Labor Day means different things to different folks. To some it is a last day at the beach or lake. To some it is tennis at the U.S. Open. I will always associate the day with Jerry Lewis and the Muscular Distrophe Telethon, though both are no longer on the air.
On Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Labor Day means the Mackinac Bridge Walk. Now in its 58th year, for the walk people may walk the length of the bridge.
Walkers are traditionally led across by the governor of Michigan. In an average year, 40,000 to 65,000 people participate in the five-mile walk. This is nearly the combined population of the three counties connected by the bridge.
The walk was started and took place in late June 1958 during the Bridge’s dedication ceremony. That first year only 68 people walked across the bridge. The walk was changed to Labor Day in 1959, and until 1964, participants in the walk alternated north and south in consecutive years.
The Labor Day bridge walk is the sole exception to the rule prohibiting pedestrians on the bridge. At the beginning of the event, the two east lanes on the bridge—normally used for northbound traffic— are reserved for the southbound pedestrians, with the west lanes carrying two-way vehicular traffic. Walkers begin on the St. Ignace side of the bridge in the Upper Peninsula and walk south to Mackinaw City in the Lower Peninsula. Upon reaching Mackinaw City, walkers are awarded a numbered “Certificate of Completion.” School buses shuttle walkers back to their cars.
After 9:30 a.m. pedestrians are narrowed into just one of the east lanes so that the other may be opened to northbound vehicular traffic. Both southbound lanes are then given over to southbound traffic, which is heavier on Labor Day. No one is allowed to start walking after 11:00 a.m.