Plovers Returning

Nature never closes, and migrations of animals and birds are one of the most remarkable things in Nature. Here on the sandy shores of the Great Lakes, we see a special little bird called the Piping Plover return every year to nest and raise their young.

Plovers were classified an endangered species in 1985 when only 12 couples were spotted in the Great Lakes region. The birds are very sensitive to humans and dogs in the area which they nest and abandon nests if they feel threatened. Through conservation and protection by park staff, volunteers, and biologists, the Plover population reached a high of 41 pairs, half of them nested on North Manitu Island.

This season will be different. This year, volunteers will not be able to be on the beaches to spot and protect plover nests until the Stay at Home Ordinance is lifted and we can safely work with park staff. 

We ask our community to take extra care when visiting the shoreline by doing the following in April: 
– If you bring your dog, they must remain on a leash and within a close distance to you. 
– Please stay away from rocky areas on the beach and bluffs as this is where the Plovers build shallow nests in the sand and line them with pebbles or broken shells.

Sharing the shorelines, protecting piping plovers at Sleeping Bear


Visiting the Park while Social Distancing

The trails and Park are OPEN. 

For those who live in the area around the Park, we would like to promote safe visitation on the trails and lakeshore. We know the trails and shorelines within the park are a great resource to stay active and healthy during these times and we would like to reiterate some helpful guidelines to keep the community safe.

Please respect the spirit of Gov. Witmer’s Executive Order on March 23, 2020, to Stay Home, Stay Safe:

“Michiganders may only leave their home or place of residence under very limited circumstances, and they must adhere to social distancing measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when they do so.
Additionally, all public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring among persons outside a single household are temporarily prohibited. People may leave the house to engage in outdoor activities like walking, hiking, running, cycling, or any other recreational activity, consistent with remaining at least six feet from people from outside a person’s household


  • Above all, follow Social Distancing Protocols as directed by the State of Michigan and the CDC.
    This includes proper trial etiquette: maintain a six-foot distance from others, avoid gatherings of people outside of those in your household, walk and ride on the right side of the trail and pass on the left. Please consider the entire trail system when visiting, hiking on less-populated trails.

  • Plan ahead when visiting. This time of year the weather on the lakeshore can change quickly. Please bring adequate layers and outdoor apparel. Trails are still icy and snow-covered in locations where there is heavy tree cover. We advise wearing hiking boots and even bringing hiking poles when visiting some of the back-country trails. Please also be advised that the high water level has made some of the shoreline dangerous due to bluff erosion.

  • Limited National Park Staff will be within the Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore including Law Enforcement and facilities staff. Do not hike down the following hazardous dunes/bluffs: Empire Bluff, The Dune Overlook at the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, and Pyramid Point. Steep slopes present an increased risk for landslides, and sheer drops may be encountered near the bottom of the slopes as the lake is very high and has eroded the bluffs.
    Rescue services may be unavailable and will take away resources from the health care system.

  • All Park toilets have been closed to help preserve PPE resources that Park Staff would need to wear while cleaning them. GO before you Go!

  • Leave No Trace: this means please take the snacks, food packaging, and anything else you brought with you when you leave the Park. Also, leave what you find. This includes any flora, fauna, stones, and sand as it is illegal to remove any natural resource from inside the National Park.

  • The Phillip A. Hart Visitor Center and park campgrounds will remain closed until further notice. You can find more from the Park on the Current Conditions page of their website.

  • Stay at home if you feel sick and wash your hands often.
    (BYO-hand sanitizer when visiting the Park).  


From the National Park Service: So that we may best serve the American public and maintain parks as a resource and refuge during this difficult time, parks with open space areas will remain available to the public where it is safe. 


Other Resources for experiencing the great outdoors during this time: 

Hiking Responsibly: FAQ for Covid-19

Get Out and Hike Day – POSTPONED

Get Out and Hike Day was previously scheduled for Saturday, April 25th. We are now working on adapting this event to be moved to another date to be announced as soon as the park and volunteers can continue normal activity. 

