Tag: Sleeping Bear Dunes

My Memories on the 50th Anniversary of Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunesmobile photo courtesy of Glen Lake Community Library

By John Gannon

My first experience with Sleeping Bear Dunes was in the mid-1950s, when I was a teenager, accompanying my family on the Dunesmobile ride. I recall the ride in those convertible Oldsmobile 88s with the big, balloon tires so they didn’t get stuck in the soft sand. That sticks in my mind all these years later because a 1954 Oldsmobile 88 was the first car I ever owned, and I used primarily for my commute from home in Detroit to attend Wayne State University (WSU).

My senior year in 1964 at WSU included my first summer at the University of Michigan Biological Station (UMBS) east of Pellston on Douglas Lake. I took two courses: limnology (freshwater ecology) taught by the late Dr. George W. Saunders, which set my life-long career in motion as an aquatic biologist, and Energy Exchange in the Biosphere, a biophysics class taught by the late Dr. David M. Gates.

Gates grew up summering at UMBS, since his father taught the plant ecology class there for decades. As a child he tagged along on many of his dad’s class field trips. Later, his training in physics and his exposure to biology at UMBS influenced his life-long career direction in biophysics. So, Gates’ nostalgic class field trips in 1964 were at his dad‘s favorite places, including Sleeping Bear Dunes.

It is that field trip that fondly I remember most. We hiked across the dunes to the high slope overlooking Lake Michigan, collected biophysical data on the dunes and learned about the vegetation and their adaptations for surviving in such a harsh, wind-blown environment. 

We observed the hill atop the dune known as the “Sleeping Bear” of Native American legend.  At one time, trees and shrubs stabilized the shifting sands so that the dark-green prominence stood out from the vast expanse of brown sand and was visible miles away out in the lake. We observed that the hill (the “mother Sleeping Bear”) was badly eroded on the lake side, but trees and shrubs remained on the edges of the blow out.

That evening, we camped out on the dune. It was a perfect, star-lit summer night with no need for tents. Our sleeping bags were rolled out so we were all facing the lake, overlooking the legendary “bear cubs,” North and South Manitou islands. What a memorable night, watching the freighters steam silently by and sharing our knowledge with each other of the locations and names of the planets, stars, and constellations. The next day, among other activities, another student and I volunteered to run down the slope to the lake shore and measured the height of the dune with an eye level, one body length at a time on the way walking back up. 

Gates became the new director at UMBS in 1971. Established in 1909, UMBS was primarily an 8-week summer session for teaching and research. Gates had the vision to initiate a new, year-round research program, and I was hired in 1972. My wife, Susan, and I dropped my Ph.D. thesis off at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee library on our way north that year, and I was conducting inland lakes research and teaching the limnology class several weeks later. Susan led the children of faculty members on various environmental activities that year, including directing them in a play for the whole camp based on Dr. Suess’ book, The Lorax

Among other research activities, I received three contracts at UMBS from the National Park Service (NPS) in the 1970s shortly after the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was established in October 1970. Two contracts were for baseline water quality surveys of the lower Platte River in Benzie County and Florence Lake on South Manitou Island.

The one on the Platte River became a bit controversial since we identified that the new Pacific salmon hatchery on the Platte was a significant source of phosphorus loading (long since corrected) to the river system.

The third contract was to conduct a red fox population estimate during winter on South Manitou where fox during the breeding season were killing hundreds of gull chicks in the big gull colony on, aptly named, Gull Point. The question was whether there were high numbers of fox or a few families showing their kits how to hunt. We concluded it was the latter. In fact, the population (5-7 individuals was our estimate) was probably suffering from generations of inbreeding and perhaps also insufficient food during the colder months (we observed evidence of fox eating dead alewives on the beach). We saw one red fox in mid-winter that was not much larger than a fox squirrel. 

Max Holden was the NPS project officer for the three contracts out of their Nebraska regional office. He did a site visit at UMBS on our progress one spring. After the daylong meeting, I went home that evening, and Max wanted to drive around the area sightseeing. I lived in a Mennonite farming community south of Pellston. That evening, our next-door neighbor was teaching me how to plow my garden with his one-horse plow. The next day, we had another meeting with Max. He said he was impressed with the pastoral farm scenery in the area. He even saw a guy working with a one-horse plow. It was me!  Max left his desk job and became the first park naturalist at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

In retrospect, I was fortunate to have experienced camping out on the dunes and running down and walking up the steep slope to and from the shoreline prior to the establishment of the National Lakeshore. If the Lakeshore had not been established in 1970, large numbers of people that did what I did back then would have trampled and degraded the sensitive habitats of the dunes area. Today, camping is wisely conducted in designated campgrounds and hiking and playing on the dunes is confined to designated hiking trails and the Dune Climb, thereby preserving for future generations one of the most picturesque and highly visited natural areas in the State of Michigan.

