting seasons traffic tie-ups stretched for miles and waits for the ferry lasted hours.
• The bridge’s 54-foot wide roadway at mid-span Is 200 feet above water level, where the maximum depth of the water is 295 feet.
• The two towers reach 552 feet above the water surface. Occasional fundraising raffles award a prize of a trip to the top of a tower, otherwise off limits to the public. Mike Rowe of the Discovery Channel climbed the two-foot diameter cables to the top of a tower for his “Dirty Jobs” program on the bridge.
• Vehicle crossings average 10,800 per day; tolls begin at $3.50 for passenger cars.
• The bridge is open to pedestrians only on Labor Day, and in 2010 42,000 people participated in the annual Bridge Walk from St. Ignace to Mackinaw City.
• The Mackinac Bridge is a part of the Interstate highway I-75, which connects Sault Ste. Marie with the Miami, Florida area.
“Sault” (pronounced soo) is an Old French word that references the rapids at St. Mary’s River, the waterway that connects the Great Lakes Superior and Huron and serves as an international border between the cities of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada. Native Americans, French fur traders, missionaries and explorers had to portage their canoes around the rapids, and large vessels were forced to unload and cart their goods to a second ship on the other side of the rushing waters. To aid navigation and compensate for the 21-foot difference between the two Great Lakes, in 1797 the Northwest Trading Company constructed a lock on the Canadian side of the river. It was destroyed during the War of 1812.
Copper and iron ore discoveries in the western U.P. inspired construction of a new U.S. lock to permit more efficient transport of cargo from Lake Superior, and in 1855 the State Lock opened.
The Army Corps of Engineers owns and operates the system, which consists of four locks. The Davis and Sabin locks, built in 1918 and 1919, are no longer functioning and will be replaced by one new “super lock” when funding is secured. The two working locks are the 800-foot long by 80-foot wide MacArthur Lock built in 1943, and the Poe Lock, which opened in 1968 and measures 1,200 feet long by 110 feet wide. Canada’s sole lock, built in 1895, is used for pleasure craft and tour boats.
• No pumps are used in lock operation. The water levels are controlled by the opening and closing of gates to raise and lower the water levels.
• About 10,000 vessels, from small passenger boats to 1,000-foot freighters, pass through toll-free each year.
• Of the 9,982 vessel passages in the 2010 season, 4,422 were cargo vessels carrying 74.5 million tons of goods.
• The majority of Great Lakes freighters (“Lakers”) and ocean-going ships (“Salties”) are loaded with iron ore (in the form of taconite pellets), limestone, coal, grain, cement, salt, and sand.
• Visitors can watch boats locking through from a raised viewing platform, (almost) reach-out-and-touch ground level, and on monitors at the Visitors Center.
• The Visitors Center, which has charts, maps, photos, film, and a working model of the locks, plus a Boatwatchers Telephone Hotline, is open from Mid-May to Mid-October.
• Soo Locks Boat Tours “lock through” the system on daily, two-hour sightseeing cruises from May to mid-October.
Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge
The 2.8 mile bridge spans the St. Mary’s River over the Soo Locks, and connects two countries and cultures between Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada.
When it opened in 1962 the steel truss arch bridge replaced the car ferry service that had carried traffic between the two countries.
• Average number of vehicle crossings per day in 2010 was 5,000.
• Tolls begin at $3 USD per passenger vehicle.
• On the last Saturday of June pedestrians are allowed to make the crossing from Michigan to Canada.
• Bicyclists may ride across the bridge in a vehicular traffic lane.
Cut River Bridge
This is a grand structure over a trickle of a creek. The graceful, 641-foot cantilevered steel deck bridge, supported by cut sandstone arches, carries U.S. Highway 2 traffic over the Cut River Valley.
• The gorge, hiking trails and Lake Michigan beach are 147 feet below the bridge and are accessible by 231 steps down (and back up).
• Construction began in 1941 but was interrupted by World War II and not completed until 1947.
• Cut River is about 25 miles northwest of St. Ignace and the Mackinac Bridge.