We would like to celebrate Earth Day by helping the park understand spring needs for clean-up and repairs on the beaches and trails around the Sleeping Bear Lakeshore.
There are 12 trails that need to be walked around the park as well as understanding any damage to beach access points because of the high water we have experienced this winter. 

This is an all-ages event and a great way to learn more about how the Friends partner with the National Park. We will need about 30 volunteers for the day and tasks can be accomplished in groups. 
No need to RSVP ahead of time, please come to the Park Visitor Center in Empire for location assignment between 8:30-10 am. 

Date: TBD 
Location: Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore
Time: TBD
Participants should wear sturdy shoes and dress according to the weather forecasted.  Handouts, pens/pencils, and instructions on how to report damage will be provided.

For questions or more information, please feel free to contact our Adopt-a-Trail Coordinator: Tracy Barrilleaux, tebarrilleaux@gmail.com or at: 760-505-6743

Winter Snowshoe Hikes

The National Park will be holding weekly Ranger-led Snowshoe hikes in the park.

There will be two hikes each Saturday, one for beginners called the Snowshoe Saunter and one for more experienced snowshoe hikers called the Snowshoe Trek.

Reservations are required but snowshoes are not and will be loaned at no charge to participants. For more information and learn more about the events on the park’s website: https://www.nps.gov/slbe/planyourvisit/ranger-led-snowshoe-hikes.htm and to make a reservation for a hike, Please call 231-326-4700, extension 5010.


Weekly Snowshoe Hikes

Date: Saturdays 

Time: 1:00 PM

Location: Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in Empire

There is still time to order the book for Christmas

The countdown to the holidays is on, and if you are still looking for the perfect gift for someone on your list, we may have it, The Life of the Sleeping Bear!



Purchase by December 20th for expedited shipping before Christmas


A great gift for the person who is new to Sleeping Bear:

“The book is a fine memento for your visit to the National Lakeshore and makes a better guide for planning a visit. You will arrive with a better appreciation for “The Most Beautiful Place in America” and it will single-out not-to-be-missed points of interest and spots of breathtaking beauty.”

                                                                                  – Tom Powers, Michigan in Books Review

A great gift for the person who has known Sleeping Bear for years:

“I have been living in the grasp of the Sleeping Bear dunes all my life, and I didn’t know half the information packed in this guidebook. Did I find this book valuable? Yes. Engrossing? Yes. Beautiful? Yes. Full of history and fact? Yes!”

– Bob Sutherland, President, Cherry Republic

A great gift for the person with a home in Sleeping Bear:

“This is a book to enjoy reading by the fireplace, leaving out on the coffee table for guests, or using as a source for unforgettable bedtime stories.”

-Colleen Wares, Newstalk 580, WCTM

A great gift for the student of the Sleeping Bear:

“The latest book, The Life of the Sleeping Bear, is by far the most complete on the subject. It locates and explains the unique features of the dunes and places them in the context of their rich social, cultural, environmental, ecological, geologic, and recreational history. No book has attempted this broad range and synopses of information, and it stands on the shoulders of all that have preceded it.”

-Barbara Siepker, Leelanau County historian, author, and publisher

And a great gift for the person just looking for a good read:

“I love this book. It has something for everyone, the historian, the environmentalist, the traveler, the photographer, and perhaps most of all, the person who has lived or visited here almost forever and never realized the true stories of The Life of the Sleeping Bear.”

-Barbara Reed, Owner, The Bookstore, Frankfort, Michigan

Order now at lifeofthesleepingbear.com

New Benches installed on Heritage Trail

Have you noticed some new benches along the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail (SBHT)?  We just installed 8 new benches, bringing the total to 14.

After the first section of the SBHT was built in 2012, we started asking trail users what we could do to improve their trail experience. The most frequent request was for more benches along the trail – especially between Glen Arbor and the Dune Climb.

