Tour the UP: Beneath the emerald waters of Kitch-iti-kipi

THOMPSON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WJMN) — Tucked away in Palms Book State Park lies one of the most popular tourist attractions in the U.P.

John Bellaire, a Manistique businessman came across Kitch-iti-kipi, also known as the Big Spring, in 1926.

John Bellaire, his wife Sara and an unknown guest in a raft on the Big Spring. Courtesy: Schoolcraft County Historical Society

“John Bellaire was a lumberman in Seney, Michigan and when the lumber ran out he bought a five-and-dime store in Manistique,” Patrick Nelson, park officer with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said. “He had heard about the Big Spring and it was actually owned by a lumber company at the time. The area was actually used as a dump but he fell in the love with the area and saw the true beauty of what it was.”

Wanting the beauty of the area to be preserved forever, Bellaire arranged for the Big Spring to be sold to the state, creating the Palms Book State Park.

“The spring itself pumps 10,000 gallons of water a minute that come up through fissures in the bottom,” Nelson said. “You see the sand churning at the bottom and I always tell people, when you get on the raft, take it all the way to the other side. That is where the most active part of the spring is and that’s where the fish like to hang out so make sure you give yourself some time to do it.”

In the early 20th century, Bellaire sold sand and water from the spring in his store, claiming they have magical powers. Some people even say that Bellaire created an urban legend to drive people to check out the spring for themselves.

The label that was attached to the water and sand that Bellaire sold in his five-and-dime store claiming they had magical powers. Courtesy: Schoolcraft County Historical SocietyJohn Bellaire’s 5 & 10 Cent variety store on South Cedar Street in Manistique. Courtesy: Schoolcraft County Historical Society

“A fake legend that John Bellaire and his friend developed about an Indian chieftain who wanted to prove his love to his woman and she wanted him to catch her as she jumped from a tree,” Nelson said. “Legend has it that the canoe tipped over and the chieftain passed away and that is the legend Bellaire wanted that to be the legend of the Big Spring.”

Tour the UP: How Manistique came to be

A frozen Big Spring on March 19, 2021. Courtesy: Michigan DNR

Kitch-iti-kipi sees around 100,000 people a year. In March 2021, visitors got a rare glimpse as the unfreezable Big Spring froze over.

“I used to say all the time how the Big Spring stays 45 degrees yearround and how it never freezes,” Nelson said. “Well, two years ago, we had it freeze. It does freeze predominantly in the springtime and it’ll freeze when you get a lot of runoff of water from around the spring itself. The water will settle on top and it will freeze slightly. Not enough to stand on, but it can be enough to lock the raft into place.”

Kitch-iti-kipi is the largest spring east of the Mississippi.

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