Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (National Lakeshore) is set to open additional park facilities. Following guidance from the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local public health authorities, the National Lakeshore is increasing recreational access and services. The National Park Service (NPS) is working service-wide with federal, state and local public health authorities to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic and using a phased approach to increase access on a park-by-park basis.
Beginning Tuesday, June 23, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore will reopen access to the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in Empire and all campgrounds and camping. New camping reservations and modifications to existing reservations can be made beginning June 23 by calling Recreation.gov at 1-877-444-6777 or online at recreation.gov.
The National Lakeshore will be applying measures in the visitor center and campgrounds to prevent the spread of COVID-19, similar to those in retail businesses across the region. Superintendent Scott Tucker states, “The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers and partners continue to be paramount. Our operational approach will be to examine each facility function and service provided to ensure we comply with current public health guidance. It is very important for everyone to follow CDC guidance for physical distancing and face coverings in order to continue the progress that has been made so we can keep these facilities open.”
The CDC has offered guidance to help people recreating in parks and open spaces to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and mitigate risks associated with the transmission of COVID-19. View it here.
While these facilities will again be accessible for visitors to enjoy, a return to full operations will continue to be phased and services may be limited. At present, entrance fees to the National Lakeshore continue to be suspended.
While the opening of the visitor center and campgrounds is good news, the National Lakeshore received notice that the Manitou Island Transit ferry will not run service to the Manitou Islands this year. High water in Lake Michigan has damaged the dock at South Manitou Island, making it unsafe for disembarking passengers until it can be repaired. At North Manitou Island, sand movement over the winter has made dock access nearly impossible until a previously planned dredging contract can be carried out in late July.
Facing the prospect of such a late start to their season, the ferry service made the very difficult business decision to cancel operations for the year. Their concession contract with the NPS will be modified to accommodate this temporary suspension of visitor services. Superintendent Tucker acknowledges the difficult position the ferry company is in. “They want very badly to serve visitors to the islands they love, but we just could not get the docks fully operational in time for them to salvage their season. Both the National Lakeshore and Manitou Island Transit look forward to resuming ferry service to the islands in 2021.”
In the interim, both islands will be open for visitors who are able to access them via private boat or charter services. Camping on the islands will be permitted when camping resumes throughout the National Lakeshore on June 23. Water and restrooms will be available on the islands, but there will be no lighthouse or farm tours this year.
For National Lakeshore information, download the Sleeping Bear Dunes mobile app for both Apple and Android phones. Park rangers are also available to answer questions about the National Lakeshore by calling 231-326-4700, ext. 5010, or emailing [email protected] Details and updates on park operations will continue to be posted on the National Lakeshore website and social media channels. Updates about NPS operations will be posted on nps.gov/coronavirus.