Looking for an easy hike up to a great dune overlook?
One actually exists now.
The Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy opened its first designated universally accessible trail on its Arcadia Dunes preserve this summer.
It’s believed to be the first UA trail leading to a dunes overlook along the Michigan coast, according to executive director Glen Chown.
It has been his goal for some time to add a trail that would allow persons of all abilities —including those with mobility disabilities and slow-moving pedestrian traffic like the elderly, small youngsters and families using infant strollers — to access a dune overlook.
“We have all of these wonderful, scenic dunes overlooks along the Lake Michigan coast with our preserves like Old Baldy, Green Point Dunes, and Elberta Dunes South with trails leading to them,” he pointed out when we met recently in his office.
“However, although our conservancy trails vary widely, they all have natural features that make it impossible for a person with mobility disability or using a mobility device to access the trails.
“We found accessibility at Arcadia Dunes where we could build approximately a half-mile UA trail that leads to a beautiful deck and overlook on a bluff 300-feet above the lake. There’s nothing else along the lakeshore that we know of that offers this kind of accessibility. We anticipate that it is going to be very popular as word gets out,” the longtime director enthused.
Word is getting out. I’ve visited the overlook a couple of times in August and the parking lot, which offers trails to access both the new UA overlook and the natural trails to Old Baldy Dune, was almost full. Some were there to view both, but I also saw many older people walking slowly up the UA trail and families with little ones. They couldn’t access Old Baldy.
The new trail is composed of compacted crushed stone, boardwalks and a series of switchbacks to maintain a manageable grade throughout its length. There are also benches along the way up the trail located at scenic locations for a quick rest if needed.
“The new trail will allow everyone to now experience firsthand the flora, fauna and views of Arcadia Dunes,” added Chown. “The trail is 6 feet wide and climbs through wooded dunes to the viewing platform. It cuts through the trees, which are close enough for the visually impaired to be able to feel their surface and experience the surroundings along the trail.”
I’ve hiked dunes overlooks all along Lake Michigan from state parks, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and conservancy preserves, and this is the first UA trail that I’m aware of. My 89-year-old sister visited last summer and at Sleeping Bear she was able to view the Glen Lake and North Bar overlooks, but she couldn’t handle the sand covering the boardwalk up to the dune overlook of the Lake Michigan shoreline. She will be able to get to the new Arcadia Dunes overlook for that shoreline view next summer.
The platform overlook is large and offers several benches, including a couple of very comfortable rocking benches. The platform, 300 feet above the lake, hangs out over a bluff offering outstanding views of the shoreline far below. Looking north you trace the shoreline around Betsie Bay past the Frankfort harbor all the way to Point Betsie. You see Green Point Dunes and Elberta Dunes South rising high above the lakeshore.
It’s a wonderful place to take a snack up with you to the platform, sit back and drink in that exceptional scenery, especially if you thought you might never be able to make the trek for that view. Take advantage of this new opportunity, and don’t forget your camera.
Terrell’s Trail Notes
The half-mile UA trail is marked and takes off right from the parking area. It’s a scenic, easy climb up to the platform deck overlooking the lake. The hard surface of the trail and boardwalks will accommodate people with mobility disability or using a mobility device. It also allows families with toddlers and babies to easily push a stroller up to the overlook.