Monday, June 27, 2016

Program Visit: SLBE

My expectations for the “most beautiful place in America” (according to Good Morning America) were pretty high.  Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (SLBE) and its staff did not disappoint me!  I was joined on this visit by junior (pro) ranger Finn.  We visited during the second week in June while it is still pretty cool up in northern Michigan.  

We started the visit with a trip to the Visitor’s Center to pick up the junior ranger book.  ProRanger Tim Greene and Finn started working on it right away!  From there we proceeded to the Leelanau District Ranger Station and met up with Tim’s supervisor for the summer, District Ranger Andrew Blake. 

Tim and Finn working on the junior ranger workbook.
Tim Greene presents District Ranger Andy Blake with a plaque on behalf of the ProRanger Program.

Then we all headed to the park headquarters for a meeting with Deputy Superintendent Tom Ulrich and Chief Ranger Phil Akers.  This is SLBE’s third summer participating in the program and during our meeting the support for the program from the park’s leadership was clear.  They also provided some helpful feedback and suggestions for future improvements to the program.

Ranger Blake, ProRanger Greene, Chief Akers and Deputy Superintendent Ulrich

Then we were off for a whirlwind tour of the park!  As we toured the park, Ranger Blake pointed out areas of the park for Tim to be aware of, he reviewed the law enforcement challenges they typically encounter in various areas and the types of assignments Tim will be getting later in the summer.  He also took the opportunity to quiz Tim on our location on various roads and geographic areas to be sure that he was learning the park’s geography and would be able to accurately call in his location or respond the correct location in the event of an incident.  

Finn dug a "sitting hole" and relaxed to observe the sights

Ranger Blake also made several visitor contacts during the course of our tour while Tim observed.  Following each contact Ranger Blake explained the circumstances of the contact:  why he initiated it, his strategy for handling it the way he did and what he hoped to accomplish from the contact.  He also shared whether it was a typical contact for that area and what other ways that Tim could expect that interaction to unfold.  Some of these contacts included waving down a visitor who was clearly exceeding the park’s speed limit, educating some dog walkers about the areas where they could take their dog (they were about to enter an area where they could not), observing the activities of a known park tour group leader, among other contacts.  This was in addition to answering dozens of questions from park visitors about directions and making recommendations about the park’s highlights.

One of the 3 bays in the park

We ended the day with a demonstration of SLBE's UTV used for rescues!
Day 2 of the visit included a visit to the Platte District.  We were there on a cool, overcast weekday morning early in the season.  The Platte River looked calm and serene.  It was hard to imagine the huge crowds that will cause near gridlock on the river on an almost daily basis later in the summer.  Ranger Blake described the many law enforcement challenges they have there and the opportunities that Tim will have later in the summer to be a part of several "saturation" days where multiple law enforcement agencies will be coordinating their activities in order to keep the chaos in check.

Platte River entry point

No sign of the crowds to come

No visit to SLBE would complete without climbing some dunes!  We finished up the visit with the completion of the junior ranger program and a swearing in and presentation of the badge!  
Proud junior ranger

The dune climb!
Then we walked.  And walked.  And walked. It was a cool day with relatively small crowds, but Tim got a taste of the search and rescue challenges he’ll be seeing when the weather gets hot and the crowds get bigger.  He was already strategizing about some of the preventative search and rescue (PSAR) work he’ll be assigned to. 

Cherry pit spitting
 Olympic size cherry pit spitting arena
Lest you think the visit was all work, we spent the evenings enjoying the towns of Empire and Glen Arbor.  This area of Michigan is famous for its cherries.  So, we sampled a lot of cherry-flavored food (cherry salsa anyone?).  And, who knew that cherry pit spitting was a thing?  I was dubious, but it turned out to be pretty fun!  

After dinner entertainment

Something you don't see every day:  Fox running down the road with a hot dog and egg in its mouth

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t cooperative and we waited for those striking sunsets that never materialized, but we engaged in some competitive games of cornhole and enjoyed the beachside playgrounds (and the fact that it stayed light until nearly 10pm!).  There’s always next year!  
Sunset over Lake Michigan from Empire's town park
Thanks to Tim for being a great host, organizing a great visit and for being a great role model for an 8-year old.  Thank you to Ranger Andy Blake for his enthusiastic mentorship of Tim, his hospitality and for taking time out of his schedule to make our visit both productive and enjoyable.  And, thank you to SLBE Deputy Superintendent Tom Ulrich and Chief Ranger Phil Akers for their leadership and ongoing support of the program.

Up next:  Fire Island

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