Leelanau News and Events

Sleeping Bear Dunes Gets Its First-Ever Wilderness Tour Company; Leelanau Tea Launches; Hillside Market Reopens

By Emily Tyra | April 28, 2021

Among the enterprises launching in Leelanau this spring: The first and only guided tours permitted in the wilderness lands of Sleeping Bear Dunes, a decade-long dream to bring a bottled iced tea company to the county, and a fresh-faced revival of Suttons Bay’s longtime feedstore. Read on…

Sleeping Bear Tour Co. 
The National Park Service (NPS) has authorized the first-ever personal guide service company to be able to lead tours into Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore’s (SBDNL) “wilderness lands.”

Sleeping Bear Tour Co., started by former SBDNL Park Ranger Julie Den Uyl, will be operating under a commercial use authorization permit granted by the NPS to provide guests a unique insider’s view of the park.

Den Uyl, who also has a tour guide service in the U.S. Virgin Islands and worked with the U.S. Forest Service in Alaska, has been leading adventures in the Sleeping Bear Dunes on less-traveled public park trails since launching her company in December 2020.

“I had already obtained permits to guide on public trails, but this is a unique proposal and a long approval process, as this is a highly protected part of the park,” she says, adding that it’s an opportunity to view lands not altered by human interference.

She shares, “As the first and only commercial service to access the wilderness lands at Sleeping Bear Dunes, we will be able to let people see the dunes like never before.” As a private guide, she will interpret the views of the dynamic landscape and introduce intricate details easily passed over.

Tom Ulrich, deputy superintendent with the SBDNL tells the Leelanau Ticker, “We were pleased to work with Sleeping Bear Tour Co. to authorize guided trips that will emphasize and interpret wilderness values; but are carefully timed and sized to ensure they do not diminish the wilderness character they are helping people understand and appreciate.”

Den Uyl explains, “Even being allowed wilderness lands, we are limited to where we can go — and rightly so. This summer we are going to focus on a heavily dense, forested area that has no bare sand, or climb, or a Lake Michigan view, but does have water…for now we will keep it mysterious,” she says.

She says whether hiking with her on existing SBDNL trails, joining an exclusive wilderness adventure, or using her hourly guide services for group outings, she will share the relationship of the Anishinaabe — the original keepers of this cultural land — to the many indigenous plants used in survival that remain within the landscape.

Leelanau Tea
A new cherry-red bottled beverage is popping up at some familiar markets in the county this month, including Anderson’s, Dockside, Shady Lane, The Merc, Bunting’s, Cedar City Market (and others). 

The cherry sweet and unsweet tea, cherry lemonade and cherry half tea/half lemonade are the entrepreneurial alchemy of Kevin Vann, founder of Leelanau Tea, which launched in April. “I’ve been brewing a home iced tea, year-round, for a good ten years,” he explains. “I was drinking a ton of pop and it started as a way to get in front of it.” He says in time he decided to “flavor it with something all of us know and love, up here: cherry juice.”

Friends and family did love it, inspiring him to reserve the name Leelanau Bottling Co. ten years ago, but it was during the pandemic shutdown that he got serious, “learning the industry and what it would take to do this, consulting with food scientists, and working on the branding.”

Vann, a Traverse City native and Suttons Bay resident, sources cherry juice concentrate from Cherry Bay Orchards and Leelanau Fruit Co. He says he is using social media “to highlight not only the drink itself, but also the area we are in, putting a lot of pride around the fact that this is where the majority of North America’s tart cherries are harvested…and get people excited that it’s the peninsula’s tea.” 

Hillside Market Farm and Pet Supply
When Hillside Feed & Supply closed its doors in late November of last year, Leelanau County native Kari Merz felt both a pinch and a loss in its wake. Merz explains: The Mikowski family started the farm supply operation on Center Highway in Suttons Bay “about thirty years ago." Then the store’s successor Amy Bush and staff kept a loyal following for the last decade. “Her farm in southern Michigan drew her down there, and that left kind of a gaping hole in this area for a feed store,” Merz says.

Merz had been at Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay for the past 18 years, managing both the boarding stables and human resource functions. “It was very difficult to feed 22 horses and not have a feedstore local…traveling out of the county to pick up a ton of grain every single week.”

Moreover, she says, “the feedstore has always been such a wonderful social outlet, with the people that come in here talking about their animals and their farms. So, I decided I really need to give this a shot. Now I get to work on the other side of it.”

She leases the building from the Mikowski family, who still owns it (and the surrounding property). Merz started with a soft open April 2 and is open six days a week (closed Sundays), with a range of feed, grass and pasture seed, and fertilizer “to serve both the backyard farmer and those who have larger farming operations.” She stocks — or can special order — food for chickens, goats, horses, cattle, cats and dogs. And, she says, discovering the local love of birds has been a “fun learning curve” for her. She stocks feeders, suet, and several birdseed mixes.

Merz added “Market” to refresh the business name. “We chose to rebrand as Hillside Market because in addition to pet food, livestock feed, and birdseed, I really want to have stuff for people, too,” she explains. “We have the beautiful Leelanau Trail right there on Revold Road, so this is a great spot to pull off and have a refreshment. We will have a water bottle filling station and a cooler with beverages, plus trail bars and other things that are great for refueling.”

Signage will be up soon. “I needed a few weeks under my belt to get things on the shelves, and I’m now ready to tell the world I’m open.” She says she's thrilled to fill a niche in this heavily agricultural corridor. “What I’ve heard, is ‘what a relief, I don’t need to travel far, or order online.’ People really want to support local business. I love that and feel the same.” 


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