The forest has never been cut. Pebbles and agates line the beach. There’s even a lighthouse. It’s a private island in Lake Superior…and it’s on the market.
MICHIGAN—What’s more important: the journey or the destination?
David Graff can’t remember the first time he caught a glimpse of Parisian Island, but he can remember the trip to get there. It was a foggy day, with visibility fading mere feet in front of the small and rickety fishing boat in which he crouched.
A verdant and pebbly place, Ile Parisienne—Parisian Island in English—emerged from the fog straight out of a storybook. A pocket-knife-shaped sprout of land 10 miles southeast of Michigan’s Whitefish Point, it was the perfect place to explore as a young boy, and later in life, to escape the work world with a tent, a folding chair, and a bottle of something strong.
Now later in life, neither Graff—a southeast Michigan resident—nor his uncle, who owns the only private land on Parisian Island, has been there in a while. And after almost 60 years of having solitary private land ownership of such a unique place, the family has decided to pass their campfires and nights spent in tents along to someone new.
The decision to sell is not without a tinge of sadness, Graff said.
“More spectacular viewpoints than this one there are, of course, from mountaintops and canyon edges,” writes Carl Cohen, Graff’s uncle, in a passage on Private Islands Inc. “But in my judgment there is no spot more satisfyingly beautiful than this in all the world. And no strangers are there to disturb one’s seclusion.”
Recently, Graff posted an eye-catching ad for the all of the family’s private land on Ile Parisienne—the only land that can be owned on the island. The asking price is $700,000.
For all intents and purposes, this is an entirely private island—it is uninhabited, and the land that Cohen doesn’t own belongs to the Canadian government, which operates a lighthouse on the northwest corner of the island. The Canadian Crown has set aside the rest for a nature preserve, and whoever makes it to the island can trek around it freely. No structures, save for the lighthouse complex, currently stand on the island.
“There’s nothing to do, so you just soak it in,” Graff said.
The 100 land acres, 10 water acres, and an uninterrupted mile of private beach would be unheard of on the mainland—but its seclusion and isolation make it more difficult to appraise as a speck in Lake Superior, Cohen writes.
There is no common access to the island, Graff said. But travel and communication has become easier since he was a boy. Aside from hiring a fishing boat, his family has also ventured over by surprisingly affordable helicopter rides, and once, a seaplane.
A beach encircles most of Parisian Island, save for the small cliffs on the western side. Removed from the beach and into the property on the southern side is a clearing, where a meadow of soft grass and lichen extends, slowly percolating with trees as one steps north.
”Jack pines come first, then small groups of conifers, mixed with a few deciduous trees creating some semi-protected enclosure,” Cohen writes.
Then, a full-on Northern Michigan forest sprouts. This is virgin forest—it has never been logged.
Birches, pines, and spruces compete for king of the hill. And because of the dense and unadulterated competition for summer rays in the air, it is not difficult to walk down below, according to Cohen—trail or no trail.
“There is no mat of thick brush because the trees, long-standing, have beaten the low brush out,” he writes. “It would not be easy to clear the trees themselves—who would want to clear them?—but it is not very difficult to clear the ground beneath them for paths, and one could even create a sort of natural arboretum.”
Though there have been no pirates who mailed out messages in corked bottles to Parisian Island, treasure still hugs the shore. Sometimes it laps ashore as preserved wood, other times it takes the form of flotsam from passing freighters and miles-away shores. Graff even remembers finding a package that must have fallen from a freighter passing in the distance.
But, he said, the true treasures are the rocks, pebbles, and agates to be found around the island’s eastern shore.
“You can look at rocks all day. I find them beautiful,” he said.
A new owner could change the dynamic of this place—build something bigger, like a shelter, a cabin, or a camp.
They could also leave it be, stay a few nights now and then in a tent, and gently etch their own story on Parisian Island. They could very well become the first person to do many things there.
Like, for example, walk its perimeter. To Graff’s knowledge, no one has successfully done so—therefore the challenge is being passed down to the island’s next owner.
“It’d be a long hard day,” Graff said. “But I think it’d be doable.”
A worthy contest, indeed.
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