THOMPSON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WJMN) – Tucked away in Palms Book State Park lies one of the most popular tourist attractions in the U.P. John Bellaire, a Manistique businessman came across Kitch-iti-kipi or also known as the Big Spring in 1926.

John Bellaire, his wife Sara and an unknown guest in a raft on the Big Spring
Courtesy: Schoolcraft County Historical Society

“John Bellaire was a lumberman in Seney, Michigan and when the lumber ran out he bought a five-and-dime store in Manistique,” Patrick Nelson, Park Officer with the Michigan DNR said. “He had heard about the Big Spring and it was actually owned by a lumber company at the time. The area was actually used as a dump but he fell in the love with the area and saw the true beauty of what it was.”

Wanting the beauty of the area to be preserved forever, Bellaire arranged for the Big Spring to be sold to the state of Michigan, giving us the Palms Book State park we have today.

“The spring itself pumps 10,000 gallons of water a minute that come up through fissures in the bottom,” Nelson said. “You see the sand churning at the bottom and I always tell people when you get on the raft take it all the way to the other side. That is where the most active part of the spring is and that’s where the fish like to hang out so make sure you give yourself some time to do it.”

In the early 20th century, Bellaire sold sand and water from the spring in his store claiming that they have magical powers. Some people even say that Bellaire created an urban legend to drive people to check out the spring for themselves.

“A fake legend that John Bellair and his friend developed about an Indian chieftain who wanted to prove his love to his woman and she wanted him to catch her as she jumped from a tree,” Nelson said. “Legend has it that the canoe tipped over and the chieftain passed away and that is the legend Bellaire wanted that to be the legend of the Big Spring.”

A frozen Big Spring on March 19, 2021. Courtesy: Michigan DNR

Kitch-iti-kipi sees around 100,000 people a year, and in 2021 visitors got a rare glimpse at the unfreezable Big Spring that had frozen over.

“I used to say all the time how the Big Spring stays 45 degrees year-round and how it never freezes,” Nelson said. “Well, two years ago, we had it freeze. It does freeze predominantly in the springtime and it’ll freeze when you get a lot of runoff of water from around the spring itself. The water will settle on top and it will freeze slightly. Not enough to stand on, but it can be enough to lock the raft into place.

Kitch-iti-kipi is the largest spring east of the Mississippi and it is truly a unique and a treasure to the Upper Peninsula year-round.