2017-08-10 / Front Page

Lakeshore visitation spikes to record

Slower start forgotten
By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff

Allyssa Gilliland, 19, is spending her first summer on South Manitou Island as an intern with Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

The Cincinnati resident had just finished her first year in her quest for a degree in environmental policy at Ohio State University and was looking for something that would challenge her, but would also be meaningful.

“It’s been a great experience,” Gilliland said. “Coming out here was kind of a challenge, but once you get the hang of it, it’s really fun.”

Gilliland and scores of other enthusiastic interns, staffers and park rangers are what make the park such a wonderful place to visit, said Tom Ulrich, deputy superintendent of the Lakeshore. They are also what is contributing to a spike in visitation at the park, which continues to topple records.

Through July, 936,300 people had visited the Lakeshore. Last year, a total of 923,524 people had visited by the end of July.


ALLYSA GILLILAND, a visitor use assistant intern working on South Manitou Island for the summer, is shown perched on the dunes on the west side of South Manitou. ALLYSA GILLILAND, a visitor use assistant intern working on South Manitou Island for the summer, is shown perched on the dunes on the west side of South Manitou. Visitation had slipped a bit to start the 2017 year, but rebounded in a big way last month to again reach record levels.

Ulrich said smashing the July record — usually the biggest month of the year — bodes well for attendance in 2017. The annual record is currently held by 2016 with 1,683,553 visitors.

And 2017 is on course for replacing 2107 as the biggest visitor year on record. Second place in attendance is now 2012 with its 1,531,560 visitors.

“July was telling,” Ulrich said. “June was down, but the weather was pretty bad with rain. And July had rain, but it had a lot of nice days. It just shows that people love this place. People love this entire area, so they are still coming.”

Ulrich said when visitation goes up it’s not reflected in increased staffing.

And he credits staff for keeping the park clean and welcoming for all those people — many of whom may be on their first visit to the Lakeshore.

“Visitation goes up and still the trash gets picked up and the bathrooms are cleaned and the plovers are protected and everybody takes it in stride,” Ulrich said. “I’m still amazed at what people accomplish here.”

But they also act as ambassadors for those visitors, sharing their love, whether that’s a new-found affection or a years-long affair.

Judy Granger, of Empire, moved to the area in 1989 and now hikes or skis in the Lakeshore daily.

“I love the park because you really get to experience nature,” Granger said. “I like that the trails are natural paths, they’re not concrete or asphalt. When you are out there you really are a part of nature. I like the serenity it brings ... It’s very calming and very peaceful.”

John McClure, 19, is also an intern at the Lakeshore this year. Originally of Ann Arbor, the environmental studies college student also visited with his family when he was younger.

“I wanted to be in a place that I love and I wanted to do something that I love,” McClure said.

He said the number of visitors, especially at the popular beaches and other spots such as the Dune Climb, is sometimes overwhelming.

“But people are on top of things,” McClure said.

Gilliland said part of her job is to orient the two boatloads of campers who come to South Manitou every day to the concept of ‘leave no trace’ and not impacting the area.

She also educates them and random boaters about the piping plovers who nest along the beach and must be protected.

“A lot of guests don’t even know what those birds look like,” Gilliland said.

Staff members become as emotionally attached to the park as visitors do, Ulrich said, which may be why they work so hard.

“People are really proud of this place,” he said. “This is not a business. We are not trying to promote this place so more people keep coming. What we are trying to do is preserve and protect this place, and a lot of times that results in more people coming. And in this case, a record month.”

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