2016-11-10 / Front Page

Lakeshore record already broken

Capacity may be strained
By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff

Scott Tucker counted 39 people in line in front of him this summer as he and his young son waited to use the bathroom at Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.

Tucker, the superintendent of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, has also been hiking through the Lakeshore with his family at times when they didn’t see another soul all day.

So when it comes to the question of how many visitors is too many, the answer is elusive.

“Do we have enough parking spaces and bathrooms for heavy visitation days?” Tucker said. “Probably not. Are there enough beaches and trails that you can go an entire day without seeing another person? Yes. It’s a tricky thing of what’s too many.”

Numbers show that with 1,647,389 visitors through the end of October, the Lakeshore has already broken the record set last year.

And that’s not even counting November and December.

“Our visitation is through the roof,” Tucker said.

But what’s happening locally is in tune with what’s being seen across the country, where visitation at most of the park system’s 415 national parks has increased by 5-10 percent, Tucker said.

One likely reason is that the National Park Service celebrated its 100th birthday, he said.

“There’s just been a lot of buzz about that this year,” Tucker said.

Gas prices are also lower, and social media can take some of the credit, especially Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which are popular sites for posting instant pictures. They were also a part of the NPS’ Find Your Park ad campaign.

“People take pictures of beautiful places and they post them and their friends say, ‘Hey, I want to go see that place,’” Tucker said.

And they have lots of reasons to visit a national park, whether they come to see a site’s beauty or historical value, whether they are seeking intellectual stimulation or just want to spend a day on the beach with their family.

Will it slow down?

“I don’t think so,” Tucker said. And the NPS doesn’t want it to.

The goal is to create the next generation of park visitors and supporters by making young people passionate about their parks and giving them a sense of ownership, he said.

But visitors put pressure on the county’s small towns and villages, affecting parking, accommodations, bathrooms and restaurants.

The good is also to continue to provide a variety of visitor experiences while protecting natural resources.

“But there are days when you can walk across the Platte River from inner tube to inner tube,” he said.

Tucker and his family lived in Empire this summer and he got to feel that pressure first hand.

“You could not just go down to the local restaurant and eat with out a 1-1/2 hour wait,” he said.

The D.H. Day Campground was 100 percent booked all summer and has even been about 80 percent booked during the warm fall the area has had.

Even so, there are no plans to add new camping sites.

Local communities and the park need to pro-actively look for solutions, but all solutions require money, Tucker said.

While park funding has remained flat, Tucker said, all those visitors do generate more fee income.

Of that income, 20 percent goes into a park system-wide account that parks across the nation compete for to do special projects.

Of what’s left, 55 percent goes for maintenance, things like a new roof or a fresh coat of paint on a historic structure. The money can’t be used for new construction.

Most of the rest is used for visitor services staff such as those who man the booths, clean the bathrooms or do summer programs.

If anything is left it can be used for projects such as new exhibits or trail maintenance.

The money can’t be used for remodeling the superintendent’s office, Tucker jokes.

“It must be something that a visitor can actually reach out and touch,” he said.

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