MUNISING, Mich., (WJMN) – Kathy Reynolds, CEO of the Alger County Chamber of Commerce and Executive Director of Munising DDA, says in May and June things were slow with many businesses closed, but since then the area has been busy.
“We had an extremely busy July and August out at the park, the businesses did very well in July and August, numbers were up, traffic was up, you know camping all those types of things,” said Reynolds. “So there were a lot of people in town and so far I would say for this fall it looks kind of like last year, but overall I think numbers are easily going to be up this year.”
Reynolds says the increase was seen across the country in similar communities.
“From the friends and the colleagues I’ve talked to across the country and across the region in Wisconsin and whether it’s out west or whatever at other gateway communities and national parks, small tourism towns.” said Reynolds. “The same exact thing is happening there, a lot of people wanting to get out of the city get into the outdoors.”
Although numbers were up in July and August, Reynolds says there’s still a gap many business owners have to fill from being closed.
“There’s still that gap though, that May, June peice that some people weren’t making any money,” said Reynolds. “But I think they’re going to make up for that from the busy time.”
Reynolds says the reason they’ve had an increase in visitors is because of COVID-19.
“A lot of it is people are not traveling by plane, they’re not going overseas, they’re getting in their car and they’re driving somewhere,” said Reynolds. “We got a lot of people coming here that typically maybe would not have come before.”
Reynolds says because of this they’ve also seen a different demographic. She says more families and younger people have come to visit.
“Probably more people with kids going on the road that type of thing,” said Reynolds. “I think a lot of people when school was let out in the spring, March and April, they were able to start planning and thinking about going places.”
Susan Reece, Chief of Interpretation and Education at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, says the increase in visitors to Munising was seen in the National Park as well.
“We had lots and lots of people camping illegally out of bounds, camping anywhere they could, camping on our beaches, camping in our parking lots just walking off into the woods and camping so our true numbers, we’ll probably never know what our true numbers are,” said Reece. “Our campground numbers are about the same or a little higher than they were last year.”
She says they also noticed an increase in trash around the park this year as well. Reece says they guess it could be because of the increase in takeout food.
“Our guess is because a lot of restaurants were takeout only that people were bringing their food to the park and leaving the pizza boxes, the fast food boxes, you know whatever the to-go box is all over the place,” said Reece. “A lot of people it looked like didn’t want to touch trash cans, all our trash cans are bear proof so you do have to unlatch them to open them so the bears can’t get in, so we had a lot of trash left next to the trash can.”
Reece says they think it’s because people who may be new to camping or visiting national and state parks were coming for the first time and didn’t know how they have an impact on nature.
“It looked like we had a lot of people who were possibly new to recreating in the outdoors and really didn’t seem to understand their impact,” said Reece.
One of the impacts that they saw was bear issues. Reece says for the first time in many years they had issues with bears.
“For the first time in many many years we had bear issues with bears getting into people food, bears not being scared off by people,” said Reece. “We had one young bear that was hit by a car that had been panhandling and people had been feeding it from their vehicles, and the bear was hit and killed.”
Reece says their push this year was trying to get people to recreate responsibly which started with social distancing and sanitation but expanded to include “leave no trace.” Reece says for the past few years they set up a pop-up program at popular trailheads about leave no trace.
Both Reece and Reynolds encourage people to plan before you go.
“We love to share our area with people, we just hope that people when they come they make plans before they come so that they can have a nice experience when they’re here,” said Reynolds.