By Rick Coates
On Labor Day, tens of thousands of walkers will converge on the 53rd Annual Mackinac Bridge Walk. Since there is no fee charged to walk, only estimates are available on how many people participate; organizers guess that on a great year it‘s 60,000 plus, and on an average year, around 45,000. All indications point to this being a great year.
This has been a great tourism season here in St. Ignace, said Janet Peterson, executive director of the St. Ignace Chamber of Commerce. The weather has certainly helped out this year
compared to last year. The Bridge Walk is one of the big events of the year for us; it is sort of the unofficial end of the summer celebration for a lot of people.
For Peterson and the business community of St. Ignace, the 50,000-plus expected for this weekend will be a huge economic shot in the arm.
Sometimes people think St. Ignace is just a town you drive through to get to other destinations in the Upper Peninsula, said Peterson. But we are also a destination. There is a lot to do here, plus, this is a great place to day-trip when going to the falls, the Soo locks, Mackinac Island and even Mackinaw City. We have a lot going on this weekend with our Arts & Crafts Dockside event Saturday and Sunday with 100-plus exhibits, lots of music and a fireworks show.
St. Ignace is also where the Annual Mackinac Bridge Walk begins, hosted by the Mackinac Bridge Authority.
If you are coming to St. Ignace for the weekend you may start here, the walk begins around 7 a.m. and you have until 11 a.m. to get started, said Peterson. There is bus service that will bring you back to St. Ignace for $5 per person.
The 2010 Labor Day Bridge Walk is being dedicated to Lawrence A. Rubin, who passed away this year. Mr. Rubin was known to the people of Michigan as an instrumental figure in the construction and leadership of the Mackinac Bridge. He was the executive secretary of the Mackinac Bridge Authority from 1950-1983.
John Rintamaki is the accountant for the Mackinac Bridge Authority and coordinator for the Bridge Walk. So, does Rintamaki use his accounting skills to determine the number of participants each year?
No, no, we have a couple of formulas we use to come up with our best guesstimate, said Rintamaki. We hand out numbered certificates as people finish the walk, plus we look at the number of tickets sold to ride the bus over from Mackinaw City, but not everyone uses the busses or gets a certificate, so we do our best. 65,000 participants has been our best year.
So what impacts the numbers?
A lot of things, from weather to campaigning, said Rintamaki. The weather looks good and since this is a campaign year we expect attendance to be up. Campaigns and organizations like to get their message out and we are in favor of that. But we do not allow signs or banners to be carried on the bridge for safety reasons.
BE IN SHAPE...
Speaking of safety, has the walk ever been cancelled?
No, we have had to delay it a few times over the years, said Rintamaki. We monitor the weather very closely every day for safety reasons.
What should people contemplating doing the walk for the first time take into consideration before attempting?
Remember that it is five miles and it takes around two hours; if it is hot and humid there is no shade, said Rintamaki. So I would recommend that all participants make sure they healthy enough and physically in shape to walk that distance.
While organizing the walk is not a full-time job, Rintamaki says somedays it sure seems like one.
I work on it year-round but it is usually just a meeting here and there and then it starts picking up in the spring with more meetings. There is a lot of coordination with the Governors office, the National Guard, law enforcement and the many others who help us. By August 1, I am on this full time to get it ready. We have crews out putting up fencing, there are stages to be
set up and lots of porta-johns to arrange for.
The Mackinac Bridge Walk is the only time that people are allowed to walk over the bridge, but the Bridge Authority does allow for other special crossing events throughout the year.
We close down one lane for the DALMAC bike ride; we have been doing that for years. For the Bridge Walk we do not allow people to run or jog but the Governors Office does take a group at the start for a jog across and you have to sign up in advance and they draw names to determine who gets to jog with the Governor, said Rintamaki. We do have a couple of running events and we even have an antique tractor parade over the bridge.
For details on the 53rd Annual Mackinac Bridge Walk and other events taking place at the bridge, visit the Mackinac Bridge Authority website at www.mackinacbridge.org and for all the happenings in St. Ignace over the weekend check out www.stignace.com