The National Park numbers are in for the summer season, but 2011 did not break the record for the most visitors. Park officials say that 2011 may be the second-busiest on record, as reported in the LeelanauNews.com article “Bullish Numbers at Bear Park.”
According to the article, the numbers are still coming in and Sleeping Bear Dunes has not reached “second-busiest year” status yet, but it is close. The year-to-date visitor count is 1,217,715 through the end of September, which is up 4.3 percent over 2010. The count is not close to the 1999 record of 1,364,834 visitors. The second-busiest year on record was 1988 when 1,317,530 came to visit the majestic dunes. There is a chance for beating the 1988 record this year.
Even with overall visitor numbers not breaking records, Deputy Superintendent Tom Ulrich says the number of visitors at the visitors center in Empire were up 61 percent from 2010. Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive and the Dune Climb also saw increases over last year of 67.5 percent.
Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitors Bureau reports the number of website visitors is also up from 2010. Early in the year the number of website visitors was only slightly higher in 2011, but then the numbers of visitors jumped 19% for May, June and July. The big spike came in August when there was an over 300% increase. September 2011 numbers are up 175% over 2010.
Leelanau County merchants are reporting a good fall season as well. Sally Guzowkoski, the president of the Leelanau Chamber of Commerce, says that traffic is up all over Leelanau County during the midweek as well as on the weekends. She is surpassed by the number of people coming in to the office midweek.
The exceptional numbers are attributed to the fabulously warm, dry and colorful fall season as well as the press the dunes received from ABC Good Morning America’s “Most Beautiful Place in America” win, the “Dr. Beach #1 rating for the Best Great Lakes Beach,” and the Food Network star Chef Mario Batali’s ABC News segment “Mario Batali on the Wonders of Sleeping Bear.”