Garden Island Expedition

Photo Credit - Chuck Hayden

Neil "Madjack" Kirby takes in Indian Harbor and Little Island.

Follow along on an adventure with Chuck Hayden, a member of a merry band of hard-core adventurers known as the Fortune Bay Expedition Team. They are a non-profit group that participates in wilderness exploration and education in the Great Lakes region, as well as supporting other outdoor-oriented organizations.

As Magellan, Reaper and I sat on the bow of the charter boat “Liberty,” Captain Jon navigated his way into Northcutt Bay of Garden Island with the relaxed skill that only comes with years of maritime experience. We watched the sandy bottom slowly rise closer as we trawled our way into the bay. Captain Jon ordered (over a loudspeaker we didn’t know about), ”throw the anchor.” I jerked the anchor from its berth. “Not that anchor, the other one.”

Photo Credit - Chuck Hayden

The Fortune Bay Expedition Team going ashore with their gear. Garden Island is only accessible by private boat or Charter for hire. The team was under the capable command of Captain Joe Bonedao.

The next half hour, we off-loaded to a 16-foot aluminum skiff, and then we waded to the shore of a perfect sandy beach. We were twenty members of the Great Lake’s Fortune Bay Expedition Team and a pile of gear for a 3-day exploration of this uninhabited island.

After watching the Liberty slowly depart, we waded to shore to explore the area for a campsite. Within an hour, we had struck camp and were studying maps of the island for our first objectives - the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) research cabins and the Anishinaabeg Burial Grounds. The Anishinaabeg are the name given to all Great Lakes Native peoples.

Photo Credit - Chuck Hayden

DNRE research station and emergency cabins.

Garden Island (just north of Beaver Island) is definitely unique. The Anishinaabeg Burial Grounds belong to an active non-profit and the Anishinaabeg still frequent the area and perform rituals. The DNRE research cabins are well-stocked and provide quarters for DNR personnel, university researchers and those in need of emergency shelter.

The day ended with a large but relaxing campfire near the shore of Northcutt Bay. We told lies, argued like pirates and slowly walked along the beach under a full moon.

Morning came and the more ambitious crew planned a hike to the north shore of the island to Kee’s Cabin. Keewaydinoquay Pakawakuk Peschel was a scholar, ethnobotanist, herbalist, medicine woman, teacher and author. She was an Anishinaabeg Elder of the Crane Clan. She spent a lot of time on Garden Island, a traditional Anishinaabeg homeland, in her father’s cabin researching and teaching. Keewaydinoquay was born on a fishing boat en route to the hospital from South Manitou Island. Shortly after her birth, the boat capsized and she survived. Local legends describe her as a real Shaman with limitless wisdom. She also had a PhD and dedicated her life to sharing the Anishinaabeg ways with all people.

Photo by Neil "Madjack" Kirby, Andy Mytys, and Chuck "Pathfinder" Hayden

Anishinaabeg Spirit House located on the shore of Northcutt Bay.

After a hike through thick cedars, towering maples, dark canopy and along bright rocky beaches, we arrived at the north shore a short distance from the settler’s graves. The settler’s graves show the location of about 30 European islanders who inhabited the islands from the 1840s to 1940s and are marked by two marble headstones off the trail behind a fallen cedar. Around the headstones are wooden crosses that no longer hold their cross boards.

We lunched on the north shore. During our break, we watched a small trawler unload gear and passengers into a skiff about half a mile to our north west. We decided they were going to our objective, Kee’s cabin.

Photo Credit - Chuck Hayden

Basecamp of the Fortune Bay Expedition Team. The team spent two nights camped on the shore of Northcutt Bay on Garden Island.

We picked our way northwest around deadfall, under low hanging branches to the cabin. As we approached the water, we noticed wigwams and a cabin. Soon, we discovered a group of about 15 members of the Minuss Kitigan Drum group spending a week rotation in a small rustic research station. The station looks more like a remote jungle village than a Michigan research facility. Wall-less shelters, austere huts and Kee’s unembellished cabin dotted the area where they perform research and learn the ways of the Anishinaabeg. The leader was an apprentice of Keewaydinoquay and a very wise woman indeed. She incisively sensed much about us and our personalities with a knowing smile.
They told stories of legends, lost persons on the island (including a disorganized Coast Guard search party), the trails, trees, plants and some island history. It was a surreal but pleasant experience. After a polite conversation and some lessons in the old ways, we parted - keen not to disturb their activities.

We remained on the island until the next day when the Liberty returned to bring us back to Paradise Harbor of Beaver Island.

Garden Island is haunting place of sincere mystery and peace. A visitor must be ambitious and skilled to get to and enjoy the island. But for those who are ready, they will experience another piece of Michigan that is both unexpected and welcome.

Chuck Hayden is a Senior Member of the Fortune Bay Expedition Team (a group that explores the Great Lakes Region). He resides in Lowell with his wife Martha and children Charlotte and Noah.

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Not sure where Garden Island is? Here's a handy map!

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