LANSING (Great Lakes News) – When Shepler’s Ferry agreed to transport Vice President Mike Pence’s motorcade across the Straits of Mackinac, they did not expect a social media barrage.
“We talked about it,” said Shepler’s Ferry president Chris Shepler. “But I didn’t expect this much. It’s a firestorm.”
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The trouble started after the ferry services tweeted a series of photos showing them transporting the vice president’s emergency vehicles. Users quickly began flooding the account with negative comments attacking Shepler’s Ferry for breaking Mackinac Island’s ban on motorized vehicles and associating with the vice president and the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference. Even as the criticisms mounted, Shepler’s Ferry refused to apologize.
“We’re keeping our head high and not apologizing, I don’t think we did anything wrong, said Shepler. “We provided a service, that’s what we do.”
Shepler’s Ferry has provided that service for 74 years, shuttling 600,000 people annually in addition to freight services.
“We’re 3rd generation ownership,” Shepler said. “My grandfather started it with a 6 passenger speed boat that he built. And we’ve now grown to 6 high speed ferries, and we’re building the 7th.”
A few weeks ago, Shepler received a phone call from the Emmet County Sheriff Peter A. Wallin asking if he could take the reins on transporting the motorcade.
“He called me and said ‘we’re starting to get calls about logistics of transporting the Vice president’s armored vehicles to Mackinac Island, can you take over these phone calls there are questions that I can’t answer and only you can,’” Shepler said. “We started to talk about moving his 16 secret service men to and from Mackinac Island.”
The Secret Service began including Shepler in some of their security meetings, where they discussed transporting the vice president’s security detail and ferrying the vice president himself if the weather demanded it. Sherpler’s Ferry transported the entire motorcade, and provided a return trip for the Secret Service’s on-island security detail that included two Razors, bomb sniffing dogs, and a riot patrol.
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Shepler argues that those who criticized the motorcade do not understand the potential security threats that Mackinac presents.
“If you know Mackinac Island, from the airport to the Grand is all woods,” said Shepler. “It’s a very small road that is right in the midst of the wilderness, and must be a nightmare for those protecting people who need protecting. So, an armored vehicle is the way to go in the times we are in.”
Shepler also mentioned that this was not the first time that a sitting member of the executive branch brought a motor vehicle to the island.
“Gerald Ford, although he was in a carriage in many pictures, also had a hidden vehicle at his disposal if it was warranted or needed,” Shepler said.
Vehicles make up a large portion of the freight hauled by Shepler’s Ferry, as Mackinac Island requires the occasional motor vehicle to properly function.
“We transport vehicles to Mackinac Island every day,” Shepler said. “We have the garbage contract for Mackinac Island and we have trucks go to the island every day to haul dumpsters off the island and take care of their garbage needs.”
Shepler’s Ferry also transports road paving equipment for the island’s paved roads, but Shepler says this does not mean they have contempt for the island’s motorized vehicle ban.
“We respect Mackinac Island,” Shepler said.” We respect authority of the city council and would never have ventured into anything like this unless this was ok’d by the city.”
Many of the social media posts targeting Shepler’s Ferry urged a boycott, but Shepler believes those voices are a minority.
“For those that would like to boycott us, I can’t do anything about that,” Shepler said. “We will miss those that don’t travel with us anymore, but we’ll continue to move forward. There are many more positive tweets and social media posts that are saying ‘thank you,’ ‘continue on,’ and ‘Shepler’s is the way we have always gone.’”
Shepler believes that worrying about the backlash will do more harm than good, and that the real focus should be on maintaining the quality of service.
“This has already happened, I can’t dwell on what has happened and whether it was right or it was wrong,” Shepler said.” We can only move forward, and that’s what we’re doing. We’ll keep an eye on the numbers and every day get better at what we can do, and that is having the best possible freight and ferry service that we can have.”
Shepler’s Ferry plans to celebrate 75 years in operation next year.