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Baby Bears at Sleeping Bear

kids activities Benzie County children what to do with kids in benzie county sleeping bear dunes national lakeshore junior ranger program glen haven coast guard station dune climb The Betsie Current Benzie County Leelanau County

Especially for kids at the National Park

By Linda Alice Dewey
Current Contributor

There you are, all ready to take the kids to the beach, when it begins to rain. What to do? The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers a variety of indoor and outdoor spots to visit on any summer day, whether or not it is a good beach day.

We will begin with Glen Haven’s Maritime Museum (alias the “Coast Guard station”), which is restored to resemble what it was about 100 years ago. After investigating the sailors’ quarters, go upstairs and enter a freighter’s pilothouse, complete with the huge captain’s wheel and a view out the pilothouse windows. Then go outside and witness a lifesaving demonstration called “Heroes of the Storm,” which takes place daily at 3 p.m. Lakeshore employees actually shoot a lifeline from a cannon!

A half mile east of the Coast Guard station lies the restored village of Glen Haven, including a pictorial museum, the boat house, and a working blacksmith’s shop—all with Park volunteers, happy to tell you about the way things were and how things worked way back when. Rain or shine.

Head south on M-109 past the Dune Climb (if you can do that without the obligatory stop) to the Village of Empire. Hang a left on M-72 and visit the National Lakeshore’s Philip A. Hart Visitor Center, open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. every summer day. Here you can obtain park passes, maps, and brochures. Inside, rangers and volunteers are available to answer your questions. Plus, see lifelike displays of natural fauna and geological forms in our area. Watch fascinating movies and videos that are sure to keep children interested, such as one about how the dunes and lakes were formed by the glaciers.

While you are at the Visitor Center, enroll your kids in the Junior Ranger Program. If they complete enough of the prescribed activities, they become junior rangers by the end of their stay and earn a badge and/or a patch. Because the National Park Service is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year kids can also get a Centennial Junior Ranger book through a special program in which they earn a sticker and mail it in for a special centennial badge, according to Lisa Griebel, interpretation and education lead. Kids can choose activities in natural history or cultural history. Or how about a scavenger hunt that takes them from the Visitor’s Center to the Glen Haven cannery, the blacksmith shop, and the maritime museum? For the more artistic ranger, try journaling, drawing, and crossword puzzle activities.

Kids are always welcome on any ranger-guided kayak trips, bike rides, and hikes. Reservations are needed only for kayak and bike trips (call for reservations). The schedule is posted on the website and at the Visitor Center. Choose from multiple events on any given day.

Evening programs occur every night at 8 p.m. at the Platte and D. H. Day campgrounds or, in the case of rain, at the D. H. Day log cabin. The 45-minute presentations are provided by rangers who speak on a variety of topics, from lighthouses and maritime history to cultural history and natural history. A schedule of program topics is posted at the campgrounds.

There are also evening hikes at the different trail heads, as well as various other outings. A monthly solar viewing occurs from 4 to 6 p.m. followed by “star parties” from 9 to 11 p.m. for those who can stay up late. Check the Visitor Center for a schedule of the week’s activities.

Here are two special dates to keep in mind:

  • On July 23, the National Park will hold the first ever Astronomy Festival, with activities all day long that cover astronomy for kids and adults, including talks, solar viewing, and a star party.
  • Bring the kids to the Port Oneida Fair on August 12 and 13, where the farming community showcases more than 100 demonstrations that show what life was like on the farm 100 years ago. There will be blacksmithing, rope making, peg making, timber framing, live animals, soap making, and harvesting in the fields.
  • Get on out there and enjoy our natural areas at the National Lakeshore. There is lots to do away from the beach.

    Visit NPS.gov/slbe/Learn/KidsYouth/index.htm for more information and a schedule of events. Or call the Visitor Center at 231-326-4700.

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