The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was honored by Good Morning America as the “Most beautiful place in America” in the fall of 2011. The results for nearby Glen Arbor that autumn and the following summer were striking, as both the village and the National Lakeshore posted their highest ever visitor tallies, by a wide margin.
The number of visitors to Sleeping Bear exceeded 1.5 million in 2012, a nearly 14 percent increase over the previous year. My newspaper, the Glen Arbor Sun, called 2012 the “summer on steroids” for its record-breaking crowds and profits, but also for its excess and the fatigue that it caused among local business owners.
Some Glen Arborites noticed distinct types of tourists to which they were not accustomed, and not always attracted — visitors driven here by the Good Morning America honor, but unfamiliar with this area’s laid back, rustic attitude. Artist Greg Sobran recalled a New Jersey visitor asking him where the strip clubs were, adding “Where do you have fun around here?”
Another tourist called the Leelanau Vacation Rentals’ office the morning after they had checked into their condominium to ask if “we could turn the nature CD down at night so they could sleep better.”
At 4 p.m. on Labor Day, the official end of the high tourism season, Glen Arbor Bed & Breakfast owner Patricia Widmayer noticed, “it was as if someone had suddenly turned the radio off.” It was quiet. All the tourists had packed their cars and headed south, ceding these small towns to their year-round caretakers once again.
As they do every year, business owners breathed a sigh of relief, but this time, their collective exhale may have been audible clear across Lake Michigan.