Sleeping Bear's 2012 explosion in popularity a mixed blessing

DSC_0090AIn Busiest … summer … ever in the the Glen Arbor Sun editor Jacob Wheeler writes the Good Morning America selection of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as the Most Beautiful Place in America put Glen Arbor tourism on steroids with record profits but also some less than desireable side effects

Sometime this month, the 1,364,835th visitor to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in 2012 will arrive at the Dune Climb, hike to Pyramid Point, or perhaps bike the Heritage Trail and enjoy its stunning autumnal beauty. In doing so, that visitor will officially make this the busiest year ever for the Glen Arbor region, the most profitable for local businesses, and perhaps the most hectic one too.

…as of Sept. 1, visitors to the National Lakeshore were up 21.7 percent over the same eight-month period in 2011, putting the Park just 66,764 visitors shy of the annual record, which was set in 1999. “It’s extremely likely we’ll exceed our record by the end of September,” deputy superintendent of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Tom Ulrich told the Leelanau Enterprise. “Even if we were to have our lowest September attendance ever (70,000 in 2003), we’d still have a new record.”

But record profits weren’t the only change in the north country. Some business owners noticed distinct types of tourists to which they were not accustomed, and not always attracted — visitors who were driven to come here perhaps by the successful Pure Michigan campaign, or more likely by the Good Morning America honor, and the northern Michigan social media campaign that secured that victory.

“My concern is that at least some of them were expecting something different from Glen Arbor than what we actually offer,” said Widmayer. “Some people who came probably got a signal from Good Morning America that this place was really beautiful but they didn’t take their expectations into account. We describe Glen Arbor as a flip-flop-wearing, beach town, whereas they were looking for something more upscale, where they only have to wander short distances.”

Read on for much more about the impact on and observations by local businesses and also share your comments over at the Sun or on our Facebook!

Photo credit: Untitled by granisz

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2 replies
  1. Frank Fisher
    Frank Fisher says:

    When the GMA thing happened and everyone was all gushy over the “honor”, I thought to myself “Be careful what you wish for”. Driving the prices up and not being able to find rooms was a rude awakening for several repeat visitors this year. The quip “no good deed goes unpunished” comes to mind . . . .

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  2. Andrew McFarlane
    Andrew McFarlane says:

    That certainly is a downside of recognition. I do think there’s a balance that has to be found though. The economic downturn drove a ton of people out of business in Leelanau and strong summers and fall help to preserve the restaurants, stores and amenities we use all year round.

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