Michigan Bucket List: Mackinac Island’s Lilac Festival
For a relatively quaint little place, Michigan’s Mackinac Island does summer celebrations in a big way – and nothing is larger than its annual Lilac Festival. This year, islanders and visitors alike will be ringing in the 74th annual festival celebrating the heavily scented blooms that hold a unique place in Mackinac’s history. The 10-day event will include a huge parade down the Main Street section of the island’s M-185 – the only highway in Michigan where cars are banned – as well as live music, lilac tours, a 10K run/walk and the crowning of the festival’s Lilac Queen.
This year’s festival is planned for June 3-12. Its theme is “Flower Power: Peace, Love, Lilacs.”
Historical blooms. So how did Mackinac become synonymous with bushes whose showy flowers blossom in hues of purple, pink and white? While lilacs are not native plants to this part of the world, the island is actually home to a historic group of lilac bushes, and some of the biggest and oldest lilacs growing in the United States and Canada, according to its tourism bureau. Lilacs have been blooming on the island for about 200 years. It’s thought that the first group of bushes came over with one of the early settler families who built homes on the island’s west side. It was popular at the time for European settlers in New England to grow lilacs for good luck. When the Hubbard family came to Mackinac from New Hampshire, they are thought to have brought some lilacs with them. Those lucky plants have now grown to be the island’s signature flower.
“Though the plants aren’t native to Mackinac, they find good growing conditions in the island’s shallow, well-drained soil with a high pH level due to the underlying limestone,” according to a tourism bureau lilac blog. “Adequate rainfall and a good hardening each winter have strengthened Mackinac’s lilacs to the point that they are the largest in the country – with some stems larger than two feet across at the base.”
A fun lineup. The Lilac Festival has a full lineup planned for this year. It has events geared just for spectators and art lovers, and others that encourage lots of participation. Here are some of the festival’s best-known events:
- Michigan Cornhole Lilac Festival Tournament: Whether you’re a social player or a competitive cornhole aficionado, you can sign up for this competition designed to accommodate all skill levels. This year, the bags will be flying June 11 at Windermere Point. Two-person teams can view the registration information and details here.
- Lilac Tours. This year’s tours are being led by lilac expert Jeff Young, who is a master gardener and university instructor who serves as Mackinac Island’s horticulturist for the festival. No registration is required for these tours, some of which will be walking tours while others are described as lilac planting seminars. These events are free. Each tour will meet at a designated area. Check the festival schedule for the most updated times.
- Grand Parade. This Main Street parade is a sight to behold. With horses, floats and kids on bikes, it’s a slice of pure summer Americana. It’s planned for June 12, beginning at 4 p.m. at Mission Point Resort, then following the curve of Main Street west until it reaches Windermere Point.
To see the full schedule of events, check here.
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