BY GLENN PUIT
TRAVERSE CITY — Thank you, "Good Morning America!"
That was a common refrain Thursday from business, government and everyday northern Michigan folk to news that Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore set an all-time record this year for visitors.
Many credit the "Good Morning America" show for at least some of the boost in visitors; the show’s viewers named Sleeping Bear Dunes the “Most Beautiful Place in America” last summer to significant fanfare and publicity.
“We got so many superlatives in the media … and 'Good Morning America' last August was a big one,” said Tom Ulrich, the park’s deputy superintendent.
Ulrich said 1.43 million people visited Sleeping Bear Dunes so far this year. That’s an all-time record with nearly three months still to go in 2012. The prior record was set in 1999, with 1.36 million visitors.
Last year, the park saw 1.34 million visitors.
Ulrich said the park received several other promising reviews in national media. National Geographic Traveler named Sleeping Bear Dunes in a couple of its Top 10 lists. Dr. Beach said the park has the best beaches on the Great Lakes.
The 71,000-acre park features 35 miles of Lake Michigan coastline, two islands, a scenic drive and mountainous dune climb. Increased visitor numbers translate into 10s of millions of tourism dollars for the local economy.
Michigan State University performed an analysis that showed 1.2 million visitors to Sleeping Bear Dunes equals a tourism sales impact of $38.9 million annually. Tax revenue benefits were estimated at $2 million, and the income and job benefits from tourism was placed at $19.8 million.
Local business owners said tourism undeniably was up in areas surrounding the park this year.
“I’ve noticed a big increase in out-of-state visitors,” said Chris Theobald, owner of the Honor Motel on U.S. 31 in Benzie County. “It has been very good. It’s probably because of all the publicity we’ve had.”
Amie Christensen is a waitress at Joe’s Friendly Tavern in Empire, in Leelanau County. Business spiked there, too, including a slight jump in international visitors to the restaurant and bar. She wishes the visitors tipped a bit better, but she’s not complaining.
“More money for Empire,” Christensen said. “A lot of money to our local businesses.”