Sleeping Bear Dunes with Scott Tucker
Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:00] Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the show. I’m your host Cliff DuVernois. And today we are joined by the superintendent of Sleeping Bear Dunes, National Lakeshore. His name would be Scott Tucker. Scott, how are you?
Scott Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes: [00:00:43] I’m doing great. Thanks for having me today.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:45] No problem. Tell us a little bit about where you’re from and where you grew up.
Scott Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes: [00:00:49] Sure. I actually grew up in the Denver, Colorado suburbs. Colorado where I Fell in love with national parks, my family vacations. Made my way to the university of Northern Colorado, where I studied history, archeology, and sending there’d be a high school social studies teacher. And a chance encounter with a park ranger on spring break. My senior year in college and Mesa Verde national park.
Led me to a different career choice and that was educating Through national parks rather than in the classroom.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:22] What do you think it was that drew you to work with national parks in the first place?
Scott Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes: [00:01:28] You know, Growing up in Denver, that was my family vacation. So our family vacation was arches and Canyon lands in Utah. It was grand Tetons and Yellowstone. Glacier in Montana, the grand Canyon in the parks, in the Southwest. And so that’s all I ever knew who was our, my family and the, you know, the.
Ford Bronco. And we were camping throughout the West. And. Seeing from a professional eye when I was getting ready to graduate college, seeing the connection that, that one park ranger made for me. Maybe sort of have that aha moment. And so my first part of his career was less than a year after that moment.
Where I moved to Alaska and was a interpretive education park ranger at Klondike gold rush national historical park and Skagway, Alaska. And that was 20. 23 years ago.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:02:18] So what brought you to Michigan? Yeah.
Scott Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes: [00:02:21] A long trip around went from Alaska to Washington, DC. Where I met my wife, who was a Michigan.
Was born and raised in Michigan and Lansing. We left DC to the West coast to Lewis and Clark national historical park where I was a superintendent for several years. And then we made our way back to Michigan four and a half years ago. Actually on Facebook today popped up. We were hopping on a plane.
Five years ago. In Portland, Oregon to come visit grandpa in Lansing and Flint. For the Christmas holiday, not knowing that six months later we would move in the family here.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:03:00] Man. I love it. When, when those big changes in life happened like that.
Scott Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes: [00:03:05] Definitely. Yeah, it was It was sort of a crime moment you know, national parks. Are coveted jobs. And we all fight when a job opens. We all. We all fight for it, which means whoever gets that job, their previous job, and a pretty amazing place opens up as well. And so I believe it was about a week after we returned from a great Christmas holiday.
And Flint. That the job here at sleeping bear opened up. And so my wife and I, and our kids made the decision to put my hat in for it and see if we can get our kids, which we have to have a little bit close to one of our grandparents. As they’re growing up.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:03:42] Nice now for your decision to go into a park service and especially with, you know, focusing on educating the general public, what was, what was some of the advanced schooling or that you took, like we’re like, where did you go to college and what did you study and was there, you know, perhaps, maybe some.
Like a business degree or a business focus on parks.
Scott Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes: [00:04:05] Yeah. Good question. So, you know, parks really there’s a job for most any discipline I personally have a degree in social science with a minor in history and a minor in archeology. And that’s was my drive to teach high school, social studies and history and out of, you know, the 420 plus national park sites.
There are historical sides or natural resource sites. There are geologic sites. And so my background fit in perfectly with a Klondike gold rush or my first job working in tell me the story of the Klondike gold rush in 1898.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:04:38] Nice.
Scott Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes: [00:04:40] DC at the national mall and working all the Mayas and monuments and memorials. So in my early twenties went better job on standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I’m talking about the American civil war or the top of the Washington monument or Jefferson Memorial talking about the American revolution. So. Depending on the job depends on sort of the background. And so my education. University Northern Colorado really set the foundation for being a, a history teacher in the field for the early parts of my career.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:05:13] Nice. Nice. So with regards to. The, the, the opportunity that presented itself to work at the sleeping bear dunes, national Lakeshore. How did that come about?
Scott Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes: [00:05:25] Oh dusty Schultz, who was my predecessor was here for over 15 years and she retired in the fall. That was announced. And like many federal job that opens up to any. Any citizen can apply. And so it’s a normal federal application and questionnaire that luckily my my background of both management of national parks sites, as well as education, cultural resources. Lined up with what my boss had been time. I’m the regional director of the national parks service. Was looking for, for the next leader here at sleep. Marino’s.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:06:10] Nice. And why don’t you talk to us a little bit about the, the history of sleeping bear dunes? You know, how maybe even I would always like to know this, cause I’ve always called it sleeping bear dunes, but. I, how did he get his name in the first place?