Volunteers install the first bench in 2015 in Glen Haven.

Leonard Marszalek worked with TART Trails and Park staff to develop a design for benches that would be sturdy and require little maintenance and to get the locations approved by the Park. Leonard and Ken Rosiek, one of our Heritage Trail Ambassador volunteers, designed and built a prototype in 2015.  A small crew of volunteers installed that first bench in Glen Haven.

Because Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes have been working on improving accessibility on Park trails and beaches, we realized that we needed to install accessible pads around the benches, so someone in a wheelchair could pull in and park sitting next to a companion on the bench. So that is why the benches seem to be off-center on the pads. We needed to provide a space for a wheelchair to pull along beside the bench.

During 2017, we made some minor changes to the bench design and Ken built us more benches, which we contracted with AJ’s Excavation to install in 2017. That brought our total up to 6 benches.

YouthWork Crew installs benches

This year, we received a grant from Northwest Michigan Health to install an additional 8 benches. That completes our plan. All approved bench locations now have a bench! Ken Rosiek built the benches and YouthWork, a program of Traverse City Child and Family Services installed the benches and accessible pads this spring.

You will notice that each bench has the name of a native wildflower engraved on the top board. This naming convention allows us to identify specific benches (e.g. the Trillium Bench).

Ken Rosiek built all 14 trail benches.

People who want to donate to support the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail can make a donation to the trail and sponsor one of these benches. Donations of over $1,000 are recognized on a plaque in the Park Visitor Center in Empire.  Learn more.

Track Chair Reservations OPEN

Do you long to get back into nature and hike a trail that is just too steep or sandy? Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes is offering FREE use of a Track Chair for those with mobility limitations. This is the first program of its kind in a National Park! 

We are getting more and more requests for accessible options for park visitors to be able to enjoy the beauty and natural settings of our beaches and trails. The Track Chair offers the opportunity for the whole family to enjoy the Park together. 

In the first year of the program operation, the Track Chair will be available for use on the Bay View trail about 3 miles north of Glen Arbor. A volunteer will train the visitor in the use of the Track Chair and will accompany the group on the trail.

The Track Chair will also be available at some Park events throughout the summer.

For more information or to make a reservation, click here.

10 Signs Spring Has Sprung

1. Spring Peepers – Wetlands thaw and release choruses of spring peepers, soon joined by red-winged blackbirds trilling from budding bushes.
2. Ruffed Grouse sounds – Male ruffed grouse stand atop old logs and drum their wings to establish territory and attract a mate. Hear the sound: 

3. Pussy willows – produce their furry catkins, one of the first signs of spring in the bare forest.

4. Smell of Spring – Along a hiking path, the rich scent of warming soil and leaf cover on the forest floor, often next to lingering snow banks sheltered in pockets of northern exposure.

5. Fawns – white tailed deer babies or fawns are odorless when they are born so predators can’t detect where they are.  The mother will leave the fawn for a few days right after birth as not to rub any of her scent off on the fawn while it gains strength.

6. Sandhill cranes – return to forage in open fields or soar overheard on outstretched wings with their long legs trailing behind. Their distinct guttural calls carry a long way in the spring air. 

7. Ducks on the lake – Flotillas of migrating ducks bob along the shore in Lake Michigan. The Sleeping Bear Dunes shoreline is a major migratory route and favorite of bird watchers. 

8. Trillium – This beautiful flower blooms and covers the forest floor with a blanket of white before the trees leaf out above.

9. Loons return to favorite inland lake nesting spots soon after ice out.

10. Cyclists – Lingering sections of packed snow and ice from a season of skiing on the Heritage Trail finally soften and give way to cyclists.

BARK Rangers and Piping Plover

Unleashed dogs running the beaches of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore are one of the biggest threats to the endangered piping plover.

But other dogs and their human companions who volunteer as BARK Rangers can be the tiny bird’s best friends.

