Quick! What’s the most popular attraction in the Traverse City area?

The volunteers here at the Traverse City Visitor Center know, and so does anyone who’s ever come here as a visitor, even once. It’s the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, that magnificent symphony of water, sky and sand located just a half-hour to the west of us. And even though it’s not within the city limits, or anywhere near them, we all think of it as “our park.”

I think that’s what the National Park Service is getting at with their new “Find Your Park” campaign. As a way of celebrating their 100th birthday this year, the Park Service has mounted a nationwide public awareness and education effort to get us all thinking about the places we think of as “our park.” Over the next year, we’ll see lots of reminders of this massive campaign – it’s nationwide, after all, with celebrity spokesmen and corporate partners and so on – but the idea behind it is a solid one.

“Find Your Park invites the public to see that a national park can be more than a place – it can be a feeling, a state of mind, or a sense of American pride,” wrote Sleeping Bear’s Gary Vanderziel. “Beyond vast landscapes, the campaign highlights historical, urban, and cultural parks, as well as the National Park Service programs that protect, preserve and share nature, culture, and history in communities nationwide.”

The truth is, “your park” doesn’t have to be a national park. It might be a state park, a nature preserve or a town commons or other open space. It can be as small as a woodlot in your neighborhood or a playground down the street – some place of beauty and serenity where you can recharge your energies and restore your sense of being human. Some of us do that through solitude and contemplation, while others prefer large amounts of sociability, noise and fun. But the end goal seems to be the same.


When I first moved to Traverse City 37 years ago, the National Lakeshore was in its infancy; there was still a great deal of anger and resentment among some local residents about the way the government had acquired many of the farms and homes that are now part of the park. Knowing the love those people had for the land, it was difficult not to sympathize with them. But any time I would hike to the top of Pyramid Point or stand at the water’s edge at Aral, I couldn’t help but feel a great sense of gratitude that this place now belonged to all of us.

Over the years, my family has camped, hiked and explored National Parks across the country, from Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee to Zion in Utah, from Olympic in Washington to San Juan in Puerto Rico. Even so, Sleeping Bear is something very special. It’s “my park.” It’s where I go when I really want to get away – and it doesn’t bother me to share it with other people who want to do the same thing.

Has it been a while since you’ve been out to “our park?” Maybe it's time for a visit...#FindYourPark.