Scott Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes: [00:06:25] You know, sleeping bear dunes, national Lakeshore actually celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020. Created in October, 1970, after over 10 years of debates and. Excitement and frustration. If you look back to 2016, you may remember the big find your park campaign of the national parks or was celebrating the fifth, the hundredth anniversary of the national park system and 2016. Well, in 1956, the national park service was celebrating its 50th anniversary. And part of that national parks through his 50th anniversary. They ditch dispatch teams across the country to identify areas. Of national splendor, historical significance areas that were not yet. The stories are not yet told in the national park service are protected by the national park service. And that team made their way to the great lakes where they visited areas like the apostle islands up on Lake superior, Wisconsin pictured rocks. Sleeping bear dunes and Indiana dunes. We’re all parks that were identified a park areas that were identified in that late fifties. Exploration. And so apostle islands, pictured rocks, sleeping, bear dunes, and Indiana dunes all became part of the national park service between the late sixties and 1970 was sleeping. Bear dunes being the last. Of those of that grouping to be added to the protection of national parks service. But the name, sleeping bear dunes predates the Lake shore and it comes. It comes from. An initial Novack story of mother bear and her two Cubs who were in Wisconsin. Long ago, and there was a great famine in Wisconsin and mother bear. Asked her Cubs to follow her as she swam the 50 plus miles across Lake Michigan. To today’s Michigan and the area known as sleeping bear dunes. That that exhausting journey for mama bear and her two Cubs. Tragically ended as mother bear climbed up on the shore. Of the dune plateau and saw her two Cubs disappear below the water out of exhaustion. As she laid on the shore, waiting for her Cubs to join her. Her Cubs by were transformative in the North and South Manitou islands and Rose out of Lake, Michigan off the coast. The shoreline here. And mother bear’s still sits today as a formation of quantum, the doodle plateau overlooking the North and South Manitou islands. So that initial Novack story. Predates the Lake shore. Yeah, that is the story of how the, how the islands and the June plateau with mother bear. It was created.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:09:09] Nice. Love it. Thank you for sharing that. What I would like to do is this is probably what sleeping bear dunes is, is commonly known for. But I would like to do is just take it, take some time and. In the summer when the weather’s nice. What are a lot of the activities that are going on because I remember going there as a kid and it seemed like, I think my, you know, my parents and friends, whatnot, took me to sleeping bear dunes so I could run up the Hill and wear myself out. So I’d actually like sleep that night. So what, what are, what are some of the really great activities that there are to do at the park?
Scott Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes: [00:09:42] Yeah, you, you just hit on it. You know? My first visit to the Lake shore. Was probably 10, 12 years ago. And, and that visit, we did the things that my wife did when she was a kid going to summer camp up here, we’ve climbed the doom climb. We dipped our toes and Lake Michigan. We joked that my wife was part of a Sandpiper club that when she was 15, 16, ran up and down the dune phase 20 times. I’m sure that was the camper. Camp counselors way of getting kids to go to sleep at night.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:10:09] Yes.
Scott Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes: [00:10:11] So you have those, you have those iconic things to do when you come here and we’ll switch to sort of, the first time has climbed the dune climb that that bluff that could end with a mile and a half hike to Lake Michigan yet is the, the scenic overlook of the number nine on a pure stocking drive that. Puts you into a different world of the dude plateau 450 feet above Lake Michigan. On a spectacular day, looking out over almost Caribbean green waters. But if you come back for that second visit. We have over a dozen hiking trails, adding up to over a hundred miles of hiking trail and those hiking trails can be used all year long in the winter. They become snowshoe and cross-country ski trails and a summer hiking, a trail running jogging. There are camping. We have two great campsites and so families can disappear into Northern Michigan and, and hear the, hear the waves crashing from their tents at the beach day camp crown. We have the amazing sleeping bear heritage trail, which is a multi-use paved trail. Almost all paved. Running over almost 20 miles in the Lake shore, which gives you access to parking your car and going for an adventure and seeing years of the park. We have the porno night, a historic district, which is the largest rural, agricultural protected district of the United States government. Over 5,000 acres of the Porter died. A rural agricultural district are protected and preserved in the 1900. Era farming community. That was up here in Northern Michigan, over 120 years ago. There are there’s a, a concession fairy that will take you to the North and South Manitou islands, where you can enjoy camping and wilderness. You can visit the South Manitou lighthouse complex and learn about maritime history. As a history geek myself, coming to a slave and bear, I, you know, I was pleasantly surprised at the breadth of cultural. And a cultural stories of this park preserves and tells whether it is of the United States lifesaving service. The precursor to a. To the coast guard or the great lakes. I feel it could be Agricultural and farming, it can be timber or ghost towns within the Lake shore. And then there’s the water access. There is Lake Michigan. There’s the Platte river where you can tube and kayak and take a lazy float. There’s a little bit of everything for everyone year round in a sense summer is just one piece of the great puzzle that we are.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:12:41] And that was something where a you know, In PR in prepping for this. A podcast interview today. Very happy to see that. Yeah, the sleeping bear dunes, especially with the snowshoe in. I happens. It happens in the wintertime. Now, is that something that’s always been a part of sleeping bear dunes? Is that something that did that. Bend more recently added.
