Monday, July 13, 2009

Tunnel at Sleeping Bear?

Pierre Stocking Scenic Drive dune
Pierre Stocking Scenic Drive dune (photo from Visit Sleeping Bear)
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based on a news article in the Traverse City Record Eagle, "Park officials eye tunnel, boardwalk," by Brian McGillivary, July 3, 2009

The steep dune from the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore can pose a threat to visitors who misjudge its difficulty. Ignoring posted signs, people leave the boardwalk and descend the 450 foot sand and gravel cliff to the lake. Many of them need help returning to the top and their vehicles. Rangers regularly have to aid visitors who have become injured, exhausted, overheated, or lost from trying to find less strenuous ways back to the top.

Also, erosion of the dun itself is becoming a serious problem as grass is trampled, and paths funnel winds into unnatural locations.

The National Park Service has paid JJR Consulting firm of Ann Arbor, $60,000 for an environmental assessment. The resulting report offers four alternatives for consideration.

The one favored by Sleeping Bear officials is to construct a 150-foot tunnel through the top of the dune to a new elevated platform. This would be coupled with several elevated boardwalks. Construction costs are estimated between $750,000 and $1 million.

This would keep visitors from ever touching the sand. Some see this as the best alternative to protect the park, while others feel that it runs counter to everything that a National Park should be. "There are a lot of activities in our national parks that involve some danger, but I think it's really neat when people go out and use the park instead of standing there on a platform and looking at it like it's a postcard," said a retired ranger.

And there is no guarantee that hikers won't simply find ways to avoid the tunnel and walk out to the dune anyway. Park Superintendent Dusty Shultz will make the final decision.

See Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive Under Evaluation
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