Island in the East
By Mikel B. Classen
In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the “Far East” doesn’t mean the orient, Buddhism, or rickshaws. It means small resorts, tucked away campsites, wilderness trails, and outstanding hunting and fishing. It means Drummond Island, one of the most interesting and secluded places in the U.P. Drummond Island is the largest island in the Great Lakes in U.S. territory, containing 137 square miles, much of this is state land which is open to the public. The possibilities are endless.
The island is the eastern most point in the Upper Peninsula, located east of the Straits of Mackinac. To get there, go north of the Mackinac Bridge on I-75 for 15 miles, then head east on M-134 for 40 miles to Detour Village.
Right away the fun starts aboard a car ferry to Drummond Island. There aren’t many of these left in Michigan, they’re a rare treat. You drive on at Detour and drive off at Drummond, never leaving your car. The ferry runs year round. If the route gets too iced-in during winter, the ice becomes a road.
Once on the island, there are paved roads and the small community of Drummond. Cottages, private homes and resorts are tucked away in quiet and scenic corners. This is a passive island that seems detached and unconcerned with the rest of the world. That’s what makes a stay here so pleasant, the feeling of being away from everything.
Hunting and fishing on the island is legendary. The bays produce record catches of perch and walleye, while inland lakes are well-stocked with trophy bass and pike. Game is plentiful, with healthy populations of all Michigan game animals including black bear, deer and ruffed grouse. There also seems to be heavy nesting migration of varied waterfowl. To really make your stay interesting, throughout the island are fishing and hunting resorts which, besides producing private and fully equipped cabins, also have guide, boat and bait services, which can be rented or chartered. This island caters to the sportsman.
Drummond Island is full of trails, hidden lakes and wilderness. Backpackers, canoeists, bicyclist, horsepackers, and O.R.V. enthusiasts are at home here. It’s year-round so snowmobilers, cross-country skiers, and snowshoers are included. Drummond Island is well developed for all of these activities, with trails that wind deep into the unpopulated interior of the north and east. This area is remote and thick. It’s the ideal spot for isolationists and explorers, spectacular fall and spring beauty can be seen here.
Summer brings bugs, and preparation is a must. Winter provides snowmobile touring that leaves virtually all areas accessible. Photography opportunities are breathtaking and a trip to the island should always include a camera. With the abundance of wildlife and scenery, many rolls of film will be used.
There is a rich and intriguing history that shows Drummond has always been a place of refuge and escape. Settling began when the British were forced to retreat from Mackinac in 1812, but still had to maintain control of the upper Great Lakes. There was a large Indian meeting place and ceremonial ground in the area, so control and protection was a prime concern. The massacre at the fort a few years earlier had made them wary. The U.P. provided a rich fur trade that seemed endless, providing king and crown with wealth that they weren’t going to give up. In order to maintain their grip on the upper waterway, they retreated and established a fort on Drummond Island. It was erected on a high hill which overlooked where Detour is today and the channel in between. This fort was fully garrisoned for about ten years. After that it was abandoned when it was ruled that Drummond Island was U.S. territory.
After that the island lay unused for a few years until a Mormon named Seaman built the first permanent homestead, fleeing persecution from Beaver Island. There had been a settlement of Mormons there, but they were driven off the Island because their leader had declared himself king and the U.S. government was unhappy with that. Thinking that Drummond Island could give them a new foothold and peace at last, he settled. It wasn’t long before more of the refugee Mormons followed. Soon non-Mormons started to trickle in and other small settlements began to be carved out of the harsh environment. Again the Mormons found themselves in a battle for religious survival. Prejudice from the outsiders eventually manifested itself in religious debates and arguments. It was a fight that in the end the Mormons lost, resulting in being driven away once again.
Eventually, dolomite was discovered and a mine opened up. Suddenly, Drummond Island had come into its own. This is the only actual industry on the island, and it still operates today. The mine is the first thing a visitor sees when arriving on the car ferry. The entire island economy revolves around this mine and tourism.
This rich history and the hard realities of settling the island is aptly depicted at the Drummond Island Historical Museum. It has nice displays which give a wonderful and vivid overview of the settling and progress that has taken place. This is perhaps the best way to get a feel for the island, the people, and the way of life here. Displays of models, artifacts, photos, and clippings are set out so that the viewer takes a trip along a timeline that leads to an eye opening understanding of the descendants of these hardy and determined pioneers.
For the explorers out there, a drive along some of the roads will take you to locations of some of the original island settlements and past standing and ruined homesteads. These monuments of the past can be seen struggling to survive within the growth of the countryside.
Remains of the old fort can still be found. To find it, go back to the ferry landing. Head into the island and take the first turn to the right. This is a dirt road that runs along the edge of the dolomite quarry. Follow it for a mile and a half. The road will run alongside of the quarry for part of the way. As the quarry edge moves away from the road, trees will start filling in. Soon it will turn into cedar trees. This is where the fort once stood. The entire area is overgrown with cedars. If you come to a fork in the road, back up. You just passed it. Get out and walk around the cedars on the west side of the road and soon the old site will become apparent. About 100 feet from the road are old stone chimneys and building foundations. A good picture of what things were like there can be conjured. It is rumored there are tunnels running under the site where the British used to store their ammunition and supplies. It is reputed they were quite extensive. Standing on the edge of where the mine reaches the Fort Drummond site, a good view of the waterway known as the Detour Passage can be seen and one realizes the fort’s purpose.
On the fort site there are a couple of old wells that are unmarked, care should be taken when walking.
Accommodations on the island are varied, from the many resorts to the couple of motels. There is a campground which is six miles from the ferry landing off the main road. The turnoff is well marked on the northeast side of the road. The campground cost is small. There are electrical hookups provided but nothing else, no shower or sewer facilities. This is located at a sheltered cove on Potagannissing Bay, which consists of a rocky shoreline on the south side of the island. On the whole, this is a nice campground which gets very little use. There are about 75 sites and are reasonably spread out providing privacy and quiet. Small boats can be launched here, but mid-size and larger have to use one of the dozen other sites found elsewhere.
Drummond Island is a self sufficient community, so many supplies such as gas and groceries can be found, but are at a higher price. The island can provide a visit both satisfying and memorable. Explore and enjoy.
One closing tip, pick up a Department of Natural Resources map to help your stay. These show all of the backroads and points of interests. They are invaluable. They’ll help you plan your adventures better. For further information, write the Drummond Island Chamber of Commerce at Drummond Island, MI 49726.
You can also check out their website at : https://www.visitdrummondisland.com/
Another good site is : http://www.drummondisland.net/
Content copyright . Mikel Classen. All rights reserved.