Scott Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes: [00:13:02] People have been recreating year-round and the Lake shore for, for years and years. Access to equipment has become more readily available in recent time. So it’s easier to get a pair of snow shoes, whether you read them or buy them. It’s easier to get cross country ski here. And some of my, my family’s best memories are snowshoeing in the Lake shore. Cause you can go across country off trail into areas that there is nothing but maybe a rabbit track yet. On a normal year. Four to 5,000 elementary school children go on snow shoe ranger programs as field trips. That’s the one piece that we’re missing this winter? I know my Rangers would rather be in the snow with students rather than over a technology doing distance learning, field trips. And so. Hopefully we’ll get back a little normalcy in 21, 22 and returned. But even the sleeping bear heritage trail, our great partner group, friends of sleeping bear, they groom a good portion of that heritage trail for a cross country skier throughout the winter as well.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:14:05] Nice. And I know we talked a little bit and I do want to dive into that shortly. Talked a little bit about the impact that. COVID is having on the park. But before they hit the record button on the interview, you were telling me that this last year was a record breaking year for the number of people visiting.
Scott Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes: [00:14:22] I didn’t say that. So yeah, one of the interesting things. So you look at what happened, you know, around the United States. Over the summer. And it happened here at the sleeping bear as well. We closed down our vault toilets in our trail heads in early. Spring April and into may, as we are trying to get aggressive grass, just like many others on how to respond. To a COVID in protect, not only our staff by the visiting public. We reopened those areas of our campgrounds in June. We had the busiest July ever we’d have the busiest August ever. We just had the busiest November ever. And men, we have already set our record visitation. For the national Lake shore in the last 50 years with over 1.7 million visits in the year 2020. And we still have two more weeks you had right now we have six inches of snow and blue skies. So. If if 2020 brought us anything, it proved that the idea of 50 years ago to create sleeping, bear as a recreational outlet for the American people rang true. As movie theaters were closed as access to gravity points were closed. Public lands were open and sleeping bear greeted. Thousands of visitors. This summer are only one of our only regrets is we had new visitors that have never set foot here before. And we limited did we cut back on our public contact? As a precaution for our staff and for the public. And so we didn’t have as many contacts with visitors coming here to encourage them to recreate responsibly, to take their trash with them, to leave everything in place from a Petoskey stone, two a. Trees. And so a challenge was not having as many staff in the field this summer to interact with those 1.7 million visitors. And as a kid who fell in love with parks, like I did even at Mesa Verde in high school and college. We had to cancel our campground programs this summer. And so that’s a key piece of interacting and creating, you know, the next junior ranger in the next generation of Rangers. So we have great opportunities as we come in the next couple of years.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:16:35] Excellent. And I know you said before, this was it. And if the number in itself, 1.7 million people, that’s a staggering amount. What would you, what would you, how would you compare that number to like, let’s say 2019 or 2018? What was, what’s your, what’s your average number of people coming in?
Scott Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes: [00:16:53] Are. Busiest year up until 2020 was 2016 with 1.6 million visitors. The last four years of hit around between one point, right around 1.6. So this year we were about 20 right now. We’re about 20,000 visitors above our all time record of 2016.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:17:12] Hm.
Scott Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes: [00:17:12] So by being closed for a few months and limited access. Pretty excited that that many people found us and we’re able to do it safely.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:17:22] Nice. And for. You know, somebody who is listening to this podcast, maybe they’ve never even been to sleeping bear dunes and. If they were to ask you and say, Hey, Scott, we’re going to come up to sleeping bear dunes. We’ve got a couple of hours we’d like to do. What would you tell them would be some of the, some of the highlights that they should hit?
Scott Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes: [00:17:44] Oh, if they told me the eye. Two hours. I would tell him just to find a beach and enjoy. A few seconds of. Splendor, but, and then cry and hopefully they can come back for a longer visit than another day. You know, that first time visitor, I think they need to have that Epic experience of the number nine overlook off the pier stocking drive, just to see the grand juror of these coastal dunes, which are the highest coastal dunes in the world. Over 450 feet. Standing up. Of, of Lake Michigan. Another stop is a, the dune climb where they can. Run up and down to their heart’s content over these glacially carved features that our, our namesake, if their history gigs like me, I would send them to Glen Glen Haven, which is a historic village. Of the recreation am logging and shipping days and, and golf themselves in our maritime museum and our And our museums that tell the story of the U S life-saving service. Those are just three things and that’ll probably take you half a day. Catch lunch in one of our local communities and get back to your hotel and claim your next visit.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:18:54] Nice. And I know with, with COVID right now and I, and I know you had. You know, this year has been a record. Setting year for you. What are some of the measures that, that you and your staff. Have put into place to, to help keep people safe.
