Kitch-iti-kipi: The Big Spring of the North
Just eleven miles north of U.S. 2 outside of Manistique, MI this 300 foot long by 40 foot deep natural spring has been a local claim to fame for more than a century. Some of the first settlers of the area floated over the spring on a primitive raft and local residents still come here to kick back. Nowadays, though, Kitch-iti-kipi is also the biggest tourist attraction in the area, and for good reason.
The bottom seems to glow with a light emerald green color as about 10,000 gallons of water per minute flow out from fissures in the limestone underneath the spring. As the water rushes out of the spring’s floor, sand bursts upward and then falls somewhere else, which means the floor of the spring is always changing.
The crystal clear water is filled with huge trout and as you float across the spring, with fish swimming below you and birds chirping in the surrounding trees, it almost feels like you’re on a Hollywood movie set. Interpretive signs on the shoreline show photos of what it was like “back in the day.”
Kitch-iti-kip wasn’t always this pristine. It took the passion of a local businessman named John I. Bellaire and the cooperation of the state of Michigan and the Palms Book Land Company to turn it into the wonderful state park it is today.
Here are a few excerpts from the interpretive signs at Kitch-iti-kipi that I found interesting:
“When Europeans first arrived in the upper Great Lakes, the Ojibwa called the Big Spring Kitch-iti-kipi. The word is said to have many possible meanings including: The Great Water; The Blue Sky I See; The Roaring, Bubbling Spring; and others. Whatever its name, Kitch-iti-kipi has drawn curious sightseers for decades.”
“The Manistique Tribune reported in the spring of 1910 that “the North Shore Lumber Company of Thompson had gone to the expense of placing a big raft on the “Big Spring” capable of carrying forty people.”
“Mr. John I. Belaire moved to Manistique from the roaring lumber town of Seney around 1920. As a well-known and respected figure, Bellaire’s passion for the spring, and desire to see it properly cared for, earned him much of the credit for its preservation as a Michigan State Park. Bellaire later recalled:
“The first time I saw the spring it was not more than a black hole mostly covered by fallen trees. A lumber camp (Camp 22) in the vicinity threw their rubbish into it. I could have purchased the land myself, but instead I made the contacts to have the State acquire it.”
“It was John M. Bush, land agent of the Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company who volunteered to approach the executors of the Book and Palms estate of Detroit with a proposal to make the Big Spring a State Park. Apparently, the deal was promoted by businessman John I. Bellaire, who ran a five and dime store in Manistique. Members of the Book and Palms families eagerly fell in with the suggestion and gave the property to the state. The deal transferred almost 90 acres to the State for one dollar. The deed stipulated that the property was “to be forever used as a public park, bearing the name Palms Book State Park.”
“After the original 90 acre land gift from the Palms Book Land Company in 1928, the State obtained several more parcles through tax delinquency and land exchange. By 1940 Palms Book State Park protected 257 acres around Michigan’s largest natural spring.”
“In the early 1930’s Jon Bellaire again became active in the park improvement. Up to this time the road to the park was described by Bellaire as a “meandering pathway, wrought with hazards.” After reporting “considerable trouble with the highway department”, the present Michigan highway M-149 was constructed.
At that time, telephone poles paralleled every road, including the new M-149. Bellaire painted white rings around each pole from Manistique to the Big Spring so anyone inquire about the spring could be told to “follow the ringed telephone poles.”
My Visit to the Spring
When I visited Kitch-iti-kipi in late September, the leaves of the trees were showing a little color and there were only a couple cars in the parking lot. As I walked the short path down to the spring, it felt like I was entering a place that time forgot.
Aside from a few birds chirping and the occasional squeak of the “big wheel” on the raft, the scene was silent as a half dozen people leaned over the edge of the raft and peered into the water.
“It’s so clear,” a young girl said to her mother as we watched from the shore. “
That fish is sooo huge” said her big brother.
“Sshhh!” she replied and jabbed him in the ribs, “I’m trying to see.”
I had to laugh at that one.
Onto the Raft I Go
Though you can see quite a bit from a viewing platform on the shore, the best way to experience Kitch-iti-kipi is on the large floating barge provided by the state. So, I hopped aboard.
It works like this: The raft (maybe 10’ x 20’ or so) is guided by a large metal cable, and propelled by a big wheel that someone on the barge must turn to move the raft ever so slowly forward, and then equally slowly back to the dock.
The raft is very easy to operate, but if you want to gaze into the spring the whole time I’d recommend NOT being the one turning the wheel. There will almost always be other people on the raft, though, so the polite thing to do would be to take turns so everyone gets a chance to have a look. (I’d heard something about a park employee being on hand to “drive” the raft, but no one was there on the day I visited, and I was told by a local who knows the area well that it’s up to the park visitors to man the raft.)
Luckily, I was able to peer over the edge and take photos the whole time. I even spotted a shiny silver coin way at the bottom, forty feet below the surface. The water is crazy clear, the fish are huge, and the setting is serene. Kitch-iti-kipi is a must see.
Bottom line: Kitch-iti-kipi is truly something to see. The water is so clear that you can see to the bottom of this forty foot natural spring with ease, and the huge fish swimming around really add to the experience.
Other things to note:
- Since the 45 degree water flows all year long, the spring doesn’t freeze over and can be enjoyed in winter as well!
- A park store that sells concessions is right off the parking lot, and there are a few small picnic tables scattered under shady trees where you could have a really pleasant picnic lunch.
- I’d highly recommend picking up a lunch to go from The Upper Crust Deli in Manistique (375 Traders Point Drive – (906) 341-2253) and then picnicking at Big Spring.
How to get there? For as popular as Kitch-iti-kipi is nowdays, you would think the path to get there would be well marked all the way from the highway. It’s not. Here’s what you do:
About 5.4 miles west of Manistique turn onto M-149 north. Drive for 2.7 miles then turn left to stay on M-149 north. Drive 1 mile then turn right on County Road 455 (The sign says “Westshore -455”). Drive 4.3 miles then turn right on Sawmill Road and follow the signs to Palms Book State Park.