Enjoy the Preserved Beauty of Michigan’s National Parks

Throughout 2016, the National Park Service is celebrating its 100-year anniversary, and are encouraging people to venture out and find their park! In honor of Earth Day on Friday, April 22, here are a few ways in which Michigan’s 7 National Park units are working to preserve native plants and wildlife.

Protecting Nature

While Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes may be best known for its sloping, perched dunes rising majestically above Lake Michigan, there are many life forms of flora and fauna nestled comfortably within the park’s boundaries.

Sleeping Bear actively monitors the Great Lakes Piping Plovers (Charadrius melodus), which is an endangered species of shoebird that appears at the park from early April to mid-August. They are sand-colored on the back and white below. During the breeding season adults have a black forehead band between the eyes and a single black band around the neck. (Its larger relative the killdeer is commonly seen at parks, playgrounds, and golf courses, and has two dark bands around the neck.) Piping plovers nest only on beaches and prefer beaches with gravel.

Attaching a ankle tag to a young Piping Plover, Photo Courtesy of Austen Smith

Piping plovers remain at Sleeping Bear through the summer months to nest and raise their young. In mid-July the females begin forming flocks and migrating south, leaving their mates to watch over the chicks until they learn to fly.

As for its native plantlife, Sleeping Bear Dunes is a part of The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). The GLRI goals of Sleeping Bear Dunes include:

  • Restoring habitat to protect native species
  • Preventing and controlling invasive species
  • Education and outreach
  • Studying avian botulism outbreaks

Sleeping Bear also works hand-in-hand with its NPS neighbor to north, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to identify beech bark disease resistant trees for future restoration efforts. They also are working on an aquatic invasive species citizen science program for early detection and evaluating Eurasian watermilfoil (an invasive aquatic plant species) management using native beetles.

Photo Courtesy of Austen Smith

These efforts among others help to preserve the sprawling natural beauty of Sleeping Bear Dunes which has become a destination spot for generations of Michigan families. Visitors to Sleeping Bear Dunes can enjoy touring the inland lakes via canoe, hiking one of the park’s many trails, or visiting the Manitou Islands for bird watching, wildlife viewing and enjoying nature at its very best.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the NPS and highlight the value of national parks as our nation’s “living laboratories,” the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is hosting a series of public talks called “Research Rendezvous” by park researchers in 2016. Visit NPS.gov for the current schedule of upcoming talks.

Being a responsible park visitor

National Park Service rangers and other stewardship employees work hard to preserve beauty in its most pure and natural form at all NPS sites. But they also need your help to be aware and responsible when visiting one of these pristine areas.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which was recently featured in the national IMAX release of “National Parks Adventure,” has some tips for park visitors that will protect the park’s natural resources, enhance your park experience and keep you and your family safe. Here is what visitors should know when preparing to visit a National Park:

  • Please don’t litter – pack it in and pack it out
  • Stay on developed trails, especially during early spring wet season blooming times
  • If you use the woods for relief, please follow BURY IT ethics: 2-4 inches deep hole into the duff and cover, including the waste paper

In celebration of the NPS Centennial, Pictured Rocks will be participating in a series of programs built around natural conservation and inspiring a new generation of park stewards by partnering with the Every Kid in a Park Program – sponsored by the National Park Foundation, the White House and Federal Land Management Agencies. Every Kid in a Park, or EKIP, encourages 4th-graders to visit any federally reserved land or water such as a National Park, forest refuge or wildlife reserve.

Melissa O’Donnell, Education Specialist for Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore/Hiawatha National Forest, will kick off the  Every Kid in a Park program by visiting 6 of the 12 schools awarded a free field trip to the park, from a National Park Foundation grant. Over 160 students will learn about federal lands and waters, why they are important, and what to know during a series of field trips in May.

Photo Courtesy of Austen Smith

Urban Preservation

Just as important as protection of our trails, streams and plant life, cultural and historical preservation in urban settings stands as an important pillar in the NPS Centennial as those in the “Millenial” generation are moving away from the suburbs and into the city.

The city of Detroit has a rich history and through recent preservation and interpretation efforts, many of the sites that weave the storied tapestry of the region are being safeguarded for future generations.