Scott Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes: [00:19:12] Good question. Did a lot of back and forth following CDC guidance and the Sumo spring. And things have morphed, of course, as the year, as we’ve learned more and gotten better. Better information. One of the things back in 1916, when the national park service was created, the director of the parks have been parked serve as then, as the United States public health service to partner with the national park service. And so we actually have United States public health service officers embedded. And the national park service nationwide. And we actually have United States public health service officers assigned specifically to sleeping bear dunes. And so we have a direct line to Consistent and accurate information. And so we you know, we did, what many businesses did we put up sneeze guards in our campgrounds and at our visitor center, we put up signs, limiting the number of people that come into our museums. We trained our staff and proper use of PPE and empowered them to walk away from visitors that were not abiding by social distancing. We focused on the social media campaign of recreating responsibly. Early in the pandemic. We close trail heads and restrooms because the restroom cleaning protocols were not evident. And we wanted to protect our staff. Our staff that clean those restrooms on a daily basis, first and foremost. We unfortunately we altered some of our public scheduling. We limited our campground programs, like I mentioned before. Rather than that formal historic go for a hike with a ranger. Our Rangers did more pop-up programs where they would just show up somewhere in the park and interact with small groups rather than advertising an hour long height with a ranger. So we adjusted, it had followed the CDC every step of the way on the guidance. For both our in-person as well as our our staff working behind the scenes.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:21:07] Nice. Absolutely love it. And you kinda hit on this before, and I do want to spend some time talking about it is you were talking about how your, your Rangers are now doing virtual education versus, you know, taking the kids out for. A hike in the area. Talked to us a little bit about, about that. What was that like, getting that up and running.
Scott Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes: [00:21:29] Well, we were pretty lucky that we have an amazing education staff here at the Lake shore. That have been doing some distance learning. In the winter specifically over the last few years. So we were lucky that we have the equipment in house and ready to go. What we didn’t have was full programming. If you ask him this question a year ago, I probably would have told you we have three or four distance learning field trips today we have over 15 of them. That our ranger staff spend the early. A fall or late summer. Mastering some distance learning program so that they can reach out into classrooms and tell the story of the national parks, service and sleeping bear dunes. Where a normal year, we might’ve had five to 10 distance learning field trips. Right now we’re doing five to 10 a week. I believe we had two of them today. And so that brings the breath, the reach of sleeping bear far beyond the local community. And they’re doing programs with students across the country. And sharing with them, why this place is so great. And, you know, one of the goals of that is to create a future park lover that will fight for national parks for the rest of their life.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:22:38] Nice. And I’m very happy to. To hear you say that, and especially taking advantage of the technology and being able to interact with students literally across the country. And that has been a recurring theme that I’ve had with other guests on the show. So. You know, being able to take the, you know, the disadvantage of a COVID 19 and actually turned it into a vantage and get national exposure. Cause you never know. Who of these kids are going to wind up coming one day to
Scott Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes: [00:23:06] Exactly. And so our, yeah. Our challenge is going to be next year. If knock on wood, everything returned to some normalcy. We’re going to have teachers, local teachers. Calling the first day. Field trip reservations are open. And so we’re going to have a, to manage the expectations of now a national audience, looking for these spectacular distance learning programs. When those same Rangers are the ones doing snowshoe tours for the local elementary school kits.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:23:33] Right.
Scott Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes: [00:23:35] I can think of worst challenges though.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:23:38] Yeah, I agree with you there. So, you know, in a world. That you know, we come back to some level of level of normalcy. Do you see yourself continuing doing the virtual education or, you know, how do you see that working out?
Scott Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes: [00:23:53] Well, I’ll tell you aisle. Speak to my education Rangers. They’ll tell you nothing is better than place-based education, where you can interact and connect with a student. And the park. And talk and interact and talk about and feeds on a specific thing. They can reach out, touch, feel, smell. And so that will probably be our priority. And then we will, then backstep into additional distance learning programming as we can accommodate it with our staffing was the staffing we have.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:24:22] Nice. Excellent. Scott for our audience. If they’re interested in in connecting with you, following what you’re doing online, what would be the best way for them to connect with you?
Scott Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes: [00:24:33] We have a great platform on social media. We have a Facebook page. We have Twitter, we have Instagram. All of those things I can share with you that they can launch with this podcast. If I haven’t done so already. So we have a great social media presence, as well as the good old fashioned www.nps.gov/s L B E for our website.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:24:58] Nice. So for our audience, we will have all those links in the show notes down below. Scott. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today. Really do appreciate it.
Scott Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes: [00:25:07] Happy to be here. Thanks for thanks for the conversation cliff.