The Sleeping Bear Whats?

The Sleeping Bear Dunes, if you hadn’t noticed, recently gained extreme national attention. ABC’s Good Morning America named the Dunes ‘The Most Beautiful Place in America’. This majestic land formation will certainly be getting more tourist visits due to its new-found fame; but what about the Dunes warrants such a prestigious title? And what will the rise in recognition mean for the surrounding towns?

The Sleeping Beard Dunes are located in the Mayberry-eqsue town of Glen Arbor, Michigan, 25 miles from the mecca of Traverse City (which recently got a Big Lots! and a Buffalo Wild Wings: they’re moving up in the world, finally). The Dunes are quite desolate, with rolling hills and water surrounding all sides. When you get to the top of them, Lake Michigan’s azure waters linger in the distance. You can walk to the Lake from here…but it takes about four times longer than it looks like it would. Accompanying the Bear Dunes is the Pier Stocking Scenic Drive, which takes its travelers on a journey through maple forests and also offers exceptional views of both Lake Michigan and Glen Lake. Also, in neighboring Glen Haven, a general store, blacksmith shop, and U.S. Coast Guard Museum take visitors back to a simpler time.

You probably didn’t grow up going to the Dunes every Memorial Day. You may not have ever even visited the massive sand deposit. You probably haven’t ever seen someone try to ski down (yes; I mean ski — poles and everything) them on a warm May day, and I’m going to assume you’ve never trekked the climb in the pre-snow winter, when the sand feels like little beads of icy death on your soles. Well, I have. I’ve done all these things at least once in my life, and I’m going to assume that with all the warranted attention that the Dunes are getting, I’m not going to be so alone in my endeavors over the next few years.

So what precisely makes this place worth the insanely long and twisty car ride up to the peninsula? (Seriously: if you get car sick, bring some water if you ever go). Well, The Sleeping Bear Dunes have this atmosphere. The air is CLEAR and the water is BLUE and the sand is HOT and the views, oh the views, are SPECTACULAR. The Dunes themselves are steeper than they look once you start climbing, but quite honestly, when you reach the tippy top and plop yourself down on one of the three benches, the view is worth it all: the farmland and idyllic white farmhouse in the distance, just to the left of Little and Big Glen Lakes on one side, and the far-off Lake Michigan, barely visible, but no doubt present on a misty day, on the other side. This panoramic view is perfect, but pictures don’t do it one bit of justice. It’s something you really just need to experience to understand; and more and more people are making the visit to understand firsthand.

So what does this presumed tourist boost mean for the Dunes and the surrounding towns? Well, I’m no expert, but the experts say it means jobs…and it means business…and it means a little less privacy for those who call this place home. One of the facts residents in tourist towns have to realize is this: you’re going to get tourists, and they’re going to drive 35mph in a 55mph zone, and they’re going to buy up all the fudge, and most certainly they’re going to ask whether the Lake is home to sharks (if you want to have some fun, walk behind some tourists and say “Did you hear about the Great White that inhaled that child last week?”) If it weren’t for all these annoyances, though, locals wouldn’t just have the pristine location to themselves, though you can bet they wish for it often; they’d have less shops, less revenue, and therefore they could possibly all be living in tents on a beach (which would only be fun for maybe two days, three if there’s no rain/snow/wind/bugs/heat). In short, the “fudgies” make the towns what they are. Suttons Bay and Glen Arbor and Leland are so dismal and lonely in the winter that when summer rolls around it feels like New York City. Tourist town residents everywhere should just learn to love ‘em (and learn to pass cars even on curvy roads).

In short, the Sleeping Bear Dunes are marvelous and deserve all the attention they (may) now receive. There are pros and cons in regards to the fame, just as there are pros and cons for nearly everything in life. As long as the Dunes remain what they have always been, and visitors get to see them and surrounding towns in their true form, bring on the fudgies!