As part of the Every Kid in a Park program, the MotorCities National Heritage Area – an affiliate of the National Park Service, that preserves and promotes automotive heritage in southeast Michigan – is working with the National Park Service’s Urban Agenda to educate Detroit students about an important piece of the city’s history in historic Fort Wayne.

Photo Courtesy of Austen Smith

MotorCities National Heritage Area in conjunction with the Detroit Historical Society, Michigan Historic Preservation Network, Preservation Detroit and the State Historic Preservation Office will be leading an interactive experience in which 4th-graders will learn about local history through a “grab bag” of historical items. Students will have to guess the origin of the item and what it does while talking with knowledgeable proctors.

This and much more will be happening during a special event from May 31 to June 3 at historic Fort Wayne.

This educational outreach program is just one way in which the MotorCities preserves and promotes the automotive and labor history and how our story in southeast Michigan impacted the state, the nation and he world.

Learn more about these and other Centennial happenings at: nps.gov and findyourpark.com.

Austen Smith is the Communications Coordinator for the MotorCities National Heritage Area. He can be reached at asmith@motorcities.org.

Five Ideas for Welcoming Spring in Traverse City

As any Michigander will tell you, Michigan is truly a four-season state. The water wonderland of summer, the brilliant colors of fall, and the snow sports of winter all contribute plenty of reasons to love a four-season destination like Traverse City. But it’s spring that seems to occupy a special place in the hearts of many residents of the Great Lakes State. As winter whites give way to the greens of springtime, it’s time to get outside and renew our relationship with Michigan’s many outdoor resources.

With so many options in and around Traverse City, the hard part can be deciding where to go and what to do first. Read more as our friends at Northern Swag narrow down the list for you by sharing five Traverse City favorites.

1. Hike a Trail

The Traverse City area is home to hundreds of miles of hiking trails that are perfect for taking in on a sunny spring day. The wooded Lake Michigan Trail in Leelanau State Park near Northport winds its way through wooded hills to an observation deck overlooking Lake Michigan. While you’re enjoying the natural setting and fresh air, be on the lookout for the unmistakable petals of the white trillium, which can cover entire hillsides when they bloom in early-to-mid-May.

Photo Courtesy of Northern Swag

2. Hunt for Morels

These tasty, yet elusive natural treasures can be found in wooded areas throughout the Traverse City area. Look for south-facing hillsides that soak up the sun, and if possible, wait for a warmer day (over 60 degrees) that follows several warmer evenings for the best chance at success. Locals may be hesitant to share their favorite spots, but the adventure of the hunt can be almost as rewarding as the discovery. Almost.

Photo Courtesy of Northern Swag

3. Take a Sunday Drive

In mid-May, the hills and valleys of Old Mission Peninsula come alive with color as the cherry blossoms emerge. The Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula ® host Blossom Day Saturday, May 14. This event offers participants a chance to sample award-winning wines while enjoying the incredible scenery along the way. Scenic overlooks and cherry blossoms abound, and if you make it to the town of Old Mission, be sure to enjoy the view at Haserot Beach – it’s one of our favorite stops on the peninsula.

Photo Courtesy of Northern Swag

4. Hit the Beach

The water will still be a bit too chilly for a swim, but a picnic with an afternoon walk along the beach is a splendid way to celebrate spring in northern Michigan. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore includes 35 miles of pristine Lake Michigan shoreline. The views are some of the best in the Traverse City area, and don’t forget to keep an eye open for Petoskey stones, found along the entire length of the Lakeshore.

Photo Courtesy of Northern Swag

5. Discover a New View

There’s a brief window of time between the melting of the snow and the return of summer foliage to the trees and the forest floor. With 70,000 acres to explore, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers numerous opportunities for discovering hidden views that aren’t as visible during the summer months. If you find yourself “up north” on a perfect spring day, an afternoon adventure amongst the rolling hills and wooded bluffs of the Sleeping Bear Dunes can lead to a pretty nice reward.

