Sleeping Bear sets annual visitation record, with month left to go

From staff reports

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has set a new yearly visitation record. Through the month of November, the National Park has recorded 1,697,940 visitors, besting the previous record of 1,683,553 in 2016. And that doesn’t even include the current month of December.

Deputy Superintendent Tom Ulrich didn’t know exactly which visitor broke the record, in which location and on which day. But just for fun, Ulrich did his best impersonation of Ernie Harwell, the late Detroit Tigers radio announcer who would famously name the hometown (always in Michigan) of each fan who caught a foul ball in Tiger Stadium or Comerica Park.

“On the balmy afternoon of November 20, 2020, the 1,683,554th visitor of the year leapt out of their car and raced up the Dune Climb, setting a new visitation record for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore,” said Ulrich with a chuckle.

“That visitor from Mio, Michigan, likely didn’t know they were setting a record, just enjoying their National Park on an unseasonably warm Friday in November.”

What’s not a joke is how important national parks, and outdoor spaces, in general, have been to Americans during this excruciatingly painful year of the pandemic.

National parks may be more important this year than ever before, said Rob Wallace, assistant secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks at the Department of the Interior, during a visit to Sleeping Bear on Sept. 15. Wallace was in town to learn how the Great American Outdoors Act, signed into law on August 4, could expand recreational opportunities and address long overdue infrastructure and modernization challenges for this and other parks.

Thankfully for Sleeping Bear visitors looking to recreate outdoors and socially distance, 2020 has offered fantastic weather—including a warm November, the month the visitor from Mio broke the record.

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