Wildlife Is Abundant At Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
In spite of its name, Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
isn’t a place where you’re likely to encounter bears in the wild. They’re
around – especially at the southern end of the park around the Platte River
– but they’re normally shy creatures who tend to stay away from people.
On the other hand, Sleeping Bear is a wonderful place to spot lots of other animals, from white-tail deer and porcupines to bald eagles and coyotes. In fact, coming face to face with wildlife is one of the thrills of visiting this unspoiled wilderness on the Lake Michigan coast.
“Whether it’s the slap of a beaver tail on a quiet afternoon, watching otters play on the riverbank, or catching sight of an eagle overhead, there’s a lot of chances to encounter wildlife here,” says National Park Service wildlife biologist Sue Jennings.
The Sleeping Bear Dunes take their name from a charming Native American legend about a mother bear and her two cubs who perished while swimming across the lake to escape a forest fire. Bears are not unknown in the park, but they’re rare and solitary animals who aren’t often seen. Much more common are forest creatures like deer, fox, porcupines, squirrels, bats, and raccoons, while the rivers and inland lakes are home to otter, beaver, muskrat and mink.
In all, 50 species of mammals can be found here. Most are small and numerous – like the eastern chipmunk, nicknamed the “timber tiger” because of its voracious appetite and fearlessness in stealing food from campsites and picnic tables. A much rarer predator that haunts the park’s more remote areas is the bobcat, a small wild cat whose effective camouflage make it hard to see.
In spite of the near-desert conditions, vegetation at Sleeping Bear is unusually lush because of the nearby waters of Lake Michigan, which keeps the air cooler in summer, warmer in winter, and moister throughout the year. The two Manitou Islands, in particular, are filled with unusually large plants, like the Grove of the Giants, a forest of massive 100-foot white cedars on South Manitou.
But it’s one thing to hear about all the diverse plants and animals that survive and thrive in the unique terrain of the Sleeping Bear Dunes, and another thing entirely to experience it first-hand. Coming around a bend in the trail to see a mother deer standing in the forest with her fawns, or gazing down the 400-foot face of the dunes as a school of enormous lake trout glides through the blue water like a fleet of small submarines, is a truly unforgettable experience.
By Michael A. Norton
For information about other winter attractions and activities in the Traverse City area, and for help choosing lodging and dining, visit the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau at www.TraverseCity.com.