Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Record-Eagle file photo

Part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is visible from Empire Beach.

EMPIRE — Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore recorded 1,643,599 recreational visits in 2018, according to the National Park Service.

That’s more than the 1,518,491 people who visited Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state, and almost as many as the 1,663,556 who visited Arches National Park in Utah.

Visitor numbers translate into dollars — lots of them.

“There’s no doubt with as many people that visit here, we have a strong impact on the local area,” said national lakeshore Deputy Superintendent Tom Ulrich. “It’s a major draw, along with all the food, wine and other things.”

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore visitors spent $180 million in 2018 in the 71,000-acre park and surrounding communities including Empire, Frankfort, Glen Arbor, Honor, Leland, Suttons Bay and Traverse City, according to a May 23 park service release.

The annual National Park Service report — 2018 National Park Visitor Spending Effects — states that 318 million visitors spent $20.2 billion in U.S. communities within 60 miles of a park in the National Park System. Of the 329,000 jobs supported by national park visitor spending across the nation, 268,000 are in park gateway communities.

Visitor spending in communities near all 419 national park units in 2018 resulted in a $40.1 billion benefit to the nation’s economy and supported 329,000 jobs, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said in the release.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in 2018 supported 2,467 jobs and generated $217 million in economic benefit.

“It’s a mutually beneficial relationship that we have with one another,” said Kyle Orr, co-owner of Riverside Canoe livery near Honor. “We give visitors to the park another option of activity, as far as paddling the river. You can hike the dunes, do the Pierce Stocking Drive and paddle the Platte River.”

Michigan is home to four other national park units listed in the report. (MotorCities National Heritage Area and the North Country National Scenic Trail aren’t on the list.)

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore’s 815,318 visitors in 2018 supported 451 jobs and spent $35.9 million, according to the report. River Raisin National Battlefield’s 240,548 visitors supported 201 jobs and spent $14 million. Isle Royale’s 25,798 visitors supported 85 jobs and spent $5.7 million. Keweenaw National Historic Park’s 20,415 visitors supported 18 jobs and spent $1.2 million.

Visitation and spending vary widely across the units of the National Park System, depending on factors including proximity to population centers, ease of access, type of attraction and public awareness.

The Blue Ridge Parkway attracted 14.6 million visitors who spent more than $1 billion and supported more than 15,900 jobs. The 4.1 million visitors to Yellowstone National Park in 2018 spent nearly $513 million in the park and in neighboring communities, and supported nearly 7,100 jobs.

Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve drew only 100 visitors in 2018. They supported a single job and spent $71,000. The park’s main attraction is a 6-mile-wide, 2,000-foot-deep caldera, among the largest of the dozen calderas on the Alaska Peninsula. The nearest road is 300 miles away in Homer, Alaska.

Lodging expenses account for the largest share of visitor spending in 2018, totaling $6.8 billion across all communities impacted by national parks, according to the report. Food expenses are the second largest spending area, with visitors spending $4 billion in restaurants and bars, and another $1.4 billion at grocery and convenience stores.

View the full report at

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