October 21st is a big day for Sleeping Bear Dunes. It was on this day 50 years ago the dunes became a National Lakeshore.

Of course the dunes have been around forever, but it was on October 21,1970 that the United States Congress established the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (SBDNL), making it part of the  expanding National Park System.

The National Parks site states, the name of the dunes is derived from one dune in particular known as the Mother Bear. The large dune that rises over Lake Michigan at one times resembled a sleeping bear. That dune became the center point of two legendary stories telling how she came to her resting place.

According to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore site, these  two stories are an Anishinaabe (Odawa/Ottawa, Ojibway/Chippewa and Potawatomi) oral tradition of a sacred place within their homelands in the Great Lakes.

"Once, long ago, in the land called Wisconsin across the great lake, there was terrible hunger and many people died. A bear and two little cubs were trying to leave that place and come around the lake where there would be more food.

They walked for many days on the beach together, but after a while the two little cubs began to whimper with hunger, and so the bear decided to swim across the rest of the lake.

They waded into the water, one cub on each side of the bear, and they swam off into the lake a long way. After a while the cubs began to get very tired, and so the bear said, “Try hard, the land is not very far.” And very soon they did come in sight of land.

But gradually the cubs got weaker, and only ten miles away, one cub sand into the water. Soon after, the other also drowned.

The bear’s heart was broken, but she could do nothing. She waded ashore and lay down, looking out on the water where her cubs had died. Eventually, both of them came to the surface as two little islands, and so the bear still lies there atop the dunes, looking after here children."

The second legend is said to be,

"Long ago, along the Wisconsin shoreline, a mother bear and her two cubs were driven into Lake Michigan by a raging forest fire. The bears swam for many hours, but soon the cubs tired. Mother bear reached the shore first and climbed to the top of a high bluff to watch and wait for her cubs. The cubs drowned within sight of the shore. The Great Spirit created two islands to mark the spot where the cubs disappeared and then created a solitary dune to represent the eternal vigil of mother bear."

Whichever tale you choose to take to heart, the dunes are something every Michigander enjoys and loves. Although the park won't be able to truly celebrate their 50th the way they intended, they will be celebrating.

The park will be focusing on virtual celebration offers opportunities for people to participate in activities whenever and wherever they can. You can visit the page for a list of activities here.


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