Now entering its fourth decade, the annual Jobbie Nooner beach party usually takes place on the Friday before the July 4th weekend on Gull Island in Lake St. Clair. In 2015, it will take place on June 26 and be larger and rowdier than ever. What started as a Friday afternoon beach party has morphed into an all-out bacchanalia, often referred to as “The Mardi Gras of the Midwest,” and includes live music, DJ’s, wet T-shirt contests, and televised flyovers from local news teams, all fueled by a lot of alcohol.
What's a Jobbie?
According to “Traveling Michigan’s Thumb,” the Jobbie Nooner was started in 1975 in Anchor Bay by Lee O’Dell to celebrate his co-worker Lee Wagner’s birthday. Jobbies, a nickname for auto factory workers, would often start their shifts as early as 5 or 6 am, and leave work at noon on the Friday before the July shutdown of the auto factories, taking a “nooner” to party in their boats. In the early 80’s, the celebration shifted to Gull Island, an island created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about 6 miles across the water from Lake St. Clair Metropark. After dredging the shipping channels, the leftover sand and muck was dumped at the site, creating Gull Island.
The only way to get to the island is by boat, although some more intrepid partiers walk from Anchor Bay along the shallow areas of Lake St. Clair. Boaters tie off the island or in the shallow water around it, set up camp and celebrate all day and through the night. There are no facilities of any kind on the island, but it doesn’t stop the party. In recent years, the party has grown enormously, attracting as many as 10,000 people in 2010, according to the Detroit Free Press. There is a dedicated website for the celebration, jobbiecrew.com, which sells T-shirts and generally promotes the event and its after-parties. This is NOT a place for kids, as there is a strictly adult theme, a lot of nudity, and alcohol consumption.
Over the years, a surprisingly few number of incidents have occurred. In 2005, the We Are Here Foundation, a non-profit group apparently sick of the annual festival, leased Gull Island temporarily from the Army Corps of Engineers and planned to ban the revelers from the island and promote a clean-up. Despite this, the party went on without incident. Also in 2005, according to the Macomb Daily, Harrison Township studied the feasibility of a long-term lease of Gull Island, prompted by fed-up residents, but the effort fizzled out. In 2007, a death occurred when a drunken boater slammed into another boat and killed a passenger aboard. In 2013, a body was discovered on the island just prior to the start of the festivities, although foul play was ruled out.
Although technically still under the management of the Army Corps of Engineers, the festival is policed by a number of law enforcement groups, including the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Macomb and St. Clair County Sherriff Departments, and the Marine Patrols of the Clay Township and New Baltimore Police Departments. A security camera tower was completed in 2009 by the Border Patrol to detect illegal border crossings, along with 11 other cameras along the St. Clair River and the lake. In 2012, the number of related arrests actually dropped. According to voicenews.com, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel uses Jobbie Nooner to promote Lake St.Clair in some presentations and considers it to be worth over $500,000 a year to the local economies. “It has been going fairly smoothly for the last few years,” he states and considers it to be a bonus for the region.
Additionally, there is a partner event called the Raft-Off, a huge gathering of boats off Harsen’s Island, in which an effort to set a world record is made for most boats tied together. A long double line of boaters snakes through the shallow water, with participants “Walking the Gauntlet” in between boats.
If you plan to join the party, bring sunscreen, plenty to eat and drink and a lot of tolerance for over-indulging. Watch for inexperienced boaters and have a good time!