Thrills, brief panic after cliffside collapse at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

No one hurt in 200-foot cliff face collapse Saturday between Miners and Mosquito Beach.
Published: Jun. 30, 2021 at 7:11 PM EDT
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MUNISING, Mich. (WLUC) - This past weekend a group visiting from Wisconsin hopped on a pontoon to get an up-close look at the colorful cliffs of Pictured Rocks -- but little did they know the forces of nature to come.

“To say it was ‘dramatic’ was the least to (describe it),” said Jahn Martin, who witnessed the phenomenon.

“And the odds of us seeing that have got to be huge because, you know ten seconds one way or the other we would have missed it,” added Martin’s friend Brad Gustafson, also there to experience the event.

Martin and Gustafson, highly involved in their Central Wisconsin Offroad Cycling Coalition (CWOCC) -- bringing their passion of biking to the U.P. trails this past weekend.

Saturday afternoon with two more friends constituted a pontoon ride from Munising Bay to the colorful cliffs of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore -- up close.

“One of our passengers, our friend Don noticed a little bit of debris, falling from the rock face. And prior to what we captured on video, a small four or five wide chunk of cliff face had fallen off,” said Martin, who serves in the CWOCC Board of Directors.

A minute and a half later, it was 200-feet of the cliff face breaking off.

Gustafson, captaining the controls while his friends yelled, “Back up Brad. Brad, back up. Back up, Brad. Back up! Back up!”

“So the reason I couldn’t back up was because when we saw the rocks and stuff cracking, everybody says ‘get closer! get closer!’ So they said ‘turn the motor off’ and when I turned the motor off, I had it in gear. When you have it in gear, it won’t start again until you have it in neutral. So (laughter),” he explained.

But their 100-yard distance offshore was far enough from the approaching swell -- and not one of them got wet.

“About a five second moment of panic. But overall everything was great,” said Martin.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Chief of Interpretation Susan Reece said large collapses are rare, with the last one before Saturday’s occurrence going back to 2019 -- when danger struck too close to kayakers along a same location between Miners and Mosquito Beach.

“It is hard though for people to resist going right up to the rocks. It’s where you want to go and you want to see it. Though it’s small, there’s always a risk,” Reece said.

She said trails will be rerouted farther from cliffs as necessary this summer season.

Still, Reece and the witnesses of Saturday’s cliffside collapse urge for future visitors to not become discouraged from visiting the park from such a powerful, natural event.

“So one thing I’ve noticed on social media is just you know like warnings and fear, and ‘oh my gosh I was just there.’ Pictured Rocks Natural Lakeshore is a treasure. And this should not put fear into people,” said Martin.

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