For 30 years, Fred Tank has summered on and cared for one of Grand Traverse County’s jewels, Power Island.
If you’ve watched Island Life on HGTV, you know how luxurious those tropical island paradises can be. Closer to home, Mackinac Island presents an opportunity to indulge in a fudge-filled summer with no automobiles, and plenty of horses.
Then there’s Power Island in Traverse City. No fudge shops, no horses, and it’s certainly no lush tropical Shangri-La. But during summers, it’s home to Fred Tank. He’s the keeper of the island, a post he’s held for more than 30 years. “I’ve been there since the summer of 1985,” he says.
His predecessor had been the caretaker for 10 years but had grown tired of the isolation. “His wife said he had to quit,” Tank says. “In July 1985 they needed a substitute, and I said I’d do it. We’ve been doing it ever since.”
“We” is Fred and his wife, Tina, and when they started the caretaker gig, “we” included their kids as well. A biology teacher at NMC when he first took the post, Tank had (and still has) a home on the mainland in Traverse City.
But the couple saw the chance to live on the island for the summer as a grand adventure. “I always wanted to live in the country,” Tank says.
Mission accomplished. As far as adventure, the island boasts two eagle nests, 200 wooded acres and 5 miles of trails for hiking and exploring, and two campgrounds of five sites each. The caretaker cabin has electricity, thanks to solar power, and a generator, and the couple uses propane for cooking and for the refrigerator. But there’s still no indoor plumbing. Despite that, their grown children still visit their parents on the island in the summer, now bringing their own children with them as well.
Continued developments in technology have made things easier. When Tank started, they were at the mercy of the weather. “I got a beeper after a year or two, then a HAM radio license. That helped a lot,” Tank says. “Now, with the miracle of cell phones, I can get on the internet.”
With his 30-plus years on the island, Tank has been able to observe long-term changes. “Our wildlife is a little restricted. When they multiply they outpace their food source. There were plenty of rabbits. Now there are none,” Tank says. “The deer population is low right now. That’s good, because they can do a lot of damage.”
Another cycle is the alternately rising and receding depth of the water. “In the early ’60s, it was very low. By 1986 it reached record highs,” Tank says, causing some concern, as the cabin is not far from shore. But water levels began dropping in the late ’90s, and Lakes Michigan and Huron set new record- low water levels in December of 2012, breaking the previous record set in 1964, according to Accuweather. Now water levels are on the rise again.
Whatever the circumstances, Fred and Tina enjoy their summers. “We move out the end of May for Memorial Day. Then it’s relatively quiet till schools let out.” June and July see a steady stream of visitors, though Tank says it’s always completely dependent on the weather. In August, he says people seem to realize they’ve only got a couple weeks left of summer, and those first two weeks are often the busiest of the year. “They realize they have a boat but they’ve only been on it two times, so they have to do some serious boating in August,” he says with a laugh. He closes things up by October 15.
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