ALPENA - A celebration of Michigan's lighthouses and their roles in maritime history starts Oct. 11 in Alpena.
The Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival is celebrating its 17th year, opening with a kickoff dinner on the opening day and continuing through Oct. 14, festival Coordinator Melanie Kirn said. Its focus is to raise public awareness of Michigan's many lighthouses, including several in Northeast Michigan, through a series of fun events. The festival also serves as a central point for those who work to preserve the historic buildings to tell people about their efforts and invite them to help.
"Michigan has the most lighthouses in all the United States, almost 130, I believe," she said. "There's a lot of people that don't even know that."
Alpena is an ideal city for the festival, as it's a central point between 11 lighthouses on Lake Huron, from Tawas Point to Mackinac Point, Kirn said. Several of them will be open to the public, with boat tours taking sightseers to others. There are other maritime-themed attractions as well, like the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and glass-bottom boat shipwreck cruises on Lady Michigan.
On Oct. 11, the Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival museum opens at 10 a.m., Kirn said. Admission is $2, and children 12 and under get in free. The museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. throughout the festival.
The festival welcome party begins on the same day at 5 p.m. in the Michigan Room of the Holiday Inn, 1000 US-23 North. The cost is $15 to attend. There will be dinner, entertainment and a silent auction.
What: Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival
Where: Alpena APlex, 701 Woodward Ave., Alpena and others
When: Oct. 11-14
The festival's main events will be in and around the APlex, 701 Woodward Ave., opening Oct. 12 at 12 p.m., Kirn said. Booths from lighthouse groups, artists, authors and more than 75 vendors will be inside. Admission is $2.50 for adults age 17 and up, and free for those 16 and younger.
The APlex will be the departure point for helicopter flights over five area lighthouses, according to a schedule from Magnum Helicopter. Tours run from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Oct. 13, and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Oct. 14. Prices range from $35 per passenger for a five-minute flight over the Alpena lighthouse to $200 for a 40- to 45-minute flight over all five, including both Presque Isle lights. Call 248-730-1230 for more information.
There will be at least 20 lighthouse groups from around the state coming to the APlex, Kirn said. Among them are organizations to preserve Presque Isle's old and new lights, as well as those on Thunder Bay and Middle Island.
Stoney Acres Winery will be selling 200 bottles for $35 each starting Oct. 12, Kirn said. It's named the "Mackinac Miracle," in honor of the St. Helena light, the festival's featured lighthouse. The Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival organization gets a portion of the proceeds.
"Those always sell like hotcakes," she said.
The sanctuary will be open throughout the festival, with several events planned for Oct. 12 starting at 10 a.m., Kirn said. Admission is free, and more information on the sanctuary can be found online at thunderbay.noaa.gov.
The APlex opens at 10 a.m. Oct. 13-14, and the United States Coast Guard Alpena Auxiliary is inviting all Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts to participate in opening ceremonies shortly beforehand, Kirn said. Those interested should be there by 9:30 a.m.
Another highlight of the festival is a live auction in the APlex on Oct. 13 starting at 12 p.m., Kirn said. Lighthouse organizations have the opportunity to sell up to five items and keep all of the proceeds. One organization will sell a weekend trip to a lighthouse in the Upper Peninsula.
Family day is Oct. 14, with kid-friendly events planned throughout the day, according to the festival schedule. Kids will get "Lighthouse Passports," and those who get stamps from all of the exhibitors inside will get a surprise.
Ultimately, the festival is about preserving an important part of maritime history, and the light keepers who risked their lives, Kirn said.
"When people were coming out into uncharted grounds and waters, there were many dangers they did not know about, and lives were lost," she said. "These lighthouses were put out there to warn the boats, and the keepers devoted their lives to maintaining these lighthouses. It's a part of history that can't be forgotten."
For more information, call the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce at 354-4181 or visit www.lighthousefestival.org.
Jordan Travis can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5688.