2012-08-09 / Front Page

Dunes’ attendance keeps soaring

Attendance has already surpassed annual visitation for each of the years from 1980-86.
By Amy Hubbell
of the Enterprise staff

Attendance at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is on track to set records this season based on July attendance figures, up 28 percent from the first seven months of 2011.

But you don’t have to tell local businesses that.

Matt Wiesen of Crystal River Outfitters in Glen Arbor knows very well the impact of the increased attendance on his business.

“I’m not surprised,” said Wiesen, whose business has catered to park goers for years. “We start out strong in May and usually have a lull. But it didn’t come this year. We’ve been busy straight through.”

National Park Service figures for the month of July set an all-time record at the park. According to the National Park Service Public Use Statistics Office, there were 459,935 visitors at the park last month, up 9.4 percent from last year and the highest since the office began tracking figures in 1980. July 1999 is the only month that comes close to this year’s figure. That month, there were 452,463 visitors recorded at the park; they contributed to the highest attendance year in park history.

That year a record 1,364,834 made the trip to Sleeping Bear.

More specifically, attendance at the Dune Climb and Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive last month combined for an additional 10,000 more visitors compared to July 2011. Some 33,539 patrons drove the route of the scenic drive, up from 27,594 for the same month last year. Likewise, the number of those tackling the Dune Climb also jumped. Last month, 30,003 people made it to the Sleeping Bear climb, up from 27,088 in 2011.

A combination of variables may go into the soaring visitor numbers. Nearly a year ago, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was dubbed the “Most Beautiful Place in America” by ABC’s Good Morning America. While the national attention from this and warm “beach” weather experienced this summer have been cited as reasons for the increase, Wiesen sees the completion and opening of the first segment of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail as a big factor in increased visitation and in turn increased profits for his business.

“The trail opening has been great for business. It’s a great opportunity for people to access the interior of the park safely,” said Wiesen, who also rents bicycles as part of his outfitting business.

January and February of this year were the only months in 2012 in which fewer than 10,000 visitors were recorded at the park. There were 7,226 and 9,963 in those months respectively. The premature arrive of warm weather in March brought out park-goers like it did fruit blossoms. Just over 17,100 visited the park that month. Attendance jumped by 28,604 in April. May brought 80,028 visitors, and June followed with 257,280.

Last month’s tally of 459,935 brings the year-to-date total to 860,156, up 28 percent from last year and well above the annual attendance figures from 1980 through 1986.

Increased numbers have also impacted Anderson’s IGA in Glen Arbor. “It’s been a great summer so far,” general manager Jamie Semple said.

Big items this season at the Glen Arbor grocery are water and watermelon.

“We’ve gone through a lot of water with the 90-degree heat,” Semple said. “We’ve also been selling an insane number of watermelons.”

The store typically orders two bins of watermelon per week. This season that’s not cutting it.

“We’ve been going through three or four a week which hasn’t been seen too much before,” Semple said.

Bearish Diversions

We’ve spent the past week exploring Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, resulting in a 16-page Diversions section with stories and pictures explaining, among other coverage stories, steps being taken to handle the growing popularity of the park. You’ll find the section inside.

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