2017-11-16 / Outdoors

Sleeping Bear Dunes on pace to set record

By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff


NO CROWDS at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore last week allowed Nicole Rafferty of Nova Scotia, Canada, and Jameson Kellett of Goodrich, Mich., to enjoy each other’s company in addition to the view. NO CROWDS at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore last week allowed Nicole Rafferty of Nova Scotia, Canada, and Jameson Kellett of Goodrich, Mich., to enjoy each other’s company in addition to the view. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is on track to set a new attendance record in 2017.

National Park Service officials reported last week that even though attendance at Leelanau County’s number one tourist draw in October was down from October 2016, the October 2017 year-to-date count was 3,619 higher than that of 2016. Year-to-date visitation stood at 1,651,008 at the end of last month — the highest-ever through October by 0.22 percent.

Merrith Baughman, chief of interpretation and visitor services, said October 2017 would have been a banner month were it not for the October 2016 mark of 122,032 visitors.

“Weather is what drives our visitation,” Baughman said.


RICH HANSON captured some fall color overlooking Glen Lake off Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore last week before heading back home to Arizona. RICH HANSON captured some fall color overlooking Glen Lake off Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore last week before heading back home to Arizona. Indeed, weather may have dampened what otherwise might have been a larger number of guests last month.

October rainfall was up 205 percent from last year, Baughman said. More than 5 inches of rain was recorded at the park last month. In October 2016, only 2.46 inches was recorded.

Still, October 2017 was the fourth-best October in the National Park Service database, which dates back to 1979. Visitation was more than 32 percent higher than the October average.

The total number of visitors recorded at the end of last month is the second-highest visitor count ever — for an entire year.

Baughman said the park is just 48,992 visitors short of reaching the 2016 record of 1.7 million.

Going forward, weather remains a wild card, however.

Some sun poked out of the clouds earlier last week, but that was followed by plunging temperatures and snow followed by wet, unsettled weather conditions.

In addition, the usual crowd of snowbirds and fudgies continues to thin out as it does every year.

“Since Halloween, nothing much has been happening around here,” said Enterprise correspondent

Bill Thompson of Glen Arbor. “Traffic has disappeared at a lot of local businesses, and it almost looks as if we’re ready to roll up the sidewalks.”

Even if the weather does take a turn for the worse this month, it appears the park has more going for it than the great outdoors.

Perhaps because of last month’s rain, a new record was set for the number of people who headed indoors at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in Empire.

Of the 100,287 people who visited the National Lakeshore last month, 19,929 of them stopped by the Visitor Center in Empire. That was the busiest October ever for the Visitor Center, about 85 percent above the average since 2001. The year-to-date Visitor Center total stands at 234,022.

“This is the second-highest Visitor Center count ever — and there are two more months to go,” Baughman said.

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