Each morning during the summer, like clockwork, about two dozen American flags across Mackinac Island are raised. First comes a 9:40 a.m. cannon blast at Fort Mackinac, then the stars and stripes go up around the fort, in town and at several other locations.
About nine hours later, at 6:30 p.m., the flags all come back down.
It’s the same routine each day, all summer, every summer. And the same people have conducted the flag ceremonies for the past 90 years: Boy and Girl Scouts.
The tradition began in 1929 when then-Michigan Gov. Fred Green commissioned eight Eagle Scouts from around the state as honor guardsman on Mackinac Island, home of the Governor’s Summer Residence. One of those original scouts was Gerald R. Ford, who went on to become a U.S. congressman and, later, president of the United States.
Back then, the scouts stayed at the commissary inside Fort Mackinac. But as more scouts started coming to serve in the Mackinac Island Scout Service Camp in subsequent years, the Civilian Conservation Corps built a barracks near the fort.
Today, that barracks is 85 years old and hosts about 60 scouts per week throughout the summer from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The scouts eat together in a big dining room and sleep together in a large, second-floor bunk room.
Each day they march around the island in uniform to conduct morning and evening flag ceremonies at the Scout Barracks and elsewhere including the Governor’s Summer Residence, the visitors center, the fort and the cemetery. They serve as guides at Fort Mackinac and other historic state parks buildings, assisting paid parks staff by greeting visitors and checking tickets, answering questions and running errands. They also do volunteer service projects such as cleaning and painting.
In the evenings, the scouts bond through activities such as campfires, kickball games and scavenger hunts.
The program benefits Mackinac Historic State Parks, which gets an estimated 30,000 hours of volunteer service from scouts each summer. It also gives scouts the opportunity to experience the history and tradition of Mackinac Island while getting lots of free time to explore and enjoy.
In fact, one reason kids stay in scouting as they get older is because of the chance to serve on Mackinac Island. The Mackinac Island Scout Service Camp is one of the few remaining scout camps in the country and the only place where scouts handle operations at an historical site.
“It’s one of the most win-win experiences that we have,” says Phil Porter, director of Mackinac State Historic Parks. “It’s a great opportunity for us because we have all of these scouts providing great service to help us keep our parks open and service the public, but it’s also a great experience for the scouts.”
Originally, when Ford came to the island as a scout in 1929, only Eagle Scouts took part in the camp. That soon changed and now scouts from all over Michigan come to Mackinac Island each summer. Girl scouts started taking part in 1974.
In 1975, when Ford returned to Mackinac Island as president, his helicopter landed near the Scout Barracks and he shook hands with the scouts serving there that week.
Next time you’re on Mackinac Island, keep an eye out for the boys and girls in uniform who are sustaining a very patriotic 90-year tradition!