I have a new piece up at A2Politico that looks at the impact on the area in and around the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on being named “The Most Beautiful Place in America” by “Good Morning, America” viewers. It talks about the history of the formation of the national park, why some locals are not particularly happy about all the new attention and why, in the end, I don’t think it will dramatically impact the amount of traffic the park gets.
[T]he Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is not Disney World. Experiencing the things that make it The Most Beautiful Place in America requires you seek it out, to work for it and to explore. If you are willing to do this, as many are, you will be handsomely rewarded. But, it’s not ever going to be place that’s overrun by tourists — it’s simply not that type of vacation spot. And that’s very good news.
The villages within the Lakeshore area appear to understand this and realize that, while development might enhance the local economy in the short term, it would destroy what makes the area unique. This is why you will likely never see a marina in Glen Arbor or a Red Roof Inn in Leland. Local residents, by and large, and despite initial resistance to the park, have come value what they have and to be protective of it.
My prediction is that the Sleeping Bear Dunes area will see a spike in visitors over the next year or so but will, eventually, slip back into relative obscurity. Even during our short stay, we saw people leaving the campground earlier than they had planned despite nearly perfect weather. All of those who left early were camping in RVs. My suspicion is that these visitors didn’t see it as The Most Beautiful Place in America. They may, in fact, have found it boring. No shopping malls. No casinos. No water parks. None of the typical amenities of the common tourist trap. About the only “sanitized” way to experience the park is to stay at the very expensive and mostly self-contained Homestead resort.
To experience the true beauty and richness of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, you have to be willing to hike or float down a river or drive down unmarked two-track roads into forest. Those that do will be abundantly rewarded with the beauty that earned the area its award.
The cashier at the Fish Hook told us, “Someone came in last weekend and asked, ‘what do you do around here?’ All I could think was, if you have to ask that question, this area is probably not for you.”
She was entirely correct.
It’s worth the price of admission just for my wife’s amazing photo eye-candy. You can see more of her work at her blog at Anne Savage Photography.