Empire: Small Town, Big View, Big Heart

Have you ever heard of Empire? Many outside of Michigan probably have not. Locals can even be found bragging about Empire’s slow pace of life in the heart of the awe-inspiring Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Real people of all walks of life (just shy of 400 of them) live year ‘round in Empire, more come just for the summer. And who can blame them?

Empire Bluffs is one of the most popular photo-taking spots in all of Michigan

Photo Courtesy of Experience 231

It’s one of those places you think just exists in stories. Stunning natural beauty in all four seasons, friendly shop owners selling gourmet chocolate, freshwater surf boards and bikes, antiques, local art and of course, great burgers, whitefish, perch and ice cream. But there’s something about the people and environment here that draws you in and makes you never want to go back home. The community is known for working hard together to make a living while at the same time enjoying themselves, creating a quirky community and not taking life too seriously.

These are the people who cut a big hole in the ice in February and jump in and come together to celebrate spring’s coming and its first local crop with the renowned Empire Asparagus Festival. Parades in Empire “are so nice, they go around twice.” All we’ve got is time some days so why not?

There's incredible beauty to be found in Empire no matter the season

There’s incredible beauty to be found in Empire no matter the season

Locals migrate west down to the public beach right on Lake Michigan for sunsets in the summer, almost the latest one in the eastern time zone. After looking for the infamous green flash as the sun dips below the horizon, bonfires are built and people gather to sing songs of Great Lakes pirates, rogue waves and the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Surely you’ll come for the incredible Lake Michigan waves to surf, shallows of North Bar, Platte or Otter Creek to play all day and possibly pick up a skim board habit, miles of epic trail to hike, bike, ski or horseback ride and the incredibly legendary vistas of Dunes and Caribbean-like azure and emerald water, but it’s the people you’ll meet in the businesses and walking down the street that will get you wondering, “people get to live here too? Lucky.”

The beaches of Sleeping Bear Dunes are truly breathtaking

Photo Courtesy of Chris Arace

So don’t just tell your friends about the green flash, the parade that goes around twice or the miles of sugar sand beach…experience it for yourself.

What do you love most about Empire? Share with us by commenting below!

Five Places to Discover Amazing Sand Dunes in Michigan

It’s no secret that Michigan is home to some beautiful places – from sandy beaches and amazing forests to crisp, blue water and massive sand dunes! Michigan has more than 300,000 acres of sand dunes that offer breathtaking views or thrilling experiences across the state, some of which have been getting national acclaim for their beauty.

Take a look at the roundup below to learn more about some of the many sand dunes across the state. 

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Empire
Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore encompasses a 60 km (35 mi.) stretch of Lake Michigan’s eastern coastline, as well as North and South Manitou Islands. The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park was established primarily for its outstanding natural features, including forests, beaches, dune formations and ancient glacial phenomena. Named by Good Morning America as “The Most Beautiful Place in America” and voted one of

America’s Top 10 Family Destinations by Family Fun magazine, the Sleeping Bear Dunes are a must see destination. More information about tours, trails and more can be found here.

Empire-Bluffs

Saugatuck Dunes State Park
Saugatuck
The Saugatuck Dunes State Park is a day-use park along a secluded strip of Lake Michigan shoreline, Saugatuck Dunes State Park offers 2.5 miles of shore line. The park has fresh water coastal dunes that are over 200 feet tall. The park’s terrain varies from steep slopes to rolling hills. Visit the website for more information.

Silver Lake Sand Dunes
HartMears and Pentwater
The Silver Lake Sand Dunes are a beach paradise! These massive dunes are nestled along the shore of Lake Michigan and Silver Lake —the only sand dunes in Michigan where you can drive your own ORV—and miles of pristine shoreline beaches designed for pure family fun. The Silver Lake Sand Dunes encompass the towns of Hart, Mears, and Pentwater making it the perfect spot for a family vacation with miles of tree-lined bike trails, historic towns, a lighthouse and more. Spend the morning on the dunes, the afternoon in the water and finish the day in one of the charming villages for a relaxing dinner at a locally owned restaurant. Visit the website to plan your trip.

Silver Lake Sand Dunes - Margaret Jane Ginster

Silver Lake Dunes, Photo Courtesy of Margaret Jane Ginster

Grand Sable Banks and Dunes
Munising
Located about one mile west Grand Marais; the best place to view is from the trail beginning at the Sable Falls parking area. Another access point for the dunes is from the North Country Trail, one-quarter mile east of the Log Slide. Please stay on the trail as the dunes vegetation is fragile. Five square miles of Grand Sable Dunes are perched atop the 300-foot high Grand Sable Banks. Left by enormous glaciers, the Grand Sable Dunes dwarf comprehension. A portion of the Grand Sable Dunes is set aside as a Research Natural Area. For more information visit the website here.

Warren Dunes State Park
Sawyer
Warren Dunes has three miles of shoreline, six miles of hiking trails and is open year-round. It also has a dune formation that rises 260 feet above the lake with spectacular views and 1,952 acres of recreational opportunity. We have 221 modern & rustic campsites and three modern mini cabins. Visit the website for more information.

Where’s your favorite place to visit the dunes in Michigan? Share with us below and learn more on michigan.org.

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.