Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 17, 2013

Sleeping Bear emerges from shutdown

BY GLENN PUIT
gpuit@record-eagle.com

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The engine that powers northern Michigan’s tourism economy is running again.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, shuttered for a little more than two weeks because of the partial government shutdown, opened its Dune Climb and visitor's center Wednesday. The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive at the park is expected to reopen Friday morning following a last-minute budget deal reached in Washington D.C. Tuesday night.

The reopening was a huge relief for business owners dependent on tourism.

“My fall season is still doing well, but I’ve lost some business because of this,” said Chris Theobald, owner of the Honor Motel, which sits on a direct pathway into the scenic park. "I'm glad to hear it's back open."

Theobald said four or five customers called to cancel reservations at the Benzie County business because of the shutdown.

“I did lose some reservations," Theobald said.

The park’s local economic impact is estimated to be $132 million annually, helping sustain about 2,300 jobs in the region. Empire business owner Paul Skinner also heads the Empire Chamber of Commerce. He said it's difficult to tell the full impact of the park shutdown on the northern Michigan economy but he said everyone knows the park is "critical" to the region's economy.

"If they (tourists) want to come look at the colors there is a certain window -- otherwise they are gone," Skinner said, adding, "We likely lost some day trippers wanting to come see the colors."

"It should have never have gotten to this -- to utilize the American public and economy as a bargaining chip is not very wise," said Skinner, who owns the antique store Miser's Hoard.

Tom Ulrich, deputy superintendent at the park, said the shutdown was certainly "disappointing" for some 60 employees furloughed.

"Everyone here wants to work," Ulrich said. "We are proud of preserving this place so people can enjoy it. We all had to go home in the face of uncertainty … I don’t think anyone was happy about it."

From the Gerald R. Ford presidential library in Ann Arbor to national parks in the Upper Peninsula, federal installations across Michigan are reopening. The shutdown idled federal employees, shut down parks at the peak of fall leaf color season and disrupted training activities at National Guard bases. State Budget Director John Nixon said earlier this month it would cost Michigan $18 million per day.

"The immediate crisis is over, but the underlying issues haven't been resolved," said Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, adding that another showdown could loom once the agreement between President Barack Obama and the two parties in Congress expires. "Our leaders need to recognize that the system in Washington is broken and needs to be fixed."

Officials with Michigan's three other national parks — Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Isle Royale National Park and Keweenaw National Historical Park — said they were up and running.

Isle Royale will be open just two more weeks before closing for the season, spokeswoman Liz Valencia said. The wilderness park in Lake Superior will provide no gasoline or other services.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.