EMPIRE — Tom Mountz is the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore’s longest-serving employee.
He can’t think of one other place in the world he would rather work.
“The Dunes are firmly embedded in my subconscious,” said Mountz, now in his 38th year at the park.
Mountz first saw the dunes more than a half century ago as a 4-year-old — on a camping trip walking up the dune climb with a parent on each side.
“I vaguely remember the dunes and the Great Lakes and what a huge new world it was,” he said. “That first impression was big.”
As he grew older, that preschooler’s first impression morphed into a boyhood dream to work there one day.
Mountz grew up in Flushing, near Flint, the son of a teacher and General Electric sales rep. They loved to take their kids once a year on a camping trip to D.H. Day Park, which was still a state park then.
Mountz went on to graduate from Flint Junior College and then Northern Michigan University, earning a bachelor’s degree in conservation with minors in cartography and biology. He said he was “fortunate enough to get a seasonal job” at Sleeping Bear — just two years after Congress authorized the national park’s creation in 1970, following a decade-long contentious local, state and national debate over the transfer of private property to make a public park. He and other park employees repaired a lot of vandalism in those early years in addition to refurbishing many old structures and building and installing picnic tables, toilets and other amenities, he said.
Today, Mountz, a wood crafter, is maintenance supervisor of the 177-site Platte River Campground, river mouth and district, which spans 15 miles of park and shoreline from Empire to Sutter Road. The park will open for the season on Memorial Day weekend — a traditionally busy time.