2017-03-09 / Life in Leelanau

LAKESHORE LOVIN’

Students provide spark as Lakeshore sets January, February visitation records
By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff


LELAND SCHOOL fourth-grade tree-huggers-in-training show their love for a red pine plantation on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. The students visited the Lakeshore as part of a field trip sponsored by Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. LELAND SCHOOL fourth-grade tree-huggers-in-training show their love for a red pine plantation on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. The students visited the Lakeshore as part of a field trip sponsored by Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. More than 1,200 elementary school students who hiked through the National Lakeshore this winter contributed to an explosion in the number of visitors so far this year.

In all, a record 14,395 people visited the Lakeshore in January and 15,257 visited in February.

That’s even up from last year, when records were set by the 12,994 visitors in January and 14,577 in February.

“It’s pretty amazing,” said Tom Ulrich, deputy superintendent. “Another month, another record. It just keeps on happening.”

The students are part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes Snowshoe Experience, which is funded by a grant from the National Park Foundation.


FOURTH-GRADERS from Grand Traverse Academy learn how woodpeckers find food during the winter as part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes Snowshoe Experience. FOURTH-GRADERS from Grand Traverse Academy learn how woodpeckers find food during the winter as part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes Snowshoe Experience. In its second year, the program targets fourthgraders, but also gets participation from third-, fifth- and sixth-graders, said Katie Fredericks, an education technician for the park.

The day-long field trip has both indoor and outdoor activities for students that include a ranger-led hike and an art project. The program is aligned with the state curriculum, with kids learning about winter ecology, how animals survive the winter and snow science that is supposed to include measuring snow.

“It just never worked out with the crazy weather this year, but it’ll be ready to go next year,” Fredericks said.

That weather also had kids hiking about half the time in their boots rather than snowshoes, she said.

“We still do the hike,” Fredericks said. “It’s still adventurous and exciting. It’s been a ton of fun.”

Students come from as far as Muskegon and Lansing, as well as from Leland, Lake Ann, Grand Traverse Academy and Kingsley. Some of the closer schools will get a classroom pre-visit from Fredericks and others who run the program.

There are also curriculum-based activities that teachers can download for free as a follow-up to the field trip, she said.

“So it really is a pretty well-rounded experience for them,” Fredericks said.

The program also ties into the national Every Kid in a Park program started under former Pres. Barack Obama about two years ago. Under the program fourth-graders and their families can get a free pass to visit any fee-based public land for a whole year.

They just need to visit everykidinapark. gov, do an online activity and print out the free pass.

The Saturday ranger-led snowshoe hikes the Lakeshore has been doing for the past several years are also getting more people out exploring the park during the winter. The hikes are offered every Saturday at 1 p.m. for a couple of months starting just after Christmas.

The hikes have grown so popular that this year there are two rangers each taking out a group of 30 hikers.

“And the waiting list is long,” Fredericks said.

Reservations are required by calling 326-4700. For those who don’t have their own snowshoes, the Lakeshore has several pairs that hikers can use. Rangers will also give a short lesson on how to walk in them.

If there isn’t enough snow, the hike can be done in regular boots, said Fredericks, who has led the hikes in past years.

The last hike is this Saturday and Fredericks said only a few people are signed up so far.

Ulrich said that while 15,257 visitors may seem like a lot, it’s less than 1 percent of the park’s overall visitation and the numbers that will visit in July and August, Ulrich said.

It’s also good for area merchants, restaurants, campgrounds and other business owners, he said.

“It’s a lot of people, but it’s still nice to see everybody coming out,” he said.

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