Sleeping Bear goes from 'most beautiful' to 'most crowded'

Lake Huron

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.


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Pelican Larry
Tue, 01/21/2014 - 8:53am
As the Eagles say in The Last Resort: "Call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye." We will love it to death and eventually have to sell limited entry tickets.
Tue, 01/21/2014 - 10:38am
This is exactly why we morel mushroom hunters know enough to keep quiet about where we are finding our mushrooms. You blab and you ruin it.
Wed, 01/22/2014 - 11:31am
So the business owners were happy when all the tourists left and there was no one to buy their stuff?
Sat, 01/25/2014 - 10:00pm
Paint paradise and put up a parking lot (for all those tourists). Our current economy relies on selling "stuff." Dunes are ecosystems which have their own economies. They don't depend upon human consumption. Quite the opposite.
Wed, 01/22/2014 - 12:17pm
My family has spent two wonderful weeks three for the last 18 years. We look forward to that two weeks all year long. Where we stay. The kids can go out in the water for 50 yards before it get deep. They have a ball. It's a wonderful place.
Wed, 01/22/2014 - 1:23pm
Busy during the summer --- YES, Can you also find a quiet beach, crystal clear water, fantastic vistas, beautiful lakes and streams, lots of wildlife, fish, birds, wonderful shops, restaurants, sweet smelling air, and only a half hour from Traverse City and a vibrant night life for those who want more --- YES YOU CAN !!!
Sharron May
Mon, 01/30/2017 - 8:15am


Sharron May
Mon, 01/30/2017 - 9:23am

I live in a surrounding county where this is considered "a good problem" by local officials. I'd call it a self-perpetuating one. We say we want a year-round economy and yet we continue to set an economic table for transient tourists/residents/businesses. Our downtowns look like a stage set and are avoided like the plague by year-round and seasonal residents. In essence we're trading local and seasonal dollars for transient dollars. This has a negative impact on quality of life for those rooted, connected or attracted to this place for the pristine, quiet, "real town" qualities. We are watching them being incrementally destroyed. We say we need to attract talented youth to balance out our aging demographics. We need families, children, a labor force. If so, then we need to target that as our niche market to serve and build an economy around. We say we need to 'create jobs'. I don't think so. We need to create a vibrant community that attracts entrepreneurs with the age-old desire to create their own job; to be in business for themselves; and downsize. Let's incentivize brick and mortar businesses with a long view to serve and build that community; encourage artisan and cottage industries; provide better internet capacity; and allow pop-up enterprises to serve the pop-up peeps.