Tag Archive | The Most Beautiful Place in America

MI Road Trip: Glen Haven and Saving a Life

Once Jon and I got to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, we started out by driving down to the lake to the tiny abandoned town of Glen Haven.  We drove past the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, which I put on our list of things to do later in the day, and the Dune Climb, which Jon put on our list of things to do later in the day.

Glen Haven was founded in 1857 with the name Sleeping Bearville, then became a company town in 1865 when a sawmill was established there.  The town’s main source of industry was to provide cut wood for the steamships plying the lake, as well as food.

The Sleeping Bear Inn – Built around 1865

The Sleeping Bear Inn – Built around 1865

Later, a cannery was opened there; the location right on the lake meant it was perfect for hauling the catch right up to the dock, offloading, and canning. Over the years, the timber declined and the shipping industry slowed.

They also didn’t anticipate all the sand, and the fact that the sand blew everywhere, and shifted… Over time, the sand shifted and the dunes gradually began taking over the town. After battling the sand for years, many of the residents finally just gave up and moved away.

We also wandered over to the Sleeping Bear Point Life Saving Station.  It was constructed in 1901, to provide further protection for the sailors on the lake.  Being a sailor was a dangerous occupation – during the harsh winter of 1870-1871, 214 sailors lost their lives on the great lakes alone.  Over the years, technological advancements lessened the need for large numbers of lifesaving stations, and Sleeping Bear Point closed its doors during World War II.

The Sleeping Bear Point Life Saving Station – Now a Maritime Museum

The Sleeping Bear Point Life Saving Station – Now a Maritime Museum

The life saving station was closed when we visited (during early to mid-October it is open, but only on the weekends), but we were able to check out the outside of the house where the life savers lived, as well as the boathouse, tucked securely out of harm’s way from the water, with two sets of tracks to slide the boats down to be launched.

There wasn’t a whole lot to see given everything was shut up tight until spring, we were a little surprised to find people wading in the water. It had warmed up quite a bit since the morning, but I wouldn’t say it was swimming weather. But I guess there are hardier souls than I, as evidenced by the large numbers of polar bear swims each year.

But after touring around, what I hadn’t found was the Visitor’s Center. The GPS had told us that we passed it, but I hadn’t seen it, and I thought maybe it would be down at the water. There was one in Glen Haven, but it was closed, and it didn’t seem large enough to be the main one. Plus the radio channel (don’t you love it when parks have their own radio channel!?) said it was open until 5. I convinced Jon to backtrack before the Dune Climb, because it would be after 5 when we finished hiking, so I could get my stamp. He grudgingly agreed.

“The Most Beautiful Place in America”

“The Most Beautiful Place in America”

We found it off the main road about 50 feet on a little side road, and I was able to get a map, my stamp and a book on Michigan lighthouses. And postcards… because no visit to a Visitor’s Center is complete without postcards… And then off we went to the Dune Climb!

MI Road Trip: Sleeping Bear Dunes History

Long, long ago, an enormous forest fire along the western shore of Lake Michigan drove a mother bear and her two cubs into the lake. They attempted to swim to the opposite shore, but that was so far away. Eventually, the mother bear made it to land, but her two cubs had tired and lagged behind.

She waited, watching for them, unwilling to accept that they had drowned. She lay on the top of a bluff, watching the sea, and waited so long she was buried by the shifting sand dunes. The Great Spirit was impressed by her patience, and created two islands in the lake to honor her lost cubs.

The story is an old Chippewa legend that tells the tale of the area. The two islands are North Manitou and South Manitou Islands, visible off the mainland. The sleeping bear, buried under the dunes is still visible in the form of two dunes in the shape of a bear, although they have eroded significantly over the last many years.

In terms of National Park Service parks, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a more recent addition to the portfolio, becoming the first National Lakeshore on October 21, 1970. At that time, the Park Service already had several National Seashores, including Cape Hatteras and Point Reyes, and the general sentiment was that the lakeshore along the great lakes was America’s third coast.

However, the creation of a park proved more controversial. The residents of the Sleeping Bear Dunes area have long considered themselves to be the stewards of the land, and they didn’t want tourists overrunning their pristine and quiet countryside. Not to mention the fact that parks don’t pay property taxes, and the conversion of this land would have a significant financial impact on the local communities.

But the area contains amazing natural beauty, including forests, beaches, sand dunes and evidence of ancient glacial phenomena. Not to mention the historic buildings and cultural richness of life in the area, with a historic lighthouse, three historic Life Saving Service stations (the precursor to the modern Coast Guard) and an extensive historic farm district.

The government was eventually able to win the favor of the local residents by agreeing to compensate local government for the lost property tax revenue, and by absorbing North Manitou Island into the park.

The park is well loved today for its camping and hiking opportunities, and the pristine beauty that surrounds the visitor. One can’t ignore the draw of swimming in the lake either when the weather is warm, somewhere along the park’s 35 miles of shoreline.

In 2011, Good Morning America gave it the title of “The Most Beautiful Place in America.” Visitation is estimated to have been 1,280,932 in 2010 – more in the summer months, but there are hikes that would be lovely with snowshoes as well. I can only assume the “Most Beautiful” title has increased visitation in the years since.

“The Most Beautiful Place in America”

“The Most Beautiful Place in America”

We visited in October, so swimming wasn’t really on the top of my list, although we did see tourists dipping their toes and wading in the water at Glen Haven. I will be posting about our adventures at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore next!