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.