Leelanau News and Events

Dispatch From The Dunes #5: Enter Wilderness

July 22, 2022

Julie Den Uyl, a former park ranger who now operates Sleeping Bear Tour Co. under a permit granted by the National Park Service, leads hikes in the Sleeping Bear Dune National Lakeshore (SBDNL)’s lesser-known areas. Here, she shares what happens when visitors enter the unstructured unaltered life that takes place in the wilderness here in Leelanau’s own backyard.

What exactly is wilderness? Wilderness is a community of natural life untrammeled or disturbed by humans — a landscape where humans are visitors and do not remain. Free of permanent improvements, developments, and human habitation, wilderness lands are primeval in character and influence.

Wilderness is a protected refuge for wildlife and a quiet uninterrupted space to seek solitude and spiritual connection. Sounds of human interference, traffic, and voices are absent. When entering wilderness, you can stand alone with your private thoughts and the sounds of the natural world and connect to the lands as they once appeared.

What are areas of local wilderness? Following many years of environmental activism, the Wilderness Act gained passage in 1964. Humans took initiative and began the process of protecting wetlands, jungles, and hinterlands for future generations. With less than 3 percent of wilderness designated landscapes existing in the contiguous U.S. today, wilderness makes up a small fraction of protected areas. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (SBDNL) encompasses more than 32,000 acres of designated wilderness within the park perimeter. SBDNL lands gained wilderness distinction in 2014, the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. A few mainland designated wilderness trails include Boekeloo, Platte Plains, and portions of the Pyramid Point trail. The majority of North and South Manitou Islands, accessible by Manitou Island Transit, are all designated wilderness areas.

What’s occurring in Sleeping Bear Dunes wilderness right now? Natural springs flow from the earth, sands are void of footprints, inland lakes team with waterfowl and the lush growths of July. The opportunity to be in close proximity to porcupines, skunks, and raccoon are elevated as well as being in the presence of a fox, mink, or otter. Birds fly closer and chipmunks have yet to develop the correlation between humans and sustenance. Enjoy views absent of picnic tables, garbage receptacles, and signage. SBDNL is a landscape steeped in Anishinaabek culture. Indigenous imprints of survival and initiative appear with each new step. Everything the Anishinaabe required to live was a product of the land. Food, shelter, transportation, medicine, and spiritual guidance were offered through the landscape. Seek out the native plants, trees, and wildlife found within wilderness. Uncover the multitude of uses for all the elements presented.

Why enter wilderness? It’s a realm of fun and reflection, where you can set aside time in your life to enjoy pristine and primitive areas of recreation. Enjoy a stroll without the chatter of hundreds of others passing by. It’s an opportunity to visualize settings as originally created, to experience a setting un-manicured and altered. Sit, walk, and visualize a landscape containing life unmeasured. You will realize how inconsequential you really are and develop focus on who to become.

Photo courtesty Sleeping Bear Tour Co.

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