by Dave Weiman
Looking for a remote island destination? Then consider flying to Beaver Island, Michigan in northeast Lake Michigan. Thirty miles from shore, the island is served by ferry boats and two airports: Beaver Island-Welke Airport (6Y8), which is privately owned, but open to the public; and the municipal airport, Beaver Island Township Airport (KSJX), which is owned by St. James Township and Peaine Township.
The first air passenger to Beaver Island was a doctor on a flight that took place in 1923. The island began airmail service in 1926.
McPhillips Flying Service was established by Joe and Ane’ McPhillips in 1945, flying a Sikorsky Flying Boat. In 1965, the Welkes bought the farm where Beaver Island-Welke Airport is located today.
In 1975, the Welkes and their son, Paul, established Welke Aviation with one Piper Apache.
In 1982, they bought their first Britten Norman Islanders, which are used by Island Airways (a subsidiary of McPhillips Flying Service, Inc) to ferry passengers and cargo between Charlevoix, Michigan on the mainland and Beaver Island. Today, Paul Welke and his wife, Angela “Angel” LeFevre, own McPhillips Flying Service, Inc. and Island Airways.
In 40 years and 32,000 hours of flying, Paul Welke has flown 35,000 trips between Charlevoix and Beaver Island, and carried more than 300,000 passengers. Welke has also flown to 49 states, and throughout most of Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas.
“2015 is an interesting year for us….we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of McPhillips Flying Service,” said LeFevre.
“As we researched items for the anniversary, we have found that our United States Air Mail contract is the oldest in the continental United States. All very interesting stuff!”
The other airport on Beaver Island is Beaver Island Township Airport (KSJX). Self-serve fuel, aircraft maintenance and car rental are available, and the airport features a new terminal building, ramp and one paved runway (9/27 4299 X 75 ft) and two turf crosswind runways.
Fresh Air Aviation has been operating from Beaver Island Township Airport for the past 9 years with daily flights to and from Charlevoix, Michigan, and air charter (www.freshairaviation.net).
For additional information, contact Rachel Teague at 231-448-2750, 231-237-9482 or 231-675-5391.
Miles and miles of rural roads make for some good bike trails on the island, there’s a par 35 golf course, lighthouses to visit, and of course, charter fishing, kayaking, paddle boards, inland lakes fishing boats, snorkeling and scuba diving in the pristine waters of Lake Michigan.
While our full-size Montague folding bikes are our favorite mode of transportation when flying our own plane, we got a car from Beaver Island Marina & Car Rental to see more of the island in the short amount of time we had. For reservations call (231) 448-2300.
Beaver Island has been home to various groups including native Americans, Irish immigrants, fishermen, lumberjacks, and a Mormon branch known as the “Strangites,” established by James Jesse Strang (March 21, 1813 – July 9, 1856). For six years, Strang was a self-proclaimed “king” of an ecclesiastical monarchy that he established on Beaver Island, building an organization that eventually rivaled Brigham Young’s in Utah. Strang was murdered in 1856, and a group from nearby Mackinac Island toppled his followers shortly thereafter.
The Beaver Island Historical Society has recorded the history of Beaver Island in two museums – the Print Shop Museum and the Marine Museum, and operates two additional historical sites – Heritage Park and the Protar Home.
We stayed at the Beaver Island Lodge, which is owned and operated by fellow pilot, Eric Hodgson, and his wife, Dana.
Beaver Island Lodge is located just off the beaten path, away from the downtown district, and our room had a view of Lake Michigan. For additional information or reservations call (231) 448-2396.
Looking for a cabin or home on Lake Michigan? There’s plenty of real estate available on Beaver Island.
For additional information on Beaver Island attractions, accommodations and real estate, refer to the Beaver Island Chamber of Commerce website at www.BeaverIsland.org or call or email 231-448-2505, Chamber@BeaverIsland.org.
Attention bicyclists: The Beaver Island Bike Festival will be held June 19–21, 2015. This is a fully supported bike ride with rest stops, snacks, lunch at Bill Wagner campground, and a barbecue buffet at the Shamrock. Live entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights. For additional information, refer to the Beaver Island website.
For a complete history of aviation on Beaver Island, go to: www.beaverbeacon.net/beaver-island-history (pages “A Rich History,” then “Airplane Tales”). The Beaver Beacon has been Beaver Island’s magazine since 1955.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Pilots looking for a unique vacation might want to consider doing a three-island hop beginning at Washington Island off the tip of Wisconsin’s Door County Peninsula (www.VisitWashingtonIsland.com and http://washingtonisland-wi.com), then to Beaver Island, Michigan, eventually ending up on Mackinac Island, Michigan (www.mackinacisland.org).
Each island is located on beautiful Lake Michigan and is accessible by air…each island is unique in its people, landscapes and downtown districts, accommodations, special events and activities…and each island has its own rich histories.
Why do it afar, when you can do it right here in the Midwest?