Photo Courtesy of Northern Swag

Northern Swag:

Northern Swag is a collective group of Northern Michigan creatives that is obsessed with the incredible beauty of the area. In their eyes there’s something else that evades description, a type of pervasive style that makes being here just feel awesome. It’s their goal to try and capture that unique Northern Michigan style, or swag, with photos and words.

How will you celebrate spring in Traverse City? Let us know by commenting below!

Celebrate 100 years of the National Park Service in Michigan

The National Park Service, which oversees more than 450 park sites throughout the United States, is turning 100! Discover a little history behind Michigan’s seven parks and how you can celebrate this incredible milestone without traveling far from home.

In 2016, a major milestone will be marked across the country as the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary.

Indeed, the birthday party has already started across the more than 400 National Park sites in the U.S., seven of which are in Michigan. There are countless activities and programs available for the whole family all with the hope of inspiring the next generation of park stewards.

The NPS is widely celebrated by Michiganders and out-of-towners alike, with dazzling natural beauty such as the mineral-laden colors that adorn 200-foot tall cliffs at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore or miles of picturesque sandy beachfront at Sleeping Bear Dunes.

As the 2016 NPS Centennial draws closer, residents across the country are being encouraged to experience a National Park and then share their impressions by tagging #FindYourPark via social media.

So for those seeking a truly unique Michigan experience while basking in the celebration of the NPS Centennial, here are some ideas to jumpstart your journey:

Find Your Park

Day trip with your 4th-grader as part of Every Kid in a Park

In honor of the NPS Centennial, all 4th-graders now have access to their very own Every Kid in a Park passport which grants free admission to all federally owned natural lands such as national park sites, national forests, wildlife refuges and more from now until the end of 2016.

For 4th-grade students in southeast Michigan, the National Park Foundation is supporting two sets of Fourth Grade Discovery days to be held at Historic Fort Wayne in June 2016 and September 2016. The goal is to reach 4,000 of the Detroit Public School’s fourth-graders during the NPS Centennial.  Students visiting the fort during the Discovery Days program will take part in demonstrations and activities that enhance their grade level social studies and natural science curriculum, as well as have an opportunity to have fun in the park.

Get away from it all at Isle Royale

Crossing the icy, deep waters of Lake Superior from Copper Harbor and entering the unscathed wilderness of Isle Royal National Park – visitors truly feel that they have entered a different world.

The isolated, stunning vistas are truly a way for visitors to explore wilderness, slow down the pace of life and relax the soul. As an island park, there are many ways to enjoy Isle Royale from the water, land or air.

Visitors can enjoy these life experiences during the 2016 Centennial and beyond. Please note: The park is officially closed to visitors until April, 2016.

Discover Keweenaw’s copper story through a scavenger hunt

The Keweenaw National Historic Park is not only known for its radiant, natural beauty but also for its copper mining heritage which dates back 7,000 years ago. Discover the Keweenaw copper and 21 Heritage Sites throughout the region during 2016 by going on the Copper Country Scavenger Hunt.

What did miners put in their lunch pails to keep their pasties warm? Who rescued 24 people and a dog from the shipwreck L.C. Waldo in 1913? Children of all ages have a chance to win a prize by finding the answers to questions like these by completing the hunt. The booklet is free and available at each of the staffed Keweenaw Heritage Sites as well as the NPS’s Calumet Visitor Center.

Other Centennial program at Keweenaw will include a “History Smackdown” competition among local high school teams, a 1916 fashion show featuring park rangers, a monthly history speaker series focusing on the NPS Centennial and much more!

‘Find Your Road Trip’ within the MotorCities National Heritage Area

Southeast Michigan has the largest concentration of historical sites related to the evolution of the automotive industry in the entire world. Indeed, there are many twists and turns one can take while traveling from The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn to the Gilmore Car Museum in bucolic Hickory Corners, and coming in early 2016 the MotorCities National Heritage Area will be encouraging auto enthusiasts to “Find Your Road Trip,” with a one-of-a-kind tourism booklet exploring the vast automotive heritage of the region.

Travelers will be able to have their road trip booklet stamped with an exclusive 2016 NPS Centennial stamp at historical sites across the National Heritage Area and fellow National Park Service sites.

