Northern Michigan In Focus: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is considered one of the most beautiful places in the world, but we all know this water can be deceiving and deadly.

“The weather can be brutal. You can have gusts and hurricane force winds blowing through here,” says Wesley Millar, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. 

That’s why a station was built there, to protect life.

“There was the surf man and the keepers, so there was about seven surf man to a station and one keeper, and the keeper ran the station but the surf man were seasonal so in the summertime into November, the surf man would be working here and doing various jobs and lots of training. Beach patrol and tower watches,” explains Millar.

But when the snow started flying…

“And then in the wintertime, the surf men would leave. Lot of them were locals, some were not, and they would go work in the lumber industry. Lumber was huge in this area in the early 1900s, so they would go work for the lumber industry probably for D.H. Day, who ran Glen Haven,” says Millar.

Glen Haven is just about a mile down the road, once a bustling community.

“The town itself was quite active in the wintertime. The gentleman who owned the town, D.H. Day had an ice rink in town and, from what I’ve read, he owned the first generator, portable generator, in the state of Michigan. So what he would do is take his generator to the ice rink and light it so they could have lights, and then at the end of the night when he wanted everyone to leave, because most of the people who were there worked for him, he would shut the generator off, the lights would go off and everyone would go home,” says Millar.

Surf men that turned into lumber jacks in the winter, but the keeper had to stay behind, minding his station.

“The keeper would maintain and stay here with his wife. He was the guy who did all the paperwork and maintained all the equipment in the wintertime, and then in the springtime the surf men would come back and start all over and do lots and lots of training,” explains Millar.

Today, winter at the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore almost transports you back in time. You’re alone with your thoughts and imagination and away from the crowds of the summer.

“In the wintertime there’s a lot to do here. We always encourage people to come down and walk around the buildings and check them out, peek in the windows if you can,” says Millar. “You can almost have the place to yourself in the winter. I’ve been at the sand dunes where it gets thousands of people in the summertime, where it’d be all yours in the winter. It’s a lot of fun.”

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