Traverse City’s “island in the Bay” – Power Island – has exactly two official residents. Fred Tank, summer park ranger, and his wife Tina (who calls herself “the rangerette”) spend roughly half the year on the island. The Ticker ventured by boat recently to chat with the Tanks about life on the island over the past 28 summers they’ve spent there.
Ticker: What’s the island’s history?
Fred: Native Americans camped here; we’ve found artifacts from their campsites. In the 1850s it went into private ownership, and in 1880, Frederick Hall bought it and named it after his daughter Marion. Marion sold it to Henry Ford. In 1943, Ford sold it to the owner of an oil company, and that’s when the cabin we live in was built. In 1975, developers got interested and the oil company wanted to sell, so local people gathered and looked for donors. The Power family put up $250,000, which was matched by some government grants, and then it was turned it over to the county.
Tina: How many communities have an island county park for boaters? It’s part of what I call the kaleidoscope of Traverse City.
Ticker: What led you to this position?
Fred: I’ve been doing this every summer since 1985. I was a biology professor at NMC, and retired four years ago. But we used to sail out here all the time and got acquainted with the guy who had this job before me. He wanted to quit and needed a substitute so I applied and then started doing it permanently. The rest of the year we live on State Street.
How has this job affected your family?
Tina: During the school year our kids were very involved. But in the summers, they lived here and always had friends come out. And three of our kids are now working in the sciences; one in water studies, one in plant pathology, so it’s really come out of their genes, living in an environment like this, knowing that you need to protect it. And we’ve always had an international family on the island. Our kids just came from England to visit, that’s the one who married a German, and my daughter married a Kiwi. We’ve had five exchange students and today, we have a visitor from Spain. Everyone loves it here.
Ticker: Can you comment on the island’s boating culture?
Fred: For boaters, it’s just a nice place to anchor. Some of them have picnics, fires, and go hiking, but most are here to boat. The committee that developed it as a park worried that the island would just be trampled to death by people, but it hasn’t happened, mainly because people often stay on their boats. It gets rowdy and loud, of course, but there’s never been a problem with litter. A lot of people feel that this is their island, and they pick up after themselves and others. My role is just to tell people what the rules are. If the loud music bothered me that much, I wouldn’t live here.
Tina: The boaters here are good people, and we tolerate their fun because they’re having an adventure, and we don’t want to put a damper on that. On August 18, we counted 154 boats anchored. That’s a record. When it’s like that, I like to say it’s a cross between the French Riviera and Coney Island.
Ticker: What’s a day in the life of a Power Island park ranger?
Fred: The most regular thing is taking care of the picnic area. Also taking care of the campground, selling firewood to campers, and keeping the trails clear. We get into town about once a week during the summer, but I don’t miss it when I’m here.
Tina: You get refueled by nature, isn’t that what they say? Being out here gives you a chance to listen to your heartbeat, and where else are those opportunities?