Harsens Island

March 2023

Harsens Island is a large island about an hour northeast of Detroit. It’s part of one of the planet’s biggest freshwater deltas, where the St. Clair River feeds into Lake St. Clair. The island is accessible only by boat or by a car ferry from Algonac—admittedly, the novelty of the car ferry ride played a role in our decision to go check it out. Since it’s part of the delta, it’s almost more like the island is a string of very small islands strung together by a highway than it is a large single land mass. Nearly every structure there is accessible by water, either because it’s right on the river or by way of all the waterways that snake around through the island everywhere.

There weren’t many people on the island in the middle of March. I imagine late winter is not when most people who spend time there spend time there. But it was by no means desolate or empty. According to Wikipedia there’s something like 400-500 people on the island during the winter, and that seems right. The one person who talked to me while I was taking pictures introduced herself by asking, “Are you looking to buy some property?” She seemed to get a little suspicious of me when I laughed and said I wasn’t, that I was just out taking pictures to enjoy the morning. I saw a few guys on other parts of the island with some serious nature photography set-ups going on, so I suppose that’s more what people expect you to be taking photos of out there.

Harsens Island, Michigan, March 2023

[click on thumbnails below to open full gallery]

These are just impressions gleaned from driving around the island for a little less than a day, so take with a grain of salt, but unlike a lot of the Michigan boat culture areas I’ve encountered along Lake St Clair, Harsens Island did not seem exclusively wealthy and white, which was a nice surprise. There are certainly plenty of ostentatious displays of wealth in the form of gigantic boat houses or whatever, but there are a lot of pretty modest cabins and houses around the island as well. Still, a prominent theme on signs and posters around the island was the kind of virulently anti-Whitmer, COVID-is-a-hoax stuff that makes me wary of spending much time in places around here outside Detroit.

But we left intending to come back again and check it out in nicer weather. I’d like to see what the island looks like when everything isn’t a different shade of beige.