Aerial Assignment: Beaver Island

Photo credit - Kevin J. Miyazaki Kevin Miyazaki, a contributing photographer for Michigan Travel Ideas, shares his experience of shooting Beaver Island Michigan from a two-seater airplane.

I’m a frequent flier for photography assignments, but one thing I’m not accustomed to is chatting with the pilot during flight. Through the use of a headset and microphone, my partner in conversation is Keith Teague, owner of Fresh Air Aviation. Keith makes several trips a day from Charlevoix to Beaver Island in small but comfortable passenger planes. The one we’re in today is much smaller—a two-seater he’s pulled out of the hanger specifically for this occasion.

It’s the smallest aircraft I’ve ever been in, and I’m sitting mere inches behind Keith—no room for a carry-on, much less complimentary peanuts. As we fly, I understand why Keith chose this unique plane for my aerial photography Photo credit - Kevin J. Miyazakiassignment. Keith talks about the island landscape and weather, and when it’s time to take a picture, he holds the plane’s left side window wide open with his arm. It’s a great technique, and he’s done this before (for a National Geographic photographer, no less) so clearly, I’m in good hands. We establish a pattern: chat, open window, snap, snap, snap.

On the ground at the island’s tiny airstrip, I find my rental car. Availability on the island can be limited, and mine has come by way of a phone call to Gordon’s Auto Rentals and Clinic.  Awaiting me is a Dodge Caravan, circa 1990s. The windshield is cracked and on the dashboard there’s a white sheet of paper that reads KEVIN.

Photo credit - Kevin J. MiyazakiThe van turns out to be perfectly reliable and well-suited for driving the sandy roads through the woods. I soon realize a rental isn’t completely necessary on the island; my hotel owner and several other locals offer to give me rides. The island is a mere 13 miles long by 6 miles wide, and if you have a reservation at any of the nearby restaurants, it seems likely you’ll be offered a ride.

While driving on Beaver Island, I think it’s possible that locals recognize my van, because everywhere I go, people seem to be waving at me. But they can’t be mistaking me for a local, unless one of the 600 year-round residents happens to also be short, bespectacled Japanese American. I soon realize that all drivers on the island wave to each other in passing, which is reason enough for me to love this place.

Photo credit - Kevin J. MiyazakiAfter a successful few days of shooting, which includes photographing diners at the Beaver Island Lodge at sunset and three swimmers who had the gorgeous beach at Iron Ore Bay all to themselves, it’s time to move on. I leave the van—keys in the ignition—at the airport and board one of Keith’s larger planes (all windows closed, this time) for the trip back to Charlevoix.

Kevin J. Miyazaki is a freelance magazine photographer based in Milwaukee. In addition to Michigan Travel Ideas and Midwest Living, his clients include Bon Appétit, AARP, Money, ESPN and Reader’s Digest.

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  • http://www.thereillyrealm.com Cheryl Reilly

    My Family and I feel in love with this Island in 2005, when we were introduced to it by a couple of friends, while traveling on their boat. We have returned to the island every year or every other year since. Check out my Family’s website listed above for our wonderful trips. Saddened to hear they shut down one of our favorite rentals, Loew’s Lodge, the owner passed away last fall and it is no longer available to rent. The greatest thing about this Lodge, it was on a lake on an island inside a lake…which we thought was kinda cool. It slept 10-12 people so we would meet close friends there for a week of no tv, no radio, just great conversations and awesome memories.

  • Joe Blackwell

    Kevin, As a property owner and long time summer visitor of Beaver Island, excuse me for saying that the entire island’s culture flew pretty much right over your head. Your coverage was the quintessential tourist brochure package that doesn’t touch for a moment on what the island’s subculture is all about. Maybe it’s hard to define from 1000 feet above the action. Maybe a few evenings in the Shamrock would have improved your vision, I don’t know, or – maybe you would do better writing about Petosky or one of the big money mainland conclaves.

  • Jim McElwain Jr

    Kevin

    Don’t mind Joe, he seems to be a little grumpy today, he must have been off the island when he wrote that. I visited Beaver for the first time in my life in July 1976 at age 14. My parents built a place the next summer and we have been going there for 35 years now. When people visit my parents, they fall in love with Beaver Island too and THEY buy a lot and build. Yes, everyone waves when they drive by whether they know you or not. The first year we went there, the sheriff was 80 years old with one arm and no gun. I say you nailed it in your short time there, nice job. I drove 8 hours to fly over with Keith last weekend and stayed one night and drove 8 hours home….all worth it. There is no place like it in the world! My sister has a rental cottage overlooking the lake in Sand Bay in case you want to stay a little longer next time. Here it is: http://www.annaslittlehideaway.com/

  • http://WWW.JEFFTRAUDT.COM JEFF TRAUDT

    HI KEVIN, WE ARE GLAD YOU ENJOYED YOUR TRIP/FLIGHT TO BEAVER ISLAND. NOW YOU KNOW WHY MY FAMILY HAS BEEN VACATIONING ON BEAVER ISLAND EVERY CHANCE WE GET SINCE 1984. WE CAN’T WAIT TO RETURN. THE PEOPLE AND ALL THE BUSINESSES ON BEAVER ISLAND MAKE YOUR STAY INCREDIBLE. GREAT FOOD, FRIENDS, BEACHES, CHURCHES, 7 LAKES, WILDLIFE, FISHING…….. SHOULD I GO ON? MY FAVORITE PLACE ON THE PLANET. GOD BLESS AMERICA AND NORTHERN MICHIGAN! CAN’T WAIT….JEFF

  • David & Marion Gudorf

    Jane I talked to this summer about renting The hideaway. As i told you we have been to beaver before When Bob owned the property.
    We would like to rent in mid July 2012if possible.

    Regards: Dave & Marion

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    I think its also a great place for enjoying holidays. Even after reading this post i have also decided to visit this wonderful island with my family during my next trip. Thanks for recommending this wonderful place.

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