We won! Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is THE Most Beautiful Place in America. Yep, Good Morning America just announced what we already knew was true. Our beloved Sleeping Bear Dunes swept the #1 spot in the show’s heated online voting contest between 10 of the country’s most stunning spots for the title The Most Beautiful Place in America. Course, WE all knew that already, but nice to bask in some national recognition.

So who did our hot Momma Bear beat out for the number one spot? Check out this list of all-stars:

Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Newport, Rhode Island, Point Reyes, California, Aspen, Colorado, Sedona, Arizona, Destin, Florida, Asheville, North Carolina, Lanikai Beach, Hawaii, Grand Teton National Park

Here’s the exciting behind-the-scenes of how Sleeping Bear took first in Good Morning America’s contest for the Most Beautiful Place in America:

At Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine and MyNorth.com the fun began on Wednesday, July 28, when Good Morning America producer Sabrina Parise called our marketing director, Rachel North, to ask if we’d be available to help her get to know Sleeping Bear—she needed to gather film footage for a segment on the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Since Good Morning America had begun soliciting online nominations for a Most Beautiful Place in America Contest, they’d been blown away by the amount of nominations for this place that none of them had ever heard of … (wake up New York City!)

“Oh yes,” Rachel told her, we could help.

The next day Rachel and I met Sabrina at Blu Restaurant on Sleeping Bear Bay where Randy Chamberlain served lunch on the deck that was fit for, well, an ABC producer. Read about it here.

After lunch, Sabrina and I peeled off for a tour of the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb and Pierce Stocking Drive. So much fun to see her amazement as the scenery unfolded. At the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb Sabrina turned the camera on me—not something I’m used to … but glad to do it for my Bear. Sabrina’s tour guide the next day was Tom Ulrich, the deputy supervisor for Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, who rivaled only the Bear herself in his on-camera performance.

The next week, we were thrilled to watch the segment she’d put together, with reporter Josh Elliott—who was very kind about Sleeping Bear, but obviously (being a native Californian) pulling for Point Reyes. The segment included several scenes from our own video, Journey Into Sleeping Bear Dunes, shot over 6 weeks last summer and fall. MyNorth footage used in the Good Morning America story to capture the grace, breadth and splendor of Sleeping Bear Dunes included shots from the Pierce Stocking Trail overlook, a bird in flight at Boekeloo Beach, an aged dock in Glen Arbor and lovely shots of people enjoying Sleeping Bear Dunes. Watch the segment on Sleeping Bear and Point Reyes.

At Traverse, we’d all just settled down, happy with a place in the Top 10 when, Friday, August 12, my cell phone rang. It was Alberto Orso, another producer at Good Morning America calling to tell me that Sleeping Bear was a finalist, a major finalist, as in tied, for the number one spot. Yippee! I hung up and called Rachel and she started the social media wheels whirring to get the vote out—from The Homestead and Cherry Republic all the way to the Governor’s office with Mario Batali tweeting along. We turned on a dime and emailed 27,000 Traverse Magazine and MyNorth.com readers who responded with gusto. This was fast becoming “Win one for Michigan!”

Saturday evening I was sitting in the chair at the Glen Lake Beauty Salon, cape, dripping hair and all, when Sabrina texted me: “Could we talk?”  Yes. Dripping hair and all. Her top secret news: Sleeping Bear had won. But mum had to be the word. The big reveal would come Wednesday, August 17. Until then the story had to be that we were still in contention—but ABC was preparing with more footage.

On Monday, August 15, Sabrina pulled into the drive at my house in Glen Arbor. She had just 24 hours to shoot more footage for the winning segment. I jumped in her car with her to direct her to an outdoor painting class at Thoreson Farm in the Lakeshore, sponsored by Glen Arbor Art Association. We parted ways several hours later—she was up to some secret stuff she couldn’t share. Just before we said goodbye I said this to Sabrina: “Our Lions and Tigers are performing, now it’s time for our Bear to hit it out of the park!” I don’t think she thought it was as clever as I did.

Which brings me to 8 a.m., Wednesday, August 17, and a blur of coffee-scented excitement at Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor (in the heart of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore) where Sleeping Bear fans have gathered to watch and see if their Bear brought it home. Envelope, please …

[publication mode=”thumb” name=”vg-leelanau” align=”left” link=”viewnow”]

More to See at Sleeping Bear Dunes: