2013-08-08 / Front Page

July bounces

Visitation off and running at Lakeshore

As the weather goes, so goes visitation at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (SBDNL) — alone with other factors, including favorable publicity.

The link between Lakehshore traffic and weather was born out last month as seasonable temperatures and sunny skies heated visitation numbers, resulting in near-record attendance for July.

Visitation, according to the Park Service, was 453,855 — second only to July 2012, when 459,935 patrons were counted. Visitation continued on a record pace for 2012, which ended with a visitor count of 1,531,560.

“We’re on pace for another big year,” said Tom Ulrich, deputy superintendent of SBDNL. “I think we’ll end up well above normal … in the top five in terms of attendance.”

It appears that a new record is already out of reach, the result of relatively cool and rainy weather early in the season.

As of July 31, some 733,070 guests had visited the national park in 2013. That’s about 127,086 fewer than the same period in 2012. And while attendance lags behind last year, numbers appear to have rebounded from this time last month when visitation at dunes attractions was down 30 percent from the same time in 2012.

According to the Park Service, there were 183,244 visitors at the park in June, down from a record high of 257,280 for 2012.

“We actually had a strong June compared to most years, it’s just that 2012 was so remarkable,” Ulrich said.

Unseasonably warm temperatures in spring ‘12 and the national recognition as the “most beautiful” place in America combined for record April and May attendance marks of 80,028 and 257,280.

More temperate weather during those months this year brought in much smaller crowds of 18,415 and 45,835, respectively. June was also down about 75,000 to 183,224.

However, better weather for being outdoors last month drew 453,855 to the park, just 6,000 shy of the just-set record.

The thermometer rose to 80 or above on 14 days last month at the Road Commission garage in Maple City.

A closer examination of National Park visitation records indicates another trend, at least for the month of July. Visitation at park attractions in Leelanau County was up from last year — and was down in Benzie County.

Some 26,456 vehicles were counted at the mouth of the Platte River last month, down 4,331 from July 2012.

Visitation at the end of Esch Road on Lake Michigan fell about 8 percent from one year to the next. There were 7,500 people who visited the area this year, down from 8,226 in 2012.

Conversely, attendance at the three Leelanau County attractions included in the count was up from the “record” year.

The traffic count at the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive was up 6.5 percent from last year at 35,871 or more than 2,300 visitors.

Attendance was also up at the Dune Climb from 30,003 last year to 30,845, or 2.7 percent.

The third attraction included in the count, the Coast Guard Museum in Glen Haven, also increased in visitation from one year to the next — although just a smidgeon. Some 8,244 people visited the museum last month, up 18 from July 2012.

The jump in attendance has proven fruitful for Crystal River Outfitters, which rents kayaks, canoes and bicycles in Glen Arbor.

“Overall, we’ve had a really good season,” said co-owner Matt Wiesen.

However, since July 23, temperatures have been more fall-like topping out in the mid-to-upper 70s.

Both Ulrich and Wiesen agree that this doesn’t appear to deter visitors.

“Instead of spending so much time on the beach, visitors are participating in other activities,” Ulrich said. “The cooler weather isn’t causing them to reconsider making the trip.”

Wiesen said the mid-70s is perfect for recreation.

“It’s dream weather for biking, kayaking and recreating overall,” he said. “It’s also been good weather for shopping… not so hot so it’s easier to try things on.”

This weather may bode well for August totals as well.

During August 2012, 437,914 visitors were counted at Sleeping Bear — also a record.

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