The Gateway Communities of
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

The National Lakeshore stretches more than 30 miles along Lake Michigan between Frankfort and Leland. It surrounds Empire and Glen Arbor and is also only a few minutes drive from the other villages included in the list below. Park headquarters are in Empire.

The Importance of Gateway Communities

Gateway Communities around the National Lakeshore and adjacent to other national parks throughout the country have historically struggled to meet the needs of visitors attracted to their local areas.

Gateway Communities are typically small villages and towns located in rural areas, and they often lack the administrative support and financial resources to address both capacity and logistical requirements of large, seasonal swings in population.

Our nearest larger town, Traverse City, had a population of about 15,500 in 2017 and is in Grand Traverse County (that has a population just short of 92,000). Though not within or immediately adjacent to the National Lakeshore, it is also a vacation destination itself, has the area’s largest airport and is a clear traveler’s conduit to Sleeping Bear.

The total population of Leelanau and Benzie Counties, where Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is located, is about 39,300 (2017). The presence of the National Lakeshore with annual visitation approaching 1.7 million visitors concentrated in a three-month “high season” – presents our region with both benefits and challenges. Business growth, employment opportunities and many cultural activities are some of the clear benefits. Housing shortages, growing environmental threats and infrastructure requirements to meet peak season demand generally outstrip the capabilities of our small villages and towns.

Communities that are gateways to National Parks across America deal with these and other issues. The Sleeping Bear Gateways Council is working to bring our local towns and villages, and their stakeholders, together to build pathways to further:

  1. Develop our successes
  2. Acknowledge and address challenges and shortcomings
  3. Learn from the experiences of other similar organizations
  4. Further define plans and best practices

All for the benefit of residents and visitors, now and in the future.