Mackinac Island is one of Michigan's best loved and most visited tourist destinations. But would you believe the island, via a legal loophole, could become a National Park?

What would that mean for the car-free, fudge-filled Island? We're not sure, but here's how the transfer could happen.

Mackinac - the Once and Future (?) National Park

Mackinac Island was actually once a National Park, the second one in the nation to be created, in fact. Mackinac National Park was created in 1875 and was part of the National Park Service for twenty years, being decommissioned in 1895.

When the national park land was turned over to the state in 1895, it was stipulated that the area must remain a Michigan State Park. If it doesn't, the land would return to the control of the United States. Mackinac then became the first Michigan State Park.

From the congressional record at the time:

The Secretary of War (who had oversight of the park) is hereby authorized, on application of the governor of Michigan to turn over to the State of Michigan, for use as a State park and for no no other purpose...lands of the national park on Mackinac Island....Provided, that whenever the State ceases to use the land for the purposes aforesaid it shall revert to the United States.

Mackinac Almost Became A National Park Again in 1963

The state of Michigan almost lost the rights to Mackinac Island with the land reverting to the federal government in 1963. It involved a plan to build an airport on the island. The state would have transferred park land to the City of Mackinac Island for the purpose of building the airport. The Michigan Attorney General intervened and stated that should the transfer take place between the Park and the City, the park land would no longer be under the State Park jurisdiction as a city-controlled airport. Therefore, the federal government could step in and take the land back.

Mackinac Island's Lost National Park History

National Parks Traveler published an article in 2011 about the forgotten history of Mackinac National Park. Mackinac was the second national park to be established after Yellowstone. However, because the park was turned over to the state 20 years later, other parks now claim Mackinac's true spot as the nation's second national park. Both Yosemite and Sequoia-King's Canyon in California claim the second-park status, having been created in 1890.


[Inspired by this r/Michigan thread]

It's unlikely Mackinac Island would ever fall under the ownership of the National Parks Service. But if it ever did, it would rank highly on this list of the nation's most popular parks.

RANKED: Here are the most popular national parks

To determine the most popular national parks in the United States, Stacker compiled data from the National Park Service on the number of recreational visits each site had in 2020. Keep reading to discover the 50 most popular national parks in the United States, in reverse order from #50 to #1. And be sure to check with individuals parks before you visit to find out about ongoing, pandemic-related safety precautions at

Gallery Credit: Hannah Lang

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