Great Lakes islands

Beaver Island known as America’s Emerald Isle revels in its Irish heritage and pristine sand beaches.

Part II of a series

This is the second in a series of snapshots of some of the islands that are part of the Great Lakes Islands Coalition (GLIC). The information is taken from material placed online by member organizations at the Island Showcase, GLIC’s website hosted by Northland College. ( You can also check out Manitoulin’s entry there, too.

Last week we shared some thoughts on islands in general, an introduction to GLIC, and a look at Madeline Island in Lake Superior. Next time, Les Cheneaux Islands.

by Jim Nies

Beaver Island

Beaver Island has been known for generations as America’s Emerald Isle; settled in the 19th century primarily by Irish immigrants the Island’s cerulean waters, beautiful forests, and verdant fields held poignant echoes of their distant homeland. That idyllic sense of place resonates just as clearly for present-day visitors and residents as it did for those early non-native settlers.

Located 51 kilometres off the coast of Charlevoix in Lake Michigan, Beaver Island is served by ferry and barge service as well as two airlines. With its rich hardwood forests, dense cedar swamps, dynamic dune landscapes, and secluded bogs and fens the Island houses an amazing diversity of wildlife and plant species—some of which are endemic to small areas of the Great Lakes and found nowhere else in the United States. Migrating birds find in the archipelago an array of diverse habitats which serve as a critical stopover site and offer birders 12,000 acres of readily accessible public lands. The night sky itself puts on a brilliant show with a procession of celestial objects undimmed by mainland light pollution.

For those seeking to immerse themselves in history, Beaver Island’s rich past includes not only an early Irish fishing community, but also vestiges of Native American inhabitation, and the turbulent story of a doomed Mormon kingdom, along with a short but intense lumbering boom.

Today, islanders are proud to share their community’s abundant resources with visitors. Two township boards govern Beaver Island while a long list of non-profit organizations support community missions. A Community Center provides year-round hospitality and events as well as housing WVBI, the only island-based radio station in the Great Lakes. Beaver Island Community School provides a quality education for Grades K-12. Health care is provided by the Rural Health Center, with two full-time nurse practitioners and a physician assistant, and a sheriff’s deputy, volunteer fire department, and Emergency Medical Service provide for the safety of residents and visitors alike.

The Island’s rich bounty of morels, blueberries, raspberries, cranberries and apples offer plentiful rewards to foragers, while the archipelago shorelines and seven interior lakes offer fishing opportunities and unparalleled water recreation for outdoor enthusiasts.

This sense of stewardship and pride runs deep among island inhabitants. A survey respondent during the recent master planning process cited the Island’s “remoteness…history, tranquility…and unspoiled beauty” as reasons for living here. Indeed, many of the same attributes that made Beaver Island special 150 years ago continue to charm today. As they like to say, “Once you get sand in your shoes, you’ll always want to come back.”

Note: if you are interested in Great Lakes islands and would like to be a member of the Manitoulin GLIC team, please email member Alicia McCutcheon at