2018-07-05 / Outdoors

Wayside exhibits reveal hidden stories

By Kelsey Pease
Enterprise intern


PIERCE STOCKING Scenic Drive now features 11 new wayside exhibits that were installed last fall. Pictured here is the designer of the interpretive graphics, Oliver Uburti, with his dog, Misti, and his favorite panel: “First People of This Place,” which they are painted into to indicate the present day in the visual time-line. PIERCE STOCKING Scenic Drive now features 11 new wayside exhibits that were installed last fall. Pictured here is the designer of the interpretive graphics, Oliver Uburti, with his dog, Misti, and his favorite panel: “First People of This Place,” which they are painted into to indicate the present day in the visual time-line. One of the top three places for visitors of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, is known for jaw-dropping views along its 7.4-mile loop.

Last fall, new wayside exhibits were installed to tell visitors stories hidden in those breathtaking views.

“The more visitors learn, the more they connect with what they’re seeing and practice good stewardship to help keep the park clean and taken care of,” said Susan Sanders, media specialist for the Lakeshore.

In total, the wayside exhibits cost about $20,000 to design, fabricate and install. Half of the cost was covered by the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Jerry Peterson, treasurer for Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes, said the exhibits are one of a number of projects the nonprofit takes on each year to improve visitor experiences at the park.

“The previous signs were getting weathered and hard to read,” Peterson said. “They do a great job of telling the story of Sleeping Bear and helping visitors understand the history behind what they’re seeing.”

In Sanders’ opinion, positive feedback is in thanks to the hard work and dedication of the man who designed the pieces, Oliver Uburti.

A University of Michigan graduate and former senior design editor for National Geographic, Uburti expressed an interest in the project during his artist residency in 2013.

“We needed to interpret the many varied stories of the Scenic Drive,” Sanders said. “We were overwhelmed by all we wanted to convey.

“Oliver took what he had collected, added his own research, and crafted 11 enchanting waysides that illustrate our stories and fascinate our visitors.”

Uburti said he couldn’t have done it alone, though.

“To spend time on this project, getting to know the whole park all the way up to Good Harbor Bay was a treat,” he said. “But so was getting to know so many people in the region.”

Among those people were Sanders, Dave Taghon of the Empire Area Museum, Frank Ettawageshick of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians and Lakeshore museum specialist Laura Quakenbush.

From talking with these experts, walking the land and pouring over historical maps, photographs, newspaper clippings and artifacts, unexpected stories began to emerge.

“There were shipwrecks, constellations, blueprints for a presidential retreat on Glen Lake, Dunesmobiles, 8,000 years of human habitation and the legend of the Manitou Islands and Sleeping Bear,” he recalled.

For Uburti, who currently resides in California, the project wasn’t just about spending more time in beautiful Leelanau County. The interpretive graphics were a way to give back to Michigan, a thank-you gift of sorts.

“The whole current course of my life — my work, my books, meeting my wife — it all kind of started with that reset when I moved back to Michigan,” Uburti said. “It’s a way for me to leave something behind here.”

Something he likens to the dunes themselves.

“Making stuff that lasts takes time,” he said. “It’s a slow process of constant revision, much like the formation of these dunes.”

Now that they’re completed, he hopes they will urge visitors not to take the breathtaking views before them for granted.

“The thing is, you can’t preserve it,” he said. “When you’re talking about something like sand, eventually, it will be gone.”

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