2017-10-05 / Front Page

Lakeshore attendance zooms, sets mark

By Enterprise Staff

They’re still here.

The thought that record-breaking attendance last year at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was a fluke has officially been debunked.

“It was a monster September,” said Lakeshore deputy superintendent Tom Ulrich. “Last year, we blew ahead of all previous years, and now we are ahead of it.”

The official attendance county for September ended at 185,716 — nearly 17 percent higher than the previous record of 159,394 visitors, set in 2016.

“Last year was very good,” said Bonnie Nescot, co-owner of Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor. “We never expected to come close this year, but we’ve ended up with comparable numbers.”

The record-breaking park attendance last year was at least partially attributed to the 100th birthday of the National Park Service.

“We thought it would go down a little. And it’s not,” Ulrich said.

Respectable visitation numbers were posted this summer at the park, despite somewhat cooler temperatures.

August visitation at the park totaled 428,705, the third-highest attendance for the month, bringing 2017 within striking distance of last year’s record.

However, unseasonably warm temperatures helped make up any shortage and then some, bringing year-to-date park attendance to 1,550,719 — about 129,281 short of last year’s record 1.68 million with three months remaining in the calendar year.

Nescot said she and her husband, Tim Barr, see a direct correlation between weather and the number of people eating in their restaurant.

And while recent temperatures has become more seasonal compared to the scorching summer-like temperatures recorded last month, the number of visitors continues to be high.

“Tuesdays are usually one of the slowest days of the week,” Nescot said. “I walked in there Tuesday and the place was filled with two and four-tops and there was a line waiting to be seated.”

Shoulder seasons, the months either side of the traditionally busy summer, have been particularly strong.

“Our shoulder seasons are getting busier than ever. The margin that those have been setting records is higher than our months of June and July and August,” Ulrich said.

The Dune Climb and Pierce Stocking Drive continue to come in first and second in terms of visitors, followed by the Philip A. Hart Visitors Center.

Park staff is not complaining, as a portion of the income from passports sold to visitors stays at the Lakeshore. It’s specifically used to fund long-term maintenance that had been put on hold due to low funding, work on trails and historic structures, campground interpretive programs and clean-up, among other projects.

“It’s notice that people are coming up more in the shoulder seasons.,” Ulrich said. “The growth is spreading out. And I would think area businesses welcome that as well.”

No one’s complaining at Art’s either. However, both park staff and the crew of the Glen Arbor restaurant are a little weary.

“They’re tired,” Nescot said. “They’re accustomed to working all out during the summer and look forward to a bit of a slow-down in September.

“That didn’t come.”

Nescot and Barr keep a daily log, recording the weather, guest numbers and anything out of the ordinary.

Last year, there was an entry just before Thanksgiving that said “they’re still here.”

Perhaps they’ll be able to say that again this year.

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