John Gannon is a limnologist and fisheries biologist. He received degrees in biology at Wayne State University, fisheries at the University of Michigan, and zoology (limnology) at the University of Wisconsin. He spent 12 years in academia and 29 years in federal government service, working on the Great Lakes his entire career. Now retired, his career evolved from research, to research program management, to the interface between research and policy. He held positions at the University of Michigan Biological Station, SUNY-Oswego, ihe U.S. Geological Survey Great Lakes Science Center (and its predecessors), and the International Joint Commission.

Friday Favorites – Pyramid Point

Friday Favorites is our new series where we explore some of our favorite places to play in and around the Great Lakes.


Traverse City residents might be rolling their eyes at the suggestion of Pyramid Point as one of my favorite places in the Traverse City area, but hear me out. This (not so) secret trail has been a staple during my time in northern Michigan, always one of the first places I take my friends and family who come to visit. Every time I turn off M22, I grin like a kid who finally caught the ice cream truck, so excited to show off this awesome lakeshore some of us get to call home.

A favorite place doesn’t have to be the most secret, “locals only” spot that nobody else knows about. We all have those, where we go when we want to escape the craziness of summer festivals, need a quiet stroll without boisterous families, or just want to sit and watch the water roll in and out in peace.

Pyramid Point is none of those things. It is, unless you go early or in the off season, consistently full of dogs, kids, and visitors. The 0.6 mile climb up from the parking lot is mellow enough that I have brought friends and family from all areas of my life up there. We have meandered up the path, stopped to chat with folks on the way, raced to see who could make it up first, identified wildflowers, snowshoed in the winter, and trail run laps on the longer loop before heading into Glen Arbor for pizza.

Everyone’s face lights up when they first see the endless expanse of turquoise water. “Wait how is this not the ocean??” they demand, barely taking their eyes off the water to gauge my response. I usually shrug and point out the Manitou Islands, making a joke about lake sharks. Surrounded by kids snacking, dogs gulping water, and friends posing together for the perfect instagram, we wander across the dune face and down the trail for a bit of peace (and sandwiches).

Kaitlyn Bunting, Communications Coordinator

Last summer one of my best friends came to visit from New York. The weather had been rainy and freezing, but we were tired of being cooped up so we headed out to Pyramid Point. After booking it up the trail to get warm, we sat tucked into the dune, watching the sky change from gray to an ominous black. Huge raindrops and hail quickly made us question our choice, our conversation changing from Alaskan adventures to the current weather. After devouring every granola bar and all the hot coffee we’d brought, we raced back down the trail, laughing and shrieking all the way to the car like we used to when we were kids.

Sharing these magical places with my friends and family reminds me of how lucky we are to live here.


Hopefully this series inspires you to enjoy the public land and water we have in northern Michigan, and return to old favorites or check out somewhere new!


 

The Joys of Kayaking Northern Michigan

If you can’t find me at my desk at FLOW headquarters, you will usually find me somewhere on the water. I am a fan of pretty much any water activity you can think of. However, kayaking has become one of my favorite ways to get out on the water.

I started seriously paddling a few years ago when I began working at Backcountry North, a local outfitter in downtown Traverse City. With the help of then-owner Sandy Graham, I learned the ins and outs of paddle strokes, boat position, and of course all the pre-trip planning that goes into having a great day on the water. With this knowledge, I have been able to participate in multi-day sea kayaking excursions on the Great Lakes, and have spent a considerable amount of time paddling the whitewater rapids scattered across Northern Michigan.

Kayaking is a great way to get out and enjoy the freshwater that makes Northern Michigan so special. Whether it be floating down the Boardman River, or paddling next to the 450-foot-tall Sleeping Bear Dunes on Lake Michigan, the perspective from a kayak is truly one of a kind. This unique perspective shows how incredible the fresh water in Northern Michigan truly is and how fortunate we are to have it at our fingertips.

It always amazes me that when I am sitting in my kayak out in Grand Traverse Bay that I am sitting in the Great Lakes system, which makes up approximately one-fifth of the surface freshwater around the world. However, as insignificant as I might feel in that moment, I also try to remind myself that the Great Lakes are still dependent upon each and every one of us to make the right decisions for their future. Whether that’s by saying NO to Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac or making sure that we leave no trace when spending the day on the water, we all play a part in the future of the Great Lakes.

Julius Moss

This summer, I am thrilled not only to be back on the water, but also to be able to spread my knowledge and passion about kayaking and the freshwater resources here in Northern Michigan. Backcountry North is offering kayak demos throughout the summer, and I am fortunate to be working with them in helping others get out and experience the joys of kayaking. If you have any interest in participating in a kayak demo, please contact Backcountry North for further details at (231) 941-1100. I hope all of you get the chance to experience a day of paddling in Northern Michigan, and I look forward to seeing many of you out on the water this summer!