“You can’t leave until you visit the Big Spring,” the friendly old woman sharing our table at the bar demanded. “Your kids will love it.”
My family and I were in Manistique to watch the Lions’ game, and the bar was crowded with local Detroit fans. My attention was focused on the television overhead, the Lions on defense and protecting a 10-0 lead. Jill and the old woman were ignoring the game and talking instead about the town and life in general. When the woman mentioned the Big Spring, it pulled my attention from the television.
“It’s just up the road. You ride a raft and can see straight down to the bottom of the pond. You can see huge trout. No other place like it in Michigan, I promise.”
That was all I needed to hear.
Kitch-iti-Kipi, located in Palms Book State Park, is Michigan’s largest natural freshwater spring and a major Upper Peninsula tourist attraction. The spring is located 40′ beneath the surface of a 300’x175′ oval pond of emerald-colored water. Over 10,000 gallons a minute gush from limestone fissures at a constant 45°F temperature that ensures that the water never freezes over.
When we arrived, my family walked straight down to the spring. A self-operated raft takes visitors from one side of the pond, to the other. A large group had just left shore, so we explored the nearby forest as we waited for the raft’s return.
The trees around Kitch-iti-Kipi reach upward like bony fingers from the moss-covered floor. The ground is spongy and filled with burrows both large and small. Riley, ever curious, bounded from hole to hole, peering inside each but never finding an animal. I was captivated by the exposed roots of the sickly-looking pines.
With the raft just reaching the far shore, I turned my attention to the interpretive signs around the park.
As fascinating as the forest and spring are, the history of the park is equally intriguing.
The State of Michigan acquired Kitch-iti-kipi in 1926 when John Bellaire, owner of a Manistique 5&10 store, discovered the spring in the wilderness. Bellaire saw its potential as a tourist site, and persuaded Frank Palms of the Palms Book Land Company to sell the spring and 90 acres of land around it to the State of Michigan for $10.
Of course local Indians were well aware of the spring before Bellaire’s discovery, and crafted several legends surrounding it. The most popular story is that Kitch-iti-Kipi was a young Ojibwa chieftain, who fell in love with a dark-haired maiden. This maiden, unsure of Kitch-iti-Kipi’s faithfulness, demanded that he prove his love for her. She ordered him to set sail in his canoe over a spring, deep in a conifer swamp. When she saw him, she would dive from an overhanging branch into the cold depths of the spring. Kitch-iti-Kipi would prove his love by rescuing her.
Kitch-iti-Kipi did as he was told, and rowed out into the swamp in search of his beloved before she leaped. But the forest was dense and, just as Kitch-iti-Kipi reached the spring, his canoe tipped. He drowned in the frigid water while his beloved maiden was back at the village laughing at his silly quest.
Ojibwa legend also talks of parents who came to the pool seeking names for their newborn children. In the rippling water they heard the names Satu (darling), Kakushika (big eye), Natukoro (lovely flower) and We-shi (little fish). Natives also believed that the waters held healing powers.
Eventually the raft returned to the dock and the large group disembarked. It was our turn to ride, so we all gathered aboard.
The raft is guided by a cable and pulled across the spring by visitors turning a large wheel. At the center of the raft is a large viewing window, where you can see into the depths of the pond.
The spring is nothing short of surreal. As you can see in the pictures above, the water is an eerie emerald-color. Massive trout float at varying levels in the pond. Ancient trees line underwater banks near shore. David dropped a pebble into the water and we watched as it sunk deeper and deeper into the pond until finally resting at the bottom. Never before have I seen a natural pond or lake so clear.
As much as we enjoyed peering into the spring, my children also loved propelling the boat. Both took turns at the wheel, trying to outdo each other in speed.
When reached the shore, another small group was eagerly awaiting a trip across. Of all of the places we have visited in Northern Michigan in the last few months, Kitch-iti-Kipi is by far the most unique. It is well worth a day-trip.
Palms Book State Park is located at the northern end of state highway M149, 10 miles west of Manistique.