By Guest Blogger Diane Ursu
I came armed with vague, childhood memories of great sand dunes . . . and a bike.
Last fall, my parents headed up to Platte River Campground to enjoy the splendor of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. I accepted their invitation to join them since I thought that this might be the best road biking opportunity in Lower Michigan. I really had no idea how true that would be.
I was doomed to experience full days of gloom and rain since I took up residence in a tent, but my patience was rewarded with beautiful, cool days perfect for gallivanting around the lakeshore. I used the rainy days for reading about the dunes and planning my activities. There was so much to do and so little time, so we extended our stay by several days.
One of the greatest treasures the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has to offer is the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, named for the lumberman who built the road in the 1960s and operated this Sleeping Bear Dunes Park until his passing in 1976. It became part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in 1977.
The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is special because it contains points of historic significance, provides ecologic educational opportunities, and offers enjoyable, recreational challenges. I visited the drive on two separate occasions so I could take in all that it has to offer.
The Cottonwood Trail
The Cottonwood Trail at scenic point four meanders through the ever-changing dunes. I couldn’t resist the challenge of embarking on this 1.4-mile hike to photograph the curious signs of erosion, the incredible blowouts and phenomenon of ecological succession, and characteristic plant life, such as juniper berries, bearberries, and buffalo berries. The Cottonwood Trail allows visitors to tour the delicate terrain, but it is the fragility of this environment that prompts me to stress the importance of staying on the trail.
I could see Glen Lake from the Cottonwood Trail. Also visible from scenic posts two and three, Glen Lake was carved out by glacial erosion and separated from Lake Michigan by the development of a sandbar that is now home to the village of Glen Arbor and the D.H. Day Campground.
The D.H. Day Farm is another spectacular view from the Cottonwood Trail. Built in the late 19th Century, the D.H. Day Farm is named for the man who donated 32 acres of land to the State of Michigan in 1920. This land became the D.H. Day State Park that became part of the national park in 1977.
The Bike Lane
The science and history of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore certainly drew my attention during my visit, but my primary reason for journeying to this area was the prospect of riding my bike on its challenging terrain. I couldn’t resist meeting the challenge of the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive on my cyclocross bike, Jake. That painted white line along the side of the road designating the bike lane screamed, “Ride me!” I really had no choice.
It hurt, but I enjoyed the challenge of the climbs followed by the reward of the descents. One particular hill between scenic posts eight and nine gave me a little trouble. Jake’s gearing wasn’t easy enough for me, so I stalled halfway up. As I was camped out on the side of this hill, several cars went by, including my parents’. They stopped and asked if I wanted a ride, but my pride wouldn’t let me. I told them to go on, clipped in, and proceeded up the hill. After that grueling climb, I turned into the parking lot for scenic points 9 and 10 where visitors looked at me in disbelief. I think they thought that I was crazy. Perhaps they were right.
That grueling climb wasn’t without its reward. I bombed down the final, long downhill to the pine plantation at scenic point 12.
It is short, but the route is interesting enough to do two or three times. I had to use everything I had to climb those hills, from my last bit of strength to sheer determination. The fun and excitement of each descent was enough to convince me to tackle the next hill.
The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive isn’t the only riding opportunity for cyclists in and around the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The incredibly hilly land is a giant playground for anyone willing to brave this adventure. Anyone who experiences the freedom of this area will leave with much more than just memories. One will leave with the goal of returning to finish this great adventure.
Diane Ursu is a blogger and cyclist living in Mid-Michigan who shares her experiences at Moronacity.com.
Tags: bicyclling, biking, cottonwood trail, cycling, cyclist, diane ursu, guest blog, guest blogger, peirce stocking drive, pine plantation, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore