2013-11-07 / Front Page

Lakeshore visits drop dramatically

By Eric Carlson Of The Enterprise staff


CHARLIE SAWERS, 7, of Elmwood Township, takes a leap of faith off Pyramid Point Sunday while playing with his sister, Kaci, 9, and Sam, 3. Mother Karin Sawers said the kids were at Alligator Hill two Sundays back. “We’re just trying to squeeze in every last hike. It was just too nice today. The parking lot was full and I was happy to see that.” Mike Spencer Photo CHARLIE SAWERS, 7, of Elmwood Township, takes a leap of faith off Pyramid Point Sunday while playing with his sister, Kaci, 9, and Sam, 3. Mother Karin Sawers said the kids were at Alligator Hill two Sundays back. “We’re just trying to squeeze in every last hike. It was just too nice today. The parking lot was full and I was happy to see that.” Mike Spencer Photo Officials at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore counted the fewest number of visitors at the park during an October in more than a decade, although the figure might include an asterisk to explain why.

October visitation figures released this week by the National Park Service indicate that only 57,445 people visited Leelanau County’s single biggest tourist attraction last month. That figure is down more than 43 percent from a record high for October of 102,108 visitors in 2011.

This year’s low figure is not surprising, however. The National Lakeshore was officially closed Oct. 1-17, as the result of a partial federal government shutdown that affected the whole nation.


A GROUP of Traverse City area young adults hang out atop Pyramind Point on Sunday. A GROUP of Traverse City area young adults hang out atop Pyramind Point on Sunday. Officials said some of the automated traffic counters on county roads throughout the Lakeshore remained in operation during the shutdown. That’s partly how they arrived at the 57,445 figure.

“The number of visitors fell pretty dramatically because of the shutdown in October,” said Tom Ulrich, deputy superintendent of the National Lakeshore. “Another factor, of course, was the unusually wet, cold weather we had for much of the month.”

Indeed, National Weather Service statistics indicate that 8.1 inches of rain fell on Leelanau County in October when the average rainfall for October is just 3.7 inches. Although there were some notable cold spells in October, temperatures averaged out to near normal for the month.

October is never one of the biggest months for visitation at Sleeping Bear Dunes. The biggest crowds usually come in July (453,855 this year), and August (397,000 this year).

“And everything pales in comparison to the record numbers we ended up with last year,” Ulrich said. “Nonetheless, our overall numbers for the year remain strong despite last month’s dip.”

The total number of visitors to the Lakeshore as of the end of October this year, 1,317,841, has already exceeded the total number of visitors for all of 2010, which saw 1,280,932 visitors by Dec. 31 that year.

“We had some great weather this summer,” Ulrich noted, “and all the media notoriety we’ve received in the past two years has kept numbers higher than we’ve seen historically.”

Ulrich said the Lakeshore is still feeling a bump in visitation resulting from being named “America’s most beautiful place” in a nationwide online poll two years ago.

“Of course it’s all anecdotal, but we also believe we’re feeling the effects of the ‘Pure Michigan’ ad campaign,” Ulrich added. “And it’s not just people from within Michigan and elsewhere in the U.S. who have been exposed to this campaign.”

Ulrich said that visitors from China and other Asian nations have told National Park Service rangers that they saw “Pure Michigan” ads on in-flight TV screens on their way to the U.S., and decided to add the National Lakeshore to their itinerary.

For October 2013, however, the number of visitors fell 19.6 percent from the previous October. For the entire calendar year so far, visitation is down 12.5 percent from October 2012.

The government shutdown last month also delayed the release of September 2013 visitation figures from the National Lakeshore. In September, 130,319 people visited the park. That figure was down slightly more than 5 percent from the 137,261 visitors counted during September 2012.

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