Piping Plover and chick

Piping plovers are classified as an endangered species in the Great Lakes region where they nest and raise their young on open beaches. Loss of habitat and nest disturbance are primary factors.

Piping plovers build shallow nests in the sand and line them with pebbles or broken shells. The birds are very sensitive to humans in the area and abandon nests if they feel threatened. Dogs running free on a beach destroy nests and often harass or kill piping plovers.

That’s one of the reasons park rules require all dogs to be on a leash, and ban dogs from certain beaches known to be piping plover nesting sites.

But not every visitor knows the rules.

BARK Ranger on Patrol

As part of the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes volunteer program, dog owners and their pets regularly walk the beaches to help educate visitors about the rules. They remind people a leash is required, and explain which areas allow dogs and which are off-limits. BARK Rangers can be identified by their NPS volunteer shirts or vests and BARK vests or kerchiefs on their dogs.

The idea behind the BARK Ranger program is that a conversation between one dog owner and another is often a positive and effective way to educate visitors and help everyone enjoy the park. BARK Rangers also thank people they see abiding by the rules, and serve as park ambassadors to answer questions.




Bark Ranger Ginger Langdon with Mr. Darcy and Moxie talking with a Park visitor.

BARK Rangers also walk our dog-friendly trails as well. Did you know that Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one of the few national parks that allows dogs on beaches and trails? Our BARK Rangers help educate park visitors about pet rules, so we can keep this privilege. Besides harming the nesting success of the piping plover, unleashed dogs can also chase wildlife resulting in harm to the wildlife and possibly to the dog. 

Read more

Learn more about volunteer jobs at Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes – including the BARK Ranger volunteer.

Become a BARK Ranger volunteer: fill out our Volunteer Registration Form.

Read the rules regarding pets in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

For more information about the endangered piping plover.



Fourth-grader Uses Track Chair to Join Classmates on Snowshoe Hike

“When I heard one of the students could not attend the snowshoe field trip because he uses a wheelchair, it got me thinking,” described Friends Chairman Kerry Kelly. “Maybe he could use our new Track Chair and go on the snowshoe hike with his classmates?”

Fourth Graders from Cherry Hill Elementary in Traverse City snowshoe through deep snow.

For the past 4 years, the Friends has sponsored a winter school snowshoe hike experience for elementary school kids in Northern Michigan. This winter, despite the government shutdown, over 20 schools and about 1,100 students will participate in the Sleeping Bear Dunes Snowshoe Hike Program. The students learn about winter ecology and how to put on snowshoes and hike through a snow-covered forest. It’s great fun for the whole class!

That is, unless you need to use a wheelchair to get around, then this is one field trip when you may have to stay home and miss out on the learning and the fun.

Fortunately, this is no longer the case…

Last year, the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes purchased a Track Chair to make available to Park visitors with limited mobility, so they can get out on some of our more rugged hiking trails.

So could the new Track Chair be the solution?

“We wondered if the Track Chair would work in snow and if the young student (4th grade) would be able to control it,” explained Kerry Kelly. “We had never tried it in snow before and our reservation system hasn’t been launched yet.”

“After discussions with the teacher and parents, we decided we should give it a try. When the bus showed up, the teacher brought David over to our Track Chair. We got him in the driver’s seat and after just a few seconds of training, he was off down the trail with his classmates.”

“We took a class picture before the hike,” beamed Kelly, “And David wheeled right in the middle of the group with chants of “David! David! David!” from his classmates.”

David in the Track Chair with his teacher and class during the Snowshoe Event.

“David was able to be on his own, like all of the other kids, for the entire hour plus long snowshoe hike! When it was time to get back on the bus, we thought David might want to drive the Track Chair home!”

Accessibility and finding ways for everyone to be included in Park activities is one of missions of the Friends. We support the Park on several projects to make our beaches and trails more accessible for everyone. If you’d like to make a much-needed financial donation to help keep programs like this available in your National Lakeshore, please go here to learn more.

Learn more about the Track Chair program and our other Accessibility projects

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