It’s not hard to see why Mackinac Island, Mich., Is called the jewel of the Great Lakes. Vacationers love it for the natural beauty and the quaint atmosphere, preserved from a simpler time.
It’s not hard to hear why they love it, either: Other than emergency and construction vehicles, there are no cars or trucks on the island to disturb the quiet. They’ve been banned for more than a century.
Except, that is, for Saturday afternoon, when Vice President Mike Pence paid a motorized visit that has some Mackinac lovers up in arms.
The island, all of which is listed as a national historic site, was hurtled into the 21 st century when Mr. Pence arrived at the island’s airport by helicopter and then made his way down Cadotte Avenue, one of the island’s main roads, in a motorcade of eight S.U.V.s, flanked by state police on bicycles. He was on his way to a Republican Party conference at the Grand Hotel, less than a mile from the airport as the crow flies. The eight S.U.V.s had been brought to the island by ferry for the purpose.
Some residents and regular visitors and a few Democratic state politicians were aghast. Mark Brewer, the former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, called the motorcade“ ridiculous, ”“ “unnecessary” and “disrespectful.”The lobbyist and former journalist Ron Fournier called it“sacrilege.”
Mr. Pence, the first sitting vice president to visit Mackinac Island, is apparently also the first government official to break with the island’s carless tradition. Previous VIPs have gotten around the 3.8-square-mile island by horse-drawn carriage, including former presidents and the only sitting president to visit, Gerald Ford, in 1975 – although his Secret Service detail did have a backup vehicle on the island in case of emergency.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Pence did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday night.
Mackinac (pronounced Mack-ee-naw) is one of a handful of places across the United States that do not allow automobiles, including Tangier Island in Chesapeake Bay and Supai in the Havasupai Nation, in Arizona.
It is a tradition that is central to the allure of the island. And it has drawn numerous accolades from travel publications.
At the dawn of the automobile era, many small communities were concerned that noisy, smelly newfangled automobiles would scare the horses that most people depended upon, and the village of Mackinac was no exception. The village council resolved on July 6, 1898, that “the running of horseless carriages be prohibited within the limits of the village.” One resident wasquotedas referring to cars as “mechanical monsters.”
Most of the rest of the island is state parkland, and the Mackinac Island State Park Commission followed suit in 1901, imposing a ban after Earl C. Anthony, a “summer cottager” who brought a car to the island, scared and injured some horses and several carriages were damaged.
Those bans soon fell away in mainland communities, but on Mackinac Island they have stuck to this day, helping to preserve it as a picturesque oasis of Victorian “cottages,” locally owned shops and natural beauty with a year-round population of about 470. The former fur trading outpost has become a hugely popular vacation spot for Midwestern families during the summer months, attracting nearly one million visitors a year.
) Besides being car-free, the island is also known for its fudge. It has 15 fudge stores, and the tourists who frequent them are called “fudgies . ”
The island can be reached only by air, by ferry or by boat, and people get around on foot, on bikes or by horse. There are more than 600 horses on the island during the summer season, and 1, 400 bikes available to rent, according to the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau. Electric bikes are permitted with proof of disability. The island’s golf course has motorized carts, but they must remain on the golf course property at all times.
Despite the uproar in some quarters over Mr. Pence’s visit, some Michigan natives said they understood whysecurity concernsmight have necessitated a break with tradition.
“The idea of cars on Mackinac Island makes me wince,” Alicia Rancilio, a journalist from the state, wrote on Twitter. “But I do recognize security issues like this may require them.”
Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry, the company that delivered the eight SUVs to the island, said it was proud to have done so.
“It was our honor to transport the VP’s emergency vehicles to Mackinac Island this weekend, ”Shepler’s posted on its Facebook page. “Regardless of your political views, your voting history, or your choice in fudge flavor, we hope you’ll understand the logistical intricacies involved in securing our leaders while visiting. We were happy to be selected for this important transport. ”
Vanessa Swales is a reporter covering national news for The New York Times. She previously worked for NBC Investigations, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, Diario SUR and SUR in English.@Vanessa_Swales