Yesterday we took a day-trip to the Sleeping Bear Dunes. This is an annual trip for my kids, and I’ve been going here for the past 25 years. As a young girl, my brother and I would partake in the junior ranger program every summer, and back then the park felt like an undiscovered treasure. This year’s trip was rather heartbreaking. There was so much traffic and so many people. I could see the devastating effect that the crowds are having on the dunes. It is such a fragile ecosystem.
Acts I witnessed in the span of 20 minutes: a lady putting out her cigarette butts in the sand and leaving them there, a family leaving their trash laying around after a picnic, a young boy pulling out tufts of dune grass (their root system is what anchors the grass and keeps it the dunes from eroding), and of course selfie sticks galore (no one seemed to be breathing in the beauty, rather everyone was on their phones). The trip, despite the beauty that is still there, left me feeling distraught over the future of my beloved Northern Michigan. I wonder where the line is between inviting people to witness these national natural treasures, and closing them to the public in order to protect the fragile ecosystems. As Northern Michigan becomes more popular, Walmarts are popping up on what used to be farmland, the traffic in and out of Traverse seems never-ending… I’m not sure what to do with these feelings, besides using them as a springboard for important environmental conversations with my boys. My greatest fear is that when my kids are grown there will be nothing left here to show them.