2017-01-26 / Outdoors

Lakeshore visitation one for record book

Park head setting goals for 2017
By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff


SIGHTSEERS TAKE in views of Lake Michigan from overlook No. 9 of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore last August. SIGHTSEERS TAKE in views of Lake Michigan from overlook No. 9 of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore last August. It’s a new year and a new record for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which topped out in 2016 at more than 1.68 million visitors.

Overall 1,683,553 people visited the Lakeshore in 2016, beating the record of 1,535,633 visitors set in 2015.

The Lakeshore, in fact, had already broken the 2015 record by the end of November, when 27,774 visitors that month pushed it over the top.

For the coming year the challenge is to continue to meet high visitor expectations, said Scott Tucker, superintendent of the Lakeshore.

“If we have a million visitors their expectation is for a pristine, clean park,” Tucker said. “With 1.68 million visitors the expectation is the same.”

Tucker is asking the Lakeshore staff to consider finding time to do more things every day that benefit visitors, he said.

“If we stop doing X to do Y, does that give us a better use of our time, energy and money?” Tucker asked rhetorically.

He’s looking at what the park staff does well, and how much is enough.

“Budgets are the same,” he said. “With attendance up, how do we meet the needs of our visitors and the legislation when our resources are stretched to the limits?” he asked.

Part of this year’s increased attendance was due to the National Park Service’s centennial celebration and special events planned for the year, as well as a push to get younger people involved in parks across the country through social media sites.

People were encouraged to visit a park and post their experiences — along with pictures — on the sites.

The idea is to get young people to fall in love with national parks in order to create a sense of ownership in them, as well as the next generation of caretakers.

The Lakeshore is getting ready to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2020 and Tucker said staff is looking for similar ideas to keep the next generation interested.

“Anniversaries and celebrations are when things get moving,” he said.

A total of 8,390 people visited the Lakeshore in December. That was fewer than the number that visited in December 2015, when unusually warm temperatures prompted 13,653 people to put the park on their itinerary.

Of those 2016 December visitors, 85 were overnight stays in the Platte River Campground in Benzie County, which is open year-round.

Most of those campers are in RVs, Tucker said, but some are in tents.

“Even in December there are some hardy folks who come out during the winter,” he said.

Here in Leelanau County, the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in Empire is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., seven days per week all year long.

Sections of the 17-mile-long Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail are kept groomed for cross-country skiing.

Snowshoeing can be done anywhere in the Lakeshore, and park ranger-guided hikes are offered Saturdays through March 11.

Snowmobiling is not permitted anywhere in the Lakeshore.

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