Big (and Little) Adventures at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore!

“I want to be a park ranger when I grow up!”
~ Natalie, age 9

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From June 15-17, Parks in Focus hosted its first ‘Big & Little’ Weekend to the most beautiful place in America: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The weekend, made possible by an Outdoor Nation grant, was the second Parks in Focus event of the summer designed to provide opportunities for adult mentors in Michigan (Bigs) to visit parks, practice photography and engage in outdoor activities with the youth in their lives (read about our first event here). Here’s a recap of the weekend’s highlights.

The participants began arriving at the D.H. Day Campground in mid-afternoon and immediately started setting up camp. That evening, we were officially welcomed by Lisa Myers, the Chief for Interpretation and Visitor Services at Sleeping Bear Dunes. After introductions, a few icebreakers, an introductory photography lesson and a delicious dinner, we loaded up in the vehicles to take a tour of the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. We stopped at several pull-outs along the way to take pictures and ended up taking in a beautiful sunset at the Lake Michigan overlook. We stayed out until the sun went down before heading back to camp for the night.

Saturday morning started off warm and muggy, but everyone was excited to spend some time exploring some of the Lakeshore’s famous dunes. After breakfast, we ventured over to the Cottonwood Trail where we met with 2010 Udall Scholar and park ranger Robin Czerwinski. Robin led us on an engaging 1.5 mile hike, teaching us about the dunes and geological processes that have shaped the region. After our hike, we went over to the landmark Dune Climb for lunch and sandy adventures.  The dune climb was strenuous, but the sand was hot enough to keep everyone moving either up or down. To cool off, the participants braved the icy cool waters of Lake Michigan for an afternoon swim.

That evening, everyone returned to camp for dinner and a short wildlife walk (our most impressive sightings were a ruffed grouse and a scarlet tanager). We returned to our campsite to a light sprinkle, but could hear a thunderstorm off in the distance. This resulted in a race to build a campfire that would last long enough for everyone to make s’mores. A few participants were out in the downpour finishing up their s’mores, but the fire lasted just long enough for everyone to get their fill. The downpour continued all night…

By 7 a.m. Sunday the clouds started to clear and the sun helped dry off our tents and supplies in time to put them away. Once everyone was loaded up, we headed off for a beautiful morning of kayaking on the Crystal River. We were the only people out there, providing good opportunities to observe wildlife and take in the sounds of the river. After our paddling trip, we ventured back into the park for our final lunch together. There, we were met by Lisa Griebel, another park ranger, who swore in four of our participants as official junior rangers. After lunch, we took a few final photos and said our farewells…

Huge thanks to Outdoor Nation, the Outdoor Foundation and the Foundation for Youth Investment for making our first Parks in Focus program for Michigan Bigs (and their Littles) possible. We would also like to thank Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, The River Glen Arbor, REI Michigan, and the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Alumni Association for their support.

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