Contact: Ryan Kazmirzack email@example.com 517-763-5254
This is a plan for the state of Michigan to offer Mackinac Bridge tower tours to the public as a paid tourist attraction. The idea is not as crazy as it sounds — the state already lets HUNDREDS of visitors climb to the top each year, for free, but the tours mostly go to people with insider connections. Opening tours to everyone is fairer, and it will raise money for the state that can be used to cover the ENTIRE cost of the annual Labor Day Mackinac Bridge Walk event — at ZERO cost to taxpayers. The full plan is about a 4-minute read.
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The most dramatic view in Michigan is the view from the top of the Mackinac Bridge. From that aerial vantage point, high above the 4-mile-wide strait that connects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, you can see the Upper Peninsula, the Lower Peninsula, the green cables of the iconic suspension bridge stretching out to link the two landmasses, Mackinac Island with its historic fort, and several other islands, all in one sweeping, 360-degree view.
It’s a view that few get to see: only 277 visitors got to go to the top in 2019. This tally includes 87 members of the general public; the other 190 were well-connected VIPs.
Getting to the top is an adventure that starts by squeezing through a narrow hatch in the side of one of the bridge’s two towers. There’s an elevator inside the tower (original to when the bridge was built in 1957) that’s barely big enough to fit a guide plus two people crammed together, but it doesn’t go all the way up so you’ll have to climb 40 feet of ladders before finally wiggling through a suck-in-your-gut opening at the top, nearly 550 feet above the water and 350 feet above the roadbed and traffic below.
Probably not a good idea for those with claustrophobia or a fear of heights. (But there are sturdy guardrails up top, and there’s no tower sway or vibrations from traffic.)
Offering Mackinac Bridge tower tours as a paid tourist attraction could easily generate more than $500,000 per year for the state. This money could be used to offset bridge maintenance costs, helping keep tolls down. (A boring but practical use.) A more interesting idea: use the funds to restore shuttle service for the annual Labor Day Mackinac Bridge Walk, to get walkers from the Mackinaw City side of the bridge to the traditional starting point on the St. Ignace side. Or, paid tower tours could cover the ENTIRE cost of the bridge walk — at ZERO cost to taxpayers.
It’s not crazy. In 2009, Golden Gate Bridge officials considered offering tower tours as a paid tourist attraction to help defray costs. The idea (which they estimated could generate $9 million annually) was put on hold due to concerns that tours would interfere with an ongoing project to retrofit the bridge to better protect it from seismic activity. More than 4 million people have paid to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia. Heck, even NASA now lets tourist visit the International Space Station. The state already allows hundreds of guests to visit the top of the Mackinac Bridge each year for free, so there is no legitimate reason it can’t offer tours to the general public.
There are logistical details to work out before moving forward, but it’s a good idea worth exploring. It’s a simple plan to put an under-utilized asset to more productive use.
Offering Mackinac Bridge tower tours as a paid tourist attraction will raise money for the state, increase tourism, boost the economy, and boost state pride. It’s also a fairer system than gifting tours to VIPs.
A new revenue stream for the state: If Michigan simply conducts the exact same number of tower tours as it did in 2019 but charged instead of giving the tours away for free, it will generate a modest profit. Scaling up could easily bring in more than $500,000 annually. That’s a conservative estimate based on reasonable expectations of direct ticket sales. An aggressive tour schedule, or selling tickets via a lottery system, could raise substantially more.
The funds could be used to: