2023 Annual Update

Click to view a PDF of the Annual Newsletter

The Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes closed another year of service in October and accomplished a lot of projects supporting the park with more support than ever. This year, the Friends welcomed 316 new volunteers and committed over 11,425 volunteer hours. This year, we saw a record amount of volunteers support the Adopt-a-Trail, Adopt-a-Beach, and Adopt-a-River programs. We also had new volunteers on the PSAR crew connecting with over 30,000 visitors keeping visitors safe and leading to record-low emergency calls. The team also supported community events, including the Dune Safety Day and Glen Arbor Fire Department Open House.

In terms of supporting Priority Park Projects, the Friends procured funding for emergency services training, water quality testing equipment, AEDs, interpretive sign updates, snowmobile trailer, and tools and supplies for general park improvements. 

The Grants Team had a banner year securing specific funding for multiple programs. Two grants went to the Park’s Piping Plover Conservation Projects as well as funding to support natural resource preservation and outdoor education. Major donors included the National Park Foundation, the Andrew R. and Janet F. Miller Foundation, the Top Family Foundation, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation, and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

We would also like to thank Oryana Community Co-Op for selecting the Friends for their Groceries for Good program where a portion of their proceeds were donated to the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes. 

Some of the Goals for next year include supporting new trail development and expansion of the SBHT, a tandem accessible bike for the Accessibility Program. as well as a Dark Sky Certification for the Lakeshore. If you would like to donate to support our 2024 priority projects, view our Donate Page and mention the project you would like your donation to support in the



Water Safety – Rip Currents

When late summer arrives, the Northern Lake Michigan waters are the warmest and make for some of the best swimming all summer. It is also the time of year when the winds start changing and strong winds can make for Rip Currents on the beaches. 

Before heading out to the Lakeshore beaches, brush up on your water safety tips for how to recognize how the winds and the waves can impact your swimming or water activities. 

Review a short video about Lake Michigan currents from the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project on their Youtube. 

Opt Outside Friday

Platte River Point in Winter

As we settle into the holiday season, there are many opportunities to enjoy Sleeping Bear Dunes with family and friends. Step away from Black Friday and instead, hit the trails for Opt Outside Day! 

The Lakeshore’s beautiful scenery and activities can be enjoyed year-round, no matter the weather, so everyone can #OptOutside on Friday. From the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail and Windy Moraine to Alligator Hill and Pyramid Point, there are many trails to hike, ski or snowshoe this week! There may even be a chance to sled the Dune Climb.
Visit the Friends’ 
Winter Trails Report to see what winter activities you can do now. 

Fall in the Park

Take a Peek at our Fall Colors

October is leaf peeping month! provides a great update of colors around the region. Warmer temperatures early in September lead to less leaf change, but now that we have seen some cooler temps, be on the lookout as colors will start to change quickly. The Photo pictured here was taken the third week of October in 2021. 
Also remember the closer to the lake you get the later the leaves change because of the milder temperatures.

Did you know that you can also go apple picking in the park? The best place to find apples are on and around the Historic Farms on the Lakeshore. There are apples and other native fruits that can be picked around the park. Visitors are allowed one bushel of apples per visit. 

Visit our Trails page to find all the trails in the park to explore, some of our favorites in the fall are the Kettles Trail, Alligator Hill, and Platt Plains Trails. Or, find new areas in the park like learning about the Lakeshore Ghost Towns


Beat the End-Of-Summer Blues

Looking for ways to beat the end-of-summer blues in Northern Michigan? There is still plenty of time and sweet September weather to enjoy outdoor recreation in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The traffic lightens as folks head home for the start of the school year and the end of summer vacation. Let the locals’ summer begin! The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is the perfect gateway to fun in our National Lakeshore. With twenty scenic miles of trail, the SBHT can lead you to places for relaxation, food, drink, beaches or other adventures. 

Be sure to check out the map to plan your route and read about each section of trail on our website here. Also, visit this page to learn about the history of the SBHT, find out how you could volunteer to be a SBHT Ambassador and discover ways to financially support construction of future sections of trail!


Here is a reminder of the guidelines for utilizing this wonderful multi-use trail:


  • Stay to the right of the trail and alert others when you are passing on the left.
  • Move to the side when you are stopped. Do not block the trail.
  • Travel single file when other users are present.
  • Clean up after your pets and don’t litter.
  • Stay on the trail. Respect private property, plants and wildlife. 
  • Wear a helmet for your safety.


*One popular question often heard is, “Are e-bikes allowed on the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail?” The answer is yes. However, with a top speed of 20 miles per hour in the electric mode, just as with other high-speed bicyclists, caution is necessary when in areas of heavier use, sharp or blind corners and any unusual conditions. Let’s be safe, kind and respectful of all trail users!


Meet Matt Mohrman

An Interview with SLBE Volunteer Coordinator, Matt Mohrman

Where did you go to school and what was your field of study in order to work for NPS?

First off, let me say that I’m doing this under duress – I would rather go to the dentist than talk about me (no offense DD​S’s). Anyway, I had a non-traditional path in coming to the NPS. I was a helicopter pilot with the U.S. Coast Guard and retired after 24 years. It didn’t take — I retired on a Friday and started working for the park on Monday — but the transition from blue, to green & gray was a natural fit. It’s a job with a righteous mission and I still didn’t need to decide what to wear every day!

How long have you worked for the NPS? Always at SLBE? In what roles? 

​I started here in 2010 as a seasonal staff member in maintenance. I was on a crew with mason, Bill Love, and was lucky to be able to help in some really cool jobs like rebuilding the stone walls on Forest Haven Rd and working on historic building foundations throughout the park. In 2012 I moved into the volunteer coordinator position. 

What made you want to pursue this career? 

Besides what I noted above, it was mainly location. My last CG duty station was in Traverse City and we weren’t leaving the area when I retired – so Sleeping Bear Dunes was perfect. 

What is your favorite memory since working for SLBE?

That is a difficult question, there are so many! Probably the opportunity to work with groups of kids (scouts, school groups, etc). They are so full of energy and fun to be around. I really enjoy getting them going on a project and then just circulating around listening to them talk with each other & answering their questions. And, I get to ask them about the latest trends…like what the heck does YOLO mean…which it turns out, isn’t all that trendy anymore – no wonder my adult kids laugh at me.

What do you like to do in your down time? 

I’m usually doing something outside – biking or kayaking this time of year, and potentially enjoying a libation on the beach afterward. 

What is the craziest thing you’ve seen in the Park (that’s fit for print)?

Hmmm – another hard one – it might have been a water snake and frog fighting on the shore of Bass lake. It’s sort of “wildlife-graphic” so skip ahead if you don’t like that kind of thing. The snake had the frog head-first in his mouth – but the frog was using his front and back legs to fight his way out. He would get most of the way out of the snake’s mouth and then the snake would get another hold and partially swallow him down again – this went on, back and forth, and finally the frog ended up getting away. Guess the moral is don’t bite off more than you can chew…if you’re a snake, that is….maybe it’s don’t give up if you’re a frog – anyway pretty cool. 

In your opinion, what makes a good volunteer?

All volunteers are good – that’s not cliché – it’s true! We have 100’s of awesome volunteers that have had ridiculously successful careers and are now choosing to help the park in its mission. I just try to support everyone in whatever way they prefer to volunteer by making sure we have the equipment, uniforms & safety gear in place, then finding an opportunity that matches their skills/desires, and then I just get out of the way! 

Any advice you would offer to kids wanting to work as a Park Ranger. 

I don’t think kids realize there are so many different jobs in the NPS – they maybe saw an Interp ranger at a program, and that’s what the Park Service is to them. There are probably 25+ totally different jobs just at Sleeping Bear Dunes – 3 different kinds of biologists and their crews, trail workers, carpenters, cops, human resources, campground managers and more. Kids should first talk to someone at a park to learn about all the opportunities. When you figure out what you might want to do, volunteer or apply for an internship – both are great ways to get your foot in the door and see if the NPS is a good fit. We have an outstanding track record of hiring our interns as staff in following seasons — or getting them hired at another park — it is a super way to start a career. 

Any advice you have for volunteers? Visitors to the area? 

Explore the whole park – I’ve been in the area since 2002 and am still finding places that I haven’t been!

What is your favorite spot in the Park?

Can’t tell you…’s actually wherever I am in the park (except my office)…..really…..I’m not going to tell you! But I’ll give you one that is top 5 for me, and I bet most people haven’t been there, plus it’s a bit of a scavenger hunt! Go find the geodetic marker out on the dune plateau, here’s a picture to help find it. 

The marker is on top of the glacial erratic boulder in the foreground (it’s a brass disk, dated 1932, you can kind of see it in the first pic on top of the stone, close-up below); the big Dune in the background is the Mother Bear, it’s 1500 feet to the South; and just beyond the grass to the right is the bluff down to the lake. 

Good luck – take water & be safe!

Track Chair Tribute

After a spinal cord injury as a teenager, Patty Cisneros has been in a wheelchair for almost 26 years. She describes herself as a very active and energetic disabled individual so finding activities she can participate in is profoundly important. Patty learned of the Track Chair at a festival in Colorado where she resided. At that time, there were only two national parks with track chairs for disabled individuals to reserve: Staunton State Park in Colorado and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. (As of June 2022, Minnesota was added to the list, with five all-terrain track chairs and one beach chair at several state parks.) Unfortunately, Patty’s family moved to Wisconsin before she was able to take advantage of the program but she didn’t forget about it. She googled where else she may be able to reserve one and discovered Sleeping Bear Dunes. She made two reservations. One for each trail; the Bay View Trail and the Railroad Grade Trail. Patty then tailored a family vacation around her reservations to include a stay at an accessible AirBnB and time at the Cherry Festival. 

Post track chair hike to Lake Michigan, Patty was exuberant; describing her experience as emotional and awesome. She said that for someone in a wheelchair, sand is their nemesis. She was ‘overly satisfied and excited’ with this experience that she was able to share with her family. For disabled people, these track chairs eliminate obstacles that oftentimes in everyday life are not surmountable. Patty adamantly shared that this program is for anyone to take advantage of, no matter the degree of disability. The chair has functions for everyone’s independence level. 

Don’t let your limited mobility keep you from enjoying your National Lakeshore. To learn more about the three track chairs available through the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes, visit our website. If you are interested in volunteering for this rewarding program, you can find that information here. Be sure to check out the quick video of Patty’s experience below!

Article and compilation video by Kristy Tompkins. Photos and video provided by Patty Cisneros.

Friends Funds at Work – Water Quality Testing



An early morning trip to North Bar Lake for Renee Babiarz, Biological Science Technician for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, proved beneficial. She is part of a team of Biologists for the Lakeshore that have been monitoring Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) which can be seen one moment and gone a couple hours later. HABs are cyanobacteria that can cause algal blooms accompanied by elevated toxins. These harmful algal blooms degrade water quality, alter aquatic habitats and can cause health problems in people or animals that have contact with food or water containing these toxins. This morning, Renee caught it and was able to get a sample to take back to the lab. After discovering HABs at North Bar Lake during the summer of 2020, in 2021 SLBE became part of a two year nationwide harmful algal bloom project to learn about and equip national parks with the resources and tools to manage, monitor and respond to HABs. When this and other toxins are found around our lakes and waterways, warning signs will be clearly posted for visitors to see. Reports are also made to EPA Bloom watch and can be viewed by the public here.

