Sleeping Bear Dunes is hitting the road. In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the national lakeshore is rolling out a 'mobile visitor center.' The idea is to bring a little bit of northern Michigan to those who haven’t had a chance to experience it.
As she opens the door and climbs into a brand new Dodge Ram conversion van, park ranger Kelly Morrissey says she feels a little like Ms. Frizzle.
“Magic School Bus for those of you who are old enough to know that reference,” Morrissey says laughing.
The van is Sleeping Bear Dunes new mobile museum. Huge, colorful images of dune landscapes and Lake Michigan wrap the outside of the vehicle. When parked, the back doors of the van pop open and serve as walk-up exhibits on the lakeshore’s Anishinaabek history and many natural wonders. A TV monitor even plays different video segments through a side panel.
Whether it’s in the lakeshore or in totally separate places like Flint and Detroit — the van’s purpose is to interact with the public.
“Just like a roving library, this is where we can put our rangers into the community with all the tools they need to tell the story of why this place is so amazing,” says Lakeshore Superintendent Scott Tucker.
He says different national parks began talking about mobile visitor centers a few years ago.
“Several vehicles like this started popping up across the system,” Tucker says. “Most notably, places like Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation in L.A., which was able to bring Santa Monica into the inner cities.”
Now, rangers will be able to travel to different schools throughout the Great Lakes and use the entire vehicle as a teaching tool.
“Hopefully, the ideas of this van will be able to get a local or a regular visitor an idea of something new to do,” he says. “And it’ll be an opportunity for someone who’s never been here before to be enticed and want to come and experience their public lands.”
Tucker says park rangers plan to use the new van as an outreach tool until the wheels fall off.