Leelanau News and Events

Pointing To Rocky History With NPS, Manitou Transit Cancels 2020 Service

By Emily Tyra | June 11, 2020

In a heartfelt statement given by Manitou Island Transit co-owner Megan Grosvenor Munoz on Tuesday from the Leland Harbor, she announced that the company will not run service to South and North Manitou Islands this year.

“For the first year in over 100, our boat will stay in the harbor. We come to you with this news in hopes that you will support us and can help us get back on our feet in years following, as our relationship with the National Park Service has left us in a position where we truly have no choice this year,” she said.

Munoz tells the Leelanau Ticker, “I believe customers are as devastated as we are. Many rode to the islands when my grandfather drove the boat, and they are like my family.”

The 4th-generation family business — co-owned by Munoz with her brother Michael Grosvenor and operated together with their spouses — was established in 1917 when the Grosvenor family started running mail boats to the islands. Munoz tells the Leelanau Ticker all of their children now work in the business and “our hope is that one of them will want to take it over.”

A statement issued by the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore explained the situation at the islands this year: “High water in Lake Michigan has damaged the dock at South Manitou Island, making it unsafe for disembarking passengers until it can be repaired. At North Manitou Island, sand movement over the winter has made dock access nearly impossible until a previously planned dredging contract can be carried out in late July.”

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore deputy superintendent Tom Ulrich tells the Leelanau Ticker the dredging at North Manitou should be completed by the end of July, “but, over half of their season is already gone at that point, compounded by uncertainty about South Manitou and reduced capacity due to Covid, and they are not able to salvage their season.” He says the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers will still move forward with the dredging project contract, though the ferry will not be running. “We have been trying to get them out there for over three years, and once that sand closes in, it really starts to build up, which undoubtably would mean a much, much larger dredge required next year.”

Munoz says the dock area at South Manitou also needs to be dredged to allow continued ferry boat access. From her perspective, the backstory on the docks being inoperative originates back to the islands being designated part of the National Lakeshore, when Manitou Island Transit became the authorized concessionaire of the National Park Service. She was a child at the time. “The boats ran smoothly from docks on private property until the islands were designated a national park. The national park decided upon the new dock locations against the advice of generations of our family, each informing the national park that these specific locations would present significant issues including frequent dock maintenance and yearly dredging. The National Park Service has not budgeted money to maintain the docks in the way that is necessary for their chosen locations. This year, the water is not deep enough for us to dock on either island.”

She adds that the need for dredging is revisited every year. “The truth is we are never sure if it is a funding issue or if we are not considered a priority. Every year we cross our fingers with hopes we can get in. Well, this was finally the year we cannot.” She adds while not a first-choice solution, Manitou Island Transit has considered the option to lease land from the park service in order to build and maintain its own docks on the islands. She says, “that way at least we will know. The difference is a business is proactive, and an entity like the national park is reactive.” She adds: “We have weekly conference calls with the park, and we are working on our relationship and trust.”

Ulrich tells the Leelanau Ticker, “there is backstory there, and we totally sympathize. No one loves the islands more than the Grosvenor family, and they have provided this service for decades and decades. It’s also how they put food on the table.”

He adds, “What they are really trying to get is a better long-term picture, to not continually be in this position with the park trying to cobble together funding for dredging. They might be right that the dock is not in the best location, and we are planning to do an engineering study to see how to do this better in that location or in another. We have proposed funding longer term for that inquiry.”

Superintendent Scott Tucker also acknowledged the difficult position the ferry company is in. “They want very badly to serve visitors to the islands they love, but we just could not get the docks fully operational in time for them to salvage their season. Both the National Lakeshore and Manitou Island Transit look forward to resuming ferry service to the islands in 2021.”

For those seeking alternatives to get to the islands this year, Munoz says to call Manitou Island Transit office, as their two captains can take visitors on smaller boats, “but unfortunately it is not going to be the $42 it was on the Mishe-Mokwa — pricing will reflect charter rates.” The Manitou Island Transit gift store in Leland Harbor will remain open this season.

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