National Park Proposes Tunnel to the Lake Michigan Overlook

The overlookThe National Park Service proposes a tunnel through the dunes to a new Lake Michigan overlook on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. They also propose a new trail to the second platform that overlooks the Sleeping Bear, which would have less impact on the dunes and be less difficult to maintain. It is essential that the local public carefully evaluate this dramatic proposal and comment to assist park official in this complex management decision.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (National Lakeshore) has prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) that provides an array of alternatives for addressing issues at Lake Michigan Overlooks 9 and 10 on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is a 7.4 mile self-guided auto tour that provides visitors insight into the history of the area, a sample of vegetative communities, and overlooks of Glen Lake, the Sleeping Bear Dunes, North and South Manitou Islands, and Lake Michigan. This highly-visited site attracts over 200,000 people each year to overlooks that afford spectacular views. It is the only location in the National Lakeshore where visitors can access these views by a short walk from their vehicles.

The perched dune at this location is roughly 450 feet above Lake Michigan. The path from the parking area to the overlooks takes visitors directly across the top of the perched dune, and despite signs discouraging visitors from descending on the bluff face toward Lake Michigan, many do so. Some of these visitors are injured during the descent, due to missteps or falls, or during the ascent, from heat injuries or exhaustion. The intense foot traffic in this location has caused considerable erosion of the dune and perhaps the bluff face. Finally, maintaining the current configuration of the path and overlooks is difficult and expensive because of the blowing and shifting sand.

The Lake Michigan Overlooks Environmental Assessment describes the “no action” (current management) alternative and provides three action alternatives to address the issues described above in a way that still allows people to access the outstanding views. The National Lakeshore Preferred Alternative (Alternative D) proposes a tunnel and raised boardwalk to access a newly-constructed Overlook 9 and a new path from the existing parking area to existing Overlook 10 that consist of trails, steps, and boardwalks. Trails on the dune areas may use cable/post and sand ladders, as needed, to delineate the trail.

The park service would like your opinion on the best way to offer the spectacular views while reducing hazards, erosion, and maintenance costs. The Lakeshore encourages you to comment on the EA until the public comment period closes on July 6, 2009. the proposal can be seen on the Lakeshore’s website (link). Paper copies are available for review at the National Lakeshore Visitor Center in Empire, the offices of Empire and Glen Arbor Townships, the Village of Empire Office, the Glen Lake Community Library, Benzie Shores District Library, Darcy Library of Beulah, Leelanau Township Library, Leland Township Library, Suttons Bay Bingham District Library, and Traverse City District Library. A very limited number of paper copies and CDs are available upon request.

You are strongly encouraged to submit comments electronically. Alternatively, you may mail comments to: Superintendent, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, 9922 Front Street, Empire, MI 49630.

A public open house on the project is scheduled for Wednesday, June 17, 2009, from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center auditorium in Empire. A 30-minute presentation on the EA will be held at 5:00 p.m.

We look forward to receiving your thoughts and opinions concerning the Lake Michigan Overlooks Environmental Assessment. For more information, please contact the National Lakeshore at (231) 326-5134.

Photo credit: The overlook by c.f.mason



3 replies
  1. Andrew McFarlane
    Andrew McFarlane says:

    The Park to say about the situation with the overlook:

    Every year at the Lake Michigan Overlook #9 on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, visitors are lured off the boardwalk. Despite posted warnings, people descend the 450 foot high rock and sand bluff. the sight of others doing so may give the impression that this is a safe activity. It is not safe. rangers routinely respond to visitors who have become injured, dangerously exhausted, overheated, or who have become separated and lost as they seek alternate routes back to the top. Please do not climb at this location. the Dune climb is recommended as a safer location for climbing.

    When we climb the steep bluffs, we destroy the fragile vegetation holding the dunes together. these unnatural human paths funnel the wind and focus erosion on specific places instead of across the entire dunes. Within a few generations, this erosion threatens to destroy the colors of the dunes we love to experience.

    So stay on the path…

  2. Bill
    Bill says:

    A tunnel through the Dunes? Then what we hear about the Parks not having enough money must be false…. or just another example of Government not knowing how to spend what it has wisely.

  3. John Leugers
    John Leugers says:

    I say throw caution to the wind and take a trip down the steep hill to Lake Michigan. Sure, some panzies will have to struggle to get back up and occasionally a Ranger needs to be called. As much as you pay to get in, I’m sure it will cover the expenses. I must say that it is one of my favorite things to do each year. Laying on your couch or just driving back and not hiking around is also bad for your health. It’s called living a sedentary lifestlye. Stop your whining! It’s just sand!

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