Mackinac Island’s Lilac Festival turns into a virtual, but still beautiful experience

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MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. (WLNS) — Mackinac Island is known for fudge shops, the clip-clop of horses, bicycle rides and thousands of lilacs.

They’re in full bloom right now. And they’re beautiful.

Despite having to cancel the Lilac Festival and this weekend’s Grand Parade because of social distancing guidelines, organizers have planned the next best thing: A virtual festival.

This one includes social media chats, videos and fun facts about about the lilac’s history on the Island, which dates back to the early 1800s. An earlier Grand Parade even will be re-aired on TV 9&10 in Northern Michigan, as well as on Mackinac’s Facebook page.

“It’s been a well-received effort,” said Tim Hygh, Mackinac Island Tourism’s executive director, who in our recent Michigan’s Best Podcast/Video tipped his hat to his staff and lilac expert Jeff Young for creating the virtual experience.

“People still want to see their lilacs. The want to see them in their back yard and they want to see them again when they come to Mackinac. We did everything we could to bring the lilacs virtually (to them),” he said.

Lilacs are not native to the Western Hemisphere, but were brought here from Britain and Eastern Europe, said Young, who is also a master gardener and former curator of lilacs at the University of Vermont Horticulture Farm.

Some of the oldest on the island can be found near Harbour View Inn, near Marquette Park, which has more than 70 varieties of lilacs, Young said.

Through historic photos and other documentation, he thinks they have been there since 1820. Four of the original trees, which have a 2-foot base, are still on site and “extremely rare.”

“And they’re doing quite nicely today,” he said.

The Lilac Festival dates back to 1949, which is part of the reason lilacs are an iconic part of the Island, Hygh said.

“People count on them. It’s part of the fabric of what we do,” Hygh said. “It was a big festival to miss that’s for sure. It’s personal anytime anything goes away, and this was one of the more personal events that we had to adjust. And that’s why we put in the effort to do this as virtually as possible.”

As Michigan begins to slowly reopen in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the Island is gearing up to be fully open by June 25, Hygh said. Only five smaller business have decided to close for the season.

A grand re-opening is planned for next weekend, but many restaurants, hotels and fudge shops are open now for visitors who are arriving daily on those signature ferry boats.

“We’re opening, one page at a time,” Hygh said. “The island is going to look and feel the same as it always has … . Especially as the governor’s executive orders change, and more people from out of state are feeling comfortable to come.

“Let’s hope we continue to head into that direction, and we can get as back to normal as possible this year.”

Expect to see those lilacs, as many of the late-late bloomers will still be around well into July.

See the schedule of virtual events through the weekend (below).

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This story is adapted from MLive.

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