So blaze your own trail, chart your own journey and experience something great using our free publication! It will be available at National Heritage Area partner sites, Michigan Welcome Centers and more.

Photo Courtesy of Austen Smith

Photo Courtesy of Austen Smith

North Country Trail

Headquartered in Lowell, The North Country National Scenic Trail (North Country Trail) is a unit of the network of scenic, historic and recreation trails created by the National Trails System Act of 1968 and is administered by the National Park Service.

Traversing seven states along its 4,600 mile route, it is the longest national scenic trail in the United States. While the North Country Trail is managed primarily for hiking and backpacking, some portions of the trail may also permit other non-motorized uses. Of primary importance is protecting the trail experience—providing opportunities for recreation, education, inspiration, solitude, and enjoyment; and ensuring user safety and resource protection.

The wide variety of terrain, flora and fauna offers everything from a leisurely afternoon stroll to a multiday, rigorous long-distance hiking challenge. In every locale, opportunities abound for bird watching, botany, photography, and wildlife study, either alone or as an experience shared with others seeking the respite of the outdoors.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Loudenslager

Photo Courtesy of Chris Loudenslager

Take a cruise around Pictured Rocks 

At Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the park and partner Pictured Rocks Cruises have combined forces to offer a free cruise ticket to every 4th-grader in Michigan.

Following a successful test in 2015 with enthusiastic response, about 100,000 tickets will be distributed in Michigan schools in December. Kids can redeem their free ride by bringing their family/guardian/adults to the Munising City Docks Pictured Rocks Cruises booking office and choose their tour.

Tours include Spray Falls, the round trip tour to Chapel Rock or the popular sunset trip. Super thanks to Pictured Rocks Cruises for making it possible for every Michigan 4th grader to Find their (Great Lake) Park.

Photo Courtesy of Laura Rotegard

Photo Courtesy of Laura Rotegard

Discover Michigan’s role in the War of 1812 at River Raisin

Over a century before the founding of the National Park Service, the War of 1812 raged in southeast Michigan, Ohio and Canada. The River Raisin National Battlefield Park – located in Monroe, about 40 miles southwest of Detroit – preserves, commemorates, and interprets the January 1813 battles of the War of 1812 and their aftermath in Monroe and Wayne counties in southeast Michigan.

Artifacts and exhibits pertaining to the battles at the River Raisin are displayed in the visitor’s center museum. Be sure to watch a 14-minute fiber optic map presentation in which the conflict in the Old Northwest Territory is unfolded.

In the west wing, a collection of original military firearms and accoutrements, and an additional diorama, accompany the fiber optic map. In the east wing, handcrafted miniature dioramas depict scenes from the River Raisin, the battles of Lake Erie, and the battle of the Thames. In the main gallery, full-scale vignettes bring to life the American and British troops as they might have appeared at dawn on January 22, 1813, just before the second battle.

Step back in time at Sleeping Bear Dunes

At Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, visitors will be able to step back in time and experience the year 1916, when the National Park Service was founded, as part of Glen Haven Days on May 28. Visit an historic Great Lakes village and United States Life Saving Station/Maritime Museum as part of the day-long program. Visitors can also stroll through the Port Oneida Fair happening Aug. 12 and 13, 2016 and experience life as it was in Port Oneida in 1916!

Other Centennial programming at Sleeping Bear will include the monthly Research Rendezvous Series of public discussions held throughout 2015 and 2016. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and highlight the value of national parks as our nation’s “living laboratories,” Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is hosting a monthly series of public talks by park researchers called “Research Rendezvous.” This program will provide an opportunity to learn about the diversity of scientific investigations occurring in or near the National Lakeshore.

Photo Courtesy of the National Parks Service

Photo Courtesy of the National Parks Service

For more information on these parks, visit their respective websites and social media channels. Which of Michigan’s National Parks is your favorite?

Isle Royale: Facebook

Keweenaw National Historic Park: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram 

MotorCities National Heritage Area: Facebook, TwitterInstagram

North County Trail: Facebook, Twitter

River Raisin National Battlefield Park: Facebook

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Facebook, Twitter

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter