2011 and Earlier / Special Interests

D. H. Day left campground as one of his legacies

One of the most popular of D. H. Day’s legacies in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is the D.H. Day Campground on Lake Michigan between Glen Haven and Glen Arbor. Like the Platte River Campground in Benzie County, the campground is in an area previously used by prehistoric peoples and early settlers, and is now open year-round to modern day visitors on a first-come, first-served basis.

The campground is on a 32-acre site that Day donated 11 November 1920 to the State of Michigan. It became the D. H. Day State Park. Although described in many writings as Michigan’s first state park, the Mackinac Island State Park, which the state acquired from the United States government in 1895, has that distinction. The Michilimackinac State Park at Mackinaw City was acquired in 1909. The Interlochen State Park, between Duck Lake and Green Lake in Grand Traverse County, was acquired when the state purchased 200 acres in 1917 to save a stand of virgin pine. But the D. H. Day State Park and the man who donated it deserve a special place in the history of Michigan parks, as described by a state historical marker that is in front of a log cabin built in 1923-24 on the campgrounds:
THE D.H. Day State Park, shown here after its creation in 1920, later became the D.H. Day Campground within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.THE D.H. Day State Park, shown here after its creation in 1920, later became the D.H. Day Campground within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
By the end of World War 1, with the rapid growth of the recreation industry in Michigan, a need for a statewide system of parks had arisen. In 1919, the State Park Commission was established. D. H. Day State Park, honoring the commission chairman, was the first park that it set up. When state parks were transferred to the Conservation Department in 1921, over 20 other sites had been acquired, most of them, like D. H. Day State Park, beautifully located on lake shores.

Day’s efforts on behalf of state parks helped enhance the reputation of Governor Albert E. Sleeper, who attended the commission’s first meeting on 20 January 1920, as one of Michigan’s leading conservation governors.

The Glen Haven area’s recreational attraction was expanded in 1931 when the Michigan Department of Conservation acquired 1,545 acres of the dune area from the federal government to create the Sleeping Bear Dunes State Park, which was later expanded to more than 2,000 acres. This, along with the D. H. Day State Park, became part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

The Sleeping Bear Dunemobile Rides out of Glen Haven introduced thousands of people to the dunes during the mid-twentieth century. Throughout their forty-three years of operation, the rides were owned by Louis Warnes and his wife Marion, D. H. Day’s youngest daughter. By this time, they owned the D. H. Day Store, and used it as base for the dunes rides.

The rides started in 1935 when a used 1934 Ford that took four people at a time, for a charge of 25 cents each, on a brief ride from Glen Haven to the crest of the dunes and back. By the time the rides ended in 1978, there were thirteen dunes wagons, each carrying as many as 14 passengers on a 12 mile, 35 minute excursion.

By the mid-1970s, the National Park Service had purchased all the village, although some residents retained occupancy rights for an extended period. In 1989, Carolyn Bumgardner, who grew up in the village as lumbering was dying out, was the only year-round resident. (Her grandfather, John Bumgardner, was the sawmill foreman in the early 1900s and her grandmother, Cynthia, cooked for lumberjacks. Their house, which no longer exists, was often occupied by mill or farm workers.) Some other residences were used periodically in the late 1980s, including the Dean house, owned by Tom Dean, member of the last crew of the Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station.

Commercial activity ceased. After 115 years of operation, the inn closed in 1972, but later became available for restoration and leasing by private interests. The D. H. Day Store closed in 1978 upon termination of the dunesmobile rides.

As an attraction in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Glen Haven will be interpreted for a number of maritime-related activities: cord wood station, freight shipping and receiving, passenger service, U. S. port of entry, frontier inn, fishing, hardwood lumber production and shipping, U. S. Weather Bureau Storm Signal Station, ferry boat service to South Manitou Island, fruit processing and shipping, steamboat/resort activities, and the nearby U. S. Life Saving Service/Coast Guard Station, which was built in large part because of lobbying by D. H. Day. The dock site and nearby submerged wrecks are protected as part of the Manitou Bottomland Preserve, and are popular attractions for divers.

Most of the preserved towns of northern Michigan had their origins with the lumber industry, but few retain the look of those early days. Marie Scott of the Sleeping Bear Dune Preservation Committee said that Glen Haven “appears exceptional” within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore because it still exists, while such lumber-era sites as Aral, Port Oneida, Good Harbor and Crescent on North Manitou Island are ghost towns. These towns were typical of the once-flourishing Great Lakes coastal lumber communities whose unprotected piers were abandoned and then destroyed by waves and ice after the lumber boom. These towns are gone. The frontier company town of Glen Haven remains. Most importantly, it still resembles the early shore facilities constructed at places that only rarely survived the intensive development of waterfront communities throughout the Great Lakes.

When Michigan gained statehood in 1837, what is now Glen Haven was a wilderness.

“Today, Glen Haven is the best preserved cord wood station on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan and perhaps the entire Great Lakes,” according to the documentation for its place on the National Register of Historic Places. “The high degree of integrity of the historic setting makes an important contribution to the overall significance of the site. The general lack of modern intrusions within and adjacent to the village and along the shoreline, the broad reach of clear Lake Michigan water, the restored South Manitou Lighthouse and Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station and the low base tones from the North Manitou Shoal Lighthouse combine to create a powerful historic landscape that echoes the feeling and associations of the period of significance.

Glen Haven has another distinction. It is located on Michigan’s shortest state highway, quarter-mile-long M-209.

Editor’s note: The following story is reprinted with permission from Glen Arbor author George Weeks. It was taken from his book “Sleeping Bear, Yesterday and Today.”

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