In a park known for great beaches, spectacular views and towering sand dunes, the Valley View Trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore had none of those. Yet when the decision was made not to reopen this short, obscure trail after the 2015 wind storms, we lost a lot. Read the latest MichiganTrailsMap.com blog, Trail Talk, to find out why.
If you’re a lifelong hiker and backpacker than New Zealand should be on your bucket list. This wonderful country features mountains, glaciers, hot springs and one of the world’s finest networks of trails which they call tracks. Best of all they maintain a backcountry hut system along most of their trails so you don’t have to pack around a tent.
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By Jim DuFresne
Researching a trail, producing a map based on GPS coordinates gathered from the field and building a page for it on the MichiganTrailMaps.com website is time consuming. But what is even harder is deleting it, erasing all evidence that it ever existed.
That’s what we had to do with Valley View Trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It took only three clicks and it was gone from the MichiganTrailMaps.com website. What was hard was accepting the fact that we have one less trail in Michigan, especially one that was designed for beginner backpackers.
Despite being located practically across M-22 from the Homestead Resort, Valley View was an odd and often overlooked trail within a national park known for having the most scenic hiking in the Lower Peninsula.
The path was only 1.5 miles long. It quickly climbed a high wooded dune and then descended off its backside to a small meadow, surrounded by hardwoods and featuring a walk-in campground with only five sites and two fire rings.
You weren’t anywhere near an open dune, spectacular views of Lake Michigan or a golden beach where you could soak your toes during the day and watch stunning sunsets in the evening.
But it was one of the first trails I took my son and daughter, only three and six years old at the time, where I slung small backpacks on their shoulders and led them into the woods for the night. We pitched our tent at site No. 4, had a fire that evening, roasted hot dogs and marshmallows on wooden sticks we carved. In the morning when we stuck our heads out of the tent, we saw three deer feeding on the other side of the meadow.
Best of all no one was there that evening but us. In a park that can be overrun everywhere else in July, we had this small campground to ourselves.
The trail’s demise occurred In August 2015, when a series of violent storms rolled across Lake Michigan and swept through Glen Arbor and the surrounding National Lakeshore. The third one had winds clocked at 100 mph that destroyed homes and uprooted acres of mature trees. Glen Arbor was cut off from the rest of the world due to fallen trees covering the road. It took workers two days to access the village – via M-109 –and four days to reopen M-22 to the south.
Three trails were seriously impacted. The relatively new Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail was re-opened within a week or so thanks to the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes. NPS workers brought in bulldozers and other heavy equipment and by the first snowfall reopened parts of Alligator Hill, a popular cross-country ski trail.
But not a single tree was removed at Valley View. Somebody at some point decided it was too costly to reopen a lightly used trail whose ridge it climbed faced the brunt of the storm. The campground was officially closed and while you were still welcome to hike the path you’d spend a half a day climbing over fallen trees.
Within a year all mentions of the trail were pulled off the park website. We updated the situation on MichiganTrailMaps.com and then waited. Partly because the trail was still listed and promoted all over the internet and in books.
And partly because it’s hard to delete a trail. We just don’t have that many paths like Valley View in the Lower Peninsula where families and children can get an easy introduction to spending a night away from parking lots and pavement.
Mine did and since that simple adventure 30 years ago they have backpacked throughout New Zealand, repeatedly in the Rocky Mountains (my son lives in Denver) and have climbed a 15,000-foot pass during a 5-day trek in Peru (my daughter was living in Argentina at the time).
One short, often-overlooked trail and they discovered their passion in life; getting away.
Last week the Glen Arbor Arts Center (GAAC) opened a new month-long exhibition entitled “Wood, Woods, Wooden,” a juried show of 2D and 3D work by 29 artists. As part of the exhibition, the GAAC is staging a conversational program with park biologist Julia Gehring on Thursday, March 28.
Gehring will talk about the process of regeneration and recovery in the woods since those devastating storms. What has changed? How have the native residents – birds, mammals, and insects – fared and adapted to the changes in their habitats? And how does the National Lakeshore assess the potential for forest fire with so much downed wood?
I’m wondering if she is going to address the loss of Valley View, and the effect it had on my children and I suspect many others. If not, she should.
For more on the Glen Arbor Arts Center exhibition go to the GAAC website or call the center at (231) 334-6112.