The tour boat is likely heading north.
Ludington Harbor Tours’ Al Laaksonen said he is taking his tourship Princess to Manistee after being unable to find a location to dock in Ludington for 2021.
“I’ve been looking for five months. I don’t think I’ve missed an inch of space in that harbor,” Laaksonen said of Ludington.
The City of Ludington denied Laaksonen a space at one of the two marinas, stating there was not a space for the vessel to dock. At the March 22 city council meeting, discussion indicated that the two sides could seek a place off of the city’s public utilities land that is sandwiched between Lake Street Marina and Thompson Marina on Pere Marquette Lake, a few dozen feet away from where the Princess of Ludington docked in 2020.
There are two vessels tied up in those spaces on the city property, and City Manager Mitch Foster said those vessels are owned by Native Americans. He believed the city was required to have space for Native American vessels, and that particular location needed some work done, too.
“There had to be rules set up because there is no real parking there. There’s no infrastructure,” Foster said. “Folks would need to park in the street. And he’d have to figure how out to tie up a vessel. There’s not a walkway there. It’s all grass. I told (Laaksonen) two Native American vessels are on that wall. We’ve been told for a generation that we’re required to provide space for them.”
Foster said there was a treaty in place that he believed was between the tribes and the state that requires municipalities such as Ludington to have spaces available for Native Americans so they may fish in the waters. Foster said he was still in the process of determining the facts surrounding the treaty as he was unable to locate any written documentation to that effect.
Laaksonen said he attempted to contact the owners of both vessels that are tied up along the property, and he was able to get a hold of one, but not the other. He was unable to come to an agreement with either vessel owner, he said.
Foster said the city reached out to others that have property along the shore, including Lake Michigan Carferry and Lake Street Marina, but neither location would work. He said he also asked if Laaksonen contacted Pere Pointe Marina and Crosswinds for space.
Laaksonen, though, said he looked throughout Ludington’s harbor, and he requested the city to allow him to dock the Princess of Ludington at Harbor View Marina. He was denied by the City of Ludington, though. Even with the location off of Lake Street, Laaksonen believed that getting everything set up with the city, including contracts, may take longer than what he desired.
Foster expressed that the city was still working on the potential sites on Monday when he received word from Laaksonen that the Princess may be on its way to Manistee. Laaksonen said he believed the vessel would be back from repairs and storage in Grand Haven by mid-April.
Headed to Manistee?
The tourboat company is finalizing the language with the City of Manistee to dock the vessel along the Manistee River, Laaksonen said.
According to Laaksonen, the vessel will be docked behind the renovated West Shore Community College building. Manistee City Manager Thad Taylor said a tour was given to Laaksonen of the city for available locations, but nothing has yet to be signed, and the two sides are still negotiating a contract.
“I think it has a lot of potential. They’ve got a boardwalk that attracts a lot of people,” Laaksonen said. “They’re being pretty helpful there. There’s lots of room. There’s a slip that’s 90 feet in length… I could have had my choice of a number of spots there. I like that there is an indentation into the wall… I’m just not in Ludington is all.”
Laaksonen said he thought tours in Manistee could include into Manistee Lake, along the Lake Michigan shoreline south to Big Sable Point Lighthouse and north toward Onekama and Portage Lake. He also said there will continue to be a sunset tour, too.
One summer of tours
The Princess of Ludington began offering tours in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Harbor Tours and Laaksonen bought the vessel — a one-time ferry for Mackinac Island and then a ferry around the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior — and brought it to Ludington in late May 2020.
The company tried to get the ship into Harbor View Marina initially, but later found a place to tie up at Lake Street Marina in Ludington’s Fourth Ward. It began offering tours in July with limited capacity because of the pandemic, and it went to storage in November 2020.
Lake Street Marina informed Harbor Tours that the Princess would need to find a new home for 2021, and that pushed Laaksonen and his company to try to find a new home for the vessel. It attempted to get into the state-owned and city-managed Harbor View Marina, but spaces were available. Debate ensued about tying up on the inside of Harbor View Marina, tied up to Waterfront Park, but that, too, was denied.
Laaksonen said some, but not all, of his liabilities were paid last year with the limited number of passengers that were allowed to take the tours. He said he anticipated more people would be on the ship this year.