Our local lakes are also tested for E. coli several times a week. The Park’s biologists visit twelve different beaches weekly. At each sampling site, things like the weather conditions, number of visitors and the presence of algae or wildlife is recorded. In order for the most accurate results, three samples are taken at each site with specific criteria being met for obtaining them; how deep they are taken, how far apart and how they are transported. 

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has been monitoring the park’s most popular beaches since 1997, utilizing a testing procedure that yields same day results. Your donations to the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes help fund the water testing supplies and the Park’s participation in the HAB testing project at North Bar Lake. The monetary support you provide encourages and promotes safe, informed and enjoyable visitor experiences within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Thank you!

Article and photos by Kristy Tompkins


Blacksmith Shop Bike Racks

Built around 1871 in the historic maritime village of Glen Haven, you will find a working Blacksmith Shop. Stepping inside is like stepping back in time. Staffed by knowledgeable and friendly volunteers, it is very interactive. Feel free to ask questions about what you see in the shop or about the area in general. Recently created objects can be observed high and low for visitors to admire. 

Outside the building and several spots throughout Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, you will also find beautifully crafted bike racks created by these talented Blacksmiths. To date, the blacksmiths have crafted 10 bike racks which can be found in Glen Haven and in the Port Oneida Rural Historic District. You may have noticed some of them have names of trees on the wooden pedestals. This is for identification purposes for donors that have chosen to sponsor a bike rack. Their sponsorship is recognized in the Visitor Center on a plaque. The wooden pedestals are crafted out of Black Locust which is an invasive tree that the Rangers have been cutting down and eliminating from the National Lakeshore. This is just one use that the Park has found to reuse this resource.

For information on sponsoring a bike rack or other ways to support the Friends and our operation and maintenance of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, you can visit our website.




South Manitou Island: Adventure Awaits!

Seeking an experience that includes physical activity, history and adventure? Kick up your hiking boots for a couple hours and take a ferry to South Manitou Island for the day or an overnight odyssey. South Manitou is awash in places to explore and historical stories to learn about. Whether you go on a self-guided tour or hop on a wagon with Manitou Island Transit, you can learn about island life dating back to 1838. There is a museum, visitor center, coast guard station and lighthouse all within the first half mile from the dock. Lace up your hiking boots to go further into the wilderness to find an old schoolhouse, a 500 year old growth cedar forest, farmsteads, shipwreck, dune formations and ghost towns.

This southernmost island in a chain reaching north to the Straits of Mackinac, South Manitou is the first natural harbor in Lake Michigan for ships coming from Chicago. The South Manitou Lighthouse has long served as a beacon for ships looking for safe passage through the Manitou Passage. Restoring the keepers quarters and outbuildings of this important landmark is one of the projects that the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is undertaking this summer in order to make them more safe and accessible for visitors.

Currently, the keeper’s quarters is under renovation. According to Jen Miller, the Island Maintenance Supervisor for the Lakeshore, the interior of this building (attached by a covered passage to the tower), is closed for the removal of lead and asbestos. When this remediation is complete, visitors will be able to tour the keeper’s quarters and experience another piece of what life was like in the past. Visitors can still take a tour of the Lighthouse tower. This volunteer led tour is educational and exhilarating! Standing at the base of the tower, looking up 107 feet towards the observation deck, visitors learn about the history of the Lighthouse and its keepers as well as about the design of the structure. To ease your mind before climbing the 117 stairs to the deck, know that the foundation is 40 feet deep to keep the tower stable. The walls at the base are six feet wide and narrow going skyward to two feet wide at the top. This Lighthouse uses a 175 watt lightbulb to reach as far as 17 miles across the water in clear conditions. The 360 degree view from the top gives you an awe-inspiring vantage point to observe our National Lakeshore from a different angle. 

To plan a trip to South Manitou Island, start here. For general information on South Manitou Island visit the SBD website. To read about the Lighthouse specifically, visit this page.   

Though the work on this project is not yet complete, did you know that the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was already listed in the top five most accessible parks in the United States? You can find that article here


Article and photos by Kristy Tompkins

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