Separating the warmer, shallower waters of Green Bay from the colder, deeper waters of Lake Michigan-Huron are the Grand Traverse Islands---also known as the Grand Traverse Chain. Part of the vast Niagara Escarpment, and consisting of eight large islands (Plum, Detroit, Washington, Rock, St. Martin, Poverty, Summer, and Little Summer) and nine smaller islands (Spider, Gravel, Pilot, Hog, Fish, Gull, Little Gull, Gravelly, and Rocky), the chain stretches all the way from Door County, Wisconsin, to Upper Michigan's Garden Peninsula---a distance of approximately 27 miles, as the crow flies.
Seen from the air, the archipelago resembles a series of giant stepping stones...
And, in fact, that is how the Grand Traverse Islands got their name: for the French Voyageurs making the crossing from one peninsula to the other in the 17th- and 18th-centures, the islands represented a "Grand Traverse."
For many years, the states of Wisconsin and Michigan struggled with each other for control of the island chain, as well as the valuable fishing rights that came with them---a battle that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. In settling the matter, a line was drawn through the Rock Island Passage and to this day the northern half of the islands remain part of Michigan while the southern half of the islands remain part of Wisconsin.
In 1970, the US Department of the Interior recommended that the "Green Bay Islands" be protected and made available for recreational use in its landmark Islands of America report. On the heels of that recommendation, Wisconsin and Michigan began jointly planning the creation of an interstate wilderness park there. Wisconsin even went as far as to commission an environmental impact study of the proposed Grand Traverse Islands State Park in 1978 and purchased five small plots of land on Detroit Island for inclusion into the park shortly thereafter.
Sadly, either because of decreasing state coffers or the changing politics of the 1980s, the interstate park plan was abandoned.
Decades later, the island chain remains unprotected and unsung. Critically important habitat for the threatened and endangered plants and animals found there is dwindling throughout the region and some of the historic buildings located there are now among the nation’s most endangered maritime structures...
The remainder of this tour highlights various natural and historic landmarks found throughout the area and explores the islands' history...