Researched and Written By Karen Rieser
Photo Credit to mymichigantrips.com
Power Island is the largest undeveloped island in the Great Lakes and sits in the middle of West Grand Traverse Bay. She holds Native American tales of hauntings, secrets of hermit fishers, dance hall romances, memories of visits by American aristocracy, fear of an attempt to develop, and finally relief in being left to nature.
With the formation of the Grand Traverse Bay, it became the Bay’s largest island. Topographically the island is a mile long and at its middle half-mile wide. Power Island covers 200 acres with its three miles of white sandy beach awash with Caribbean blue water. A hill sometimes referred to as Mount Ford, is found at its center. A few meters north is the one-acre Bassett Island. A 150-yard low rocky strait connects the two islands, water levels permitting, and have worked in unison supporting nature and recreation.
Over the centuries, what have boaters traveling the 6.5 miles from Clinch Park found?
According to Geocaching, Power Island, Kluso, 7/16/2000, larger animals such as deer, fox, and bobcats inhabit the island. The carnivores prey on voles, woodland deer mice, and short-tailed shrews.
An article written by Mrs. “Harbor Bert” Kroupa tells the story of the first Native Americans to inhabit the island. In the beginning, they camped in a small cove on the western side of the island but moved to the eastern side after experiencing a haunting. The Indians reported seeing a ghostly white man carrying a pail, hammer, and anvil wandering the island. For generations, natives and white men have experienced nightly visions of this white man standing over the light of a fire and hearing the clang, clang, clang of his hammer.
The first white man to reside on the island was in 1850 when McKinley Wilson of Sarnia, Canada, homesteaded it. He removed timber and planted corn. Mr. Wilson stayed for a year and a half.
For twenty-five years, Dick Bassett, known as a hermit fisherman, homesteaded what has become known as Bassett Island. At this time, Power Island was known as Eagle Island as a pair of American Bald Eagles made it their home. Mr. Bassett named the female “Old Hell Cat” and the male “Poor Him.” Evidently, “Old Hell Cat” would steal “Poor Him’s” daily catch. After she devoured her fill, she would leave him the scraps berating him as he ate.
Eagle Island then became Hog Island. For several years farmers released hogs on the island to free-range feed over the summer. This practice stopped when the farmers suspected the Indians were stealing their livestock. Others thought it might be the farmers themselves removing the livestock.
In 1881, Frederick Hall, a Grand Rapids, MI government worker, bought the island for back taxes. He gave the island to his daughter and gave it her name. Marion visited the island once later in life but kept it for years as a monument to her father.
In 1905 the Chicago Yacht Club wanted to buy Bassett Island, hoping to hold National Regattas there. Mr. Bassett could not provide a clear title, and the deal fell through. Sometime later, Bassett island was sold to a group of citizens from Traverse City. In 1906 this group built a dock, pavilion, and an electric plant on the island. For a few seasons, people boarded the steamer Chequenagou to attend dances offered three times a week.
In 1917 Henry Ford bought Marion island from Marion for $100,000. It was then known as Ford Island. Locals suspected that Ford would build a resort or game preserve on the island. These suspicions proved to be false. Instead, Mr. Ford’s yacht brought guests to the island, among them Harvey Firestone, Thomas Edison, three U.S. Presidents, and Babe Ruth, who was apparently escorted off the island after a drunken altercation. While the men enjoyed visiting the island, their wives enjoyed themselves at the Park Hotel in Traverse City.
In 1944 Ford sold the Island to Charles Rennie, founder of the Rennie Oil Company. It was then named Rennie Island. There is little information as to the sales and purchases over the next twenty-six years.
In 1970, the island gained attention once again. It became known that a developer was eyeing the island to build cottages. For those who used the island for recreation, this was unthinkable. The Traverse City Chamber of Commerce formed a committee to save the island for public use only. Sadie and Eugene Power, Ann Arbor philanthropists, gave $250,000 to support this cause. The island was bought through the Nature Conservancy and named Power Island in honor of the family whose great gift enabled the purchase. In 1975 Power Island became a Grand Traverse County public park for all to enjoy.
Today one can only reach Power Island using personal watercraft. The County did run a ferry service to and from the island from 2014 through 2016. However, this service was discontinued for lack of use.
Outdoor enthusiasts venture out to the island to picnic, walk the beaches, fish, kayak, swim, camp, hike the five-mile trail system, bird watch, dive, and walk their dogs.
Divers enjoy exploring the shipwreck of the Tramp, a tugboat that sank in forty-four feet of water at the southern tip of the island in 1970. The site is protected by the Grand Traverse Underwater Preserve and is often buoyed.
Power Island is enjoyed in all seasons. Boats line the shore all summer long. In the fall, trails are hiked to experience a brilliant color tour. When the Bay freezes over, people have been known to walk to the island, and with the excitement of spring, people travel to catch sight of the first hints of green.
Whatever its name over the years; Eagle, Hog, Bassett, Round, Bowers, Marion, Ford, Rennie, or Power; this small island sitting in the middle of the west arm of the Grand Traverse Bay is a real emerald treasure for all to enjoy!
For more information go to http://www.grandtraverse.org/Facilities/Facility/Details/Power-Island-Bassett-Island-8