TRAVERSE CITY — Merrith Baughman has a vision for the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
The chief of interpretation and visitor services wants to nurture a steadily growing interest in the park but said there’s only one avenue to maintain the Lakeshore’s popularity. She needs to tap into the millennial generation.
“We’re trying to get kids and people under 35 into our parks,” she said. “We need those supporters and advocates. If kids and young people don’t see value in our parks, they won’t survive. We need people to find that value.”
That principle is a guiding factor in National Park Week programming, kicking off April 16 and continuing through April 24. The National Park Service turns 100 this year, and Baughman said the festivities are designed to ensure another 100 years of success.
“The theme for our centennial, and not just at the Lakeshore, is to connect with and create the next generation of visitors, supporters and advocates,” she said.
The Lakeshore — and all other National Parks — will waive admission fees during the week to introduce as many people as possible to what the NPS has to offer. Additional free events will be offered throughout the week.
Visitation at the Lakeshore typically depends on weather, but Baughman said a warm weekend forecast should make for an exciting and eventful week. The Lakeshore is ahead 25 percent in visitation figures from the same time last year, and she anticipates that growth to continue climbing.
Baughman said with the millennial crowds’ ability to “stare at their phone all day,” it’s more important than ever to introduce them to the forests of Pyramid Point, the trails of the Empire Bluff Trail and sights of springtime trilliums, among other Lakeshore highlights.
“So much is competing for millennial attention,” she said. “We want to encourage those kids to get out and get into the parks…there is something here for everybody.”
National Park Week activities include:
Find Your Art in the Park on April 16 from 1-4:30 p.m. at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center
Guests can celebrate the ways in which the natural beauty and cultural legacy of the Lakeshore have inspired the creation of visual and performing arts over the years. ArtPrize winner Ann Loveless will unveil her four-panel collage which is slated to be installed in the Visitor Center gallery.
Star Party on April 16 from 9-11 p.m. at Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive
Visitors can view the moon, Jupiter and Mercury from Stop No. 3 on the Scenic Drive. Guests are asked to dress for the weather and bring a flashlight.
Storm Spotter Training on April 21 from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center
The storm spotter training is designed to help volunteers become certified in providing a timely and accurate flow of weather information to weather forecast offices. Visit volunteer.noaa.gov/weather_stormspotter.html for more information.
Find Your Park Instameet on April 23 at 10 a.m. at the Glen Haven General Store
Photography buffs can gather to meet and share photos with one another at the park’s newly introduced Instameet programming. Participants are encouraged to use the hashtags #GlenHavenIM, #FindYourParkInstaMeet, #FindYourPark and #NPS100.
Junior Ranger Day on April 23 from 1-4 p.m. at the D.H. Day Campground’s Log Cabin
Families can take part in programs and earn a Junior Ranger Badge or become a Centennial Junior Ranger. Guests will learn about the Lakeshore and other parks. Families may come and go, but plan to spend an hour with rangers to earn the badge.
Park RX Day Run and Yoga on April 24 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Glen Haven Beach
Guests can join a park ranger for 75-minute yoga session at 10 a.m. and run for an hour through scenic areas of the Lakeshore at 1 p.m. All skill levels are welcomed, and guests can bring a yoga mat or towel.
Visit nps.gov/slbe or call 231-326-4700 for more information about National Park Week activities.