Sleeping Bear wakes up for cashless summer season

·3 min read

May 26—EMPIRE — It's not summer until you get sand in your shoes, and you'll get plenty of that at the Dune Climb or at any of the beaches at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Memorial Day weekend is considered opening day for the Lakeshore, and Superintendent Scott Tucker says he's ready for six months of a roller coaster that begins at about noon on Friday.

"The weather is going to make it a spectacular weekend for visitors and residents to get out and enjoy the park," Tucker said.

The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is open, as is the Maritime Museum in Glen Haven. There are also plenty of trails to hike, canoes to rent and Port Oneida with its historic turn-of-the-century farmsteads to explore.

On Saturday people can head to the Dune Climb for a solar-viewing party and a glimpse of the sunset from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Then from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. enjoy a star party, also at the Dune Climb.

Or head to the D.H. Day Campground Amphitheater for a one-hour program at 5 p.m. on "The Importance of Water to the Anishinaabek of the Great Lakes." Stick around for another program at 7 p.m. another program on "Natives in the Media and Public Eye" that discusses the portrayal of native people in the media and how they are perceived in the public consciousness.

Both programs are by Eric Hemenway, an Anishinaabe/Odawa historian. Those not camping are welcome and should park at the campground office.

All programs are free, but visitors should purchase a park pass or have their annual pass displayed in their vehicle.

This year is the first year the Lakeshore will be mostly cashless, with rangers at manned stations taking only debit and credit cards. Cash will still be accepted at "iron ranger" stations, those unmanned boxes at trailheads and some beaches.

Anybody who recreates in the Lakeshore's 70,000 acres should have an entry pass. The cost is $25 for a seven-day pass; $40 for a seasonal pass; and $80 for a system-wide pass that is good at any national park. There are also discounts for seniors, veterans and more.

Tucker said 75 seasonal employees have been brought on board this year. In past years the Lakeshore has struggled to find beds for everybody, but this year they have enough, he said.

Seven beds have been offered by community members and another seven are in a farmhouse that was restored, Tucker said.

A total of 32 beds are offline in a government-owned housing unit while a 70-year-old water system is replaced. But another housing unit sleeps 30, he said.

Not all park employees require housing, he said. Some already live in the area, while others bunk with relatives or find their own housing. Still others live in campers, he said.

Annual visitation has been climbing since the Lakeshore was named the most beautiful place in America in 2012 by Good Morning America. That year it set a record of 1.2 million visitors and rose to 1.5 million over the following years.

In 2020 and 2021, when the pandemic was in full swing, people headed outdoors and visitation soared to 1.7 million.