MUNISING - Whether it's the influence of successful advertising campaigns, a greatly improved highway, the sluggish economy, beautiful summer weather or even musician Kid Rock, officials at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore said visitation to the park boomed this summer.
National Park Service statistics for Pictured Rocks showed August visitation up 43.47 percent over last year. Those figures followed a 31.79 percent increase in June and 14.81 percent increase in July.
"Year to date, our visitation has increased more than 10 percent over last year," said Pictured Rocks Ranger Bill Smith.
A view looking west along Lake Superior toward the Au Sable Light Station at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Visitation at the park is up 10 percent for the year. (Journal photo by John Pepin)
At the National Park Service-U.S. Forest Service Interagency Visitor Center in Munising, which services Pictured Rocks and the Hiawatha National Forest, it was so packed with visitors at times staff found it hard to answer the phone.
"Our backcountry (camping) was really busy this summer," said Pam Baker, a Pictured Rocks ranger who works at the visitor center. "We were writing 20 permits a day in August. When Labor Day weekend came, it didn't faze us because we had already been so busy."
At the end of August, there had been an annual total of 27,772 overnight camping stays logged at Pictured Rocks, including 13,414 in the backcountry, with 4,263 of those in August alone.
Overall, there have been 239,970 park visitors to the Grand Marais district at Pictured Rocks and 447,265 to the Munising district so far this year. Pictured Rocks Cruises, which begins its summer operations in May, has logged 65,272 passengers this year, including 26,866 in August.
John Madigan, manager of the tours, said the company is attributing a lot of recent interest to musician Kid Rock filming his popular "Born Free" music video at Pictured Rocks in October 2010. The video was released a few weeks later.
Filming took place in an afternoon and the video shows beautiful footage of Lake Superior, the North Country Trail and the Miners Beach and Miners River areas at Pictured Rocks.
Pictured Rocks Tours erected 35 billboards across the state showing cruise boats near Miners Castle, with an insert photo from the video showing Kid Rock. Madigan said the public interest has been tremendous, with at least a couple of calls a day.
Madigan said people want to know if Kid Rock is performing on the tour boats or what time he's playing. They comment they didn't know the video had been shot at Pictured Rocks until they saw the billboards.
"Its generated a lot of business for us," Madigan said.
Rock does not perform on the tour boats, but Madigan said he designed the billboards and allowed the use of his image. In exchange, the cruise boat company provided some tickets for Rock to give away at charity events.
Madigan said interest in the billboards has been so great, someone removed the image of Kid Rock from one of the signs posted along M-28 near Hulbert in Chippewa County.
"They must have taken a razor blade and cut it off," Madigan said. "When have you ever heard in your life of somebody cutting out part of a billboard?"
Baker said she'd had several inquiries about the musician at the visitor center.
"I had a lady come in with a Kid Rock T-shirt, hoping to run into him," Baker said. "She was kidding."
Smith contributed additional possibilities for the rise in park visitors including the completion last fall of Alger County Highway 58 between Munising and Grand Marais. The paved road has been a decades long vision for park and road commission officials.
This summer was the first time in several years there had been no construction closures affecting portions of the road or park campgrounds.
The state's Pure Michigan ad campaign, which showed Pictured Rocks to a national audience, has been cited by some visitors for their attendance. Smith said the continued sluggish economy has also kept many park visitors closer to home.
"I think it's a combination of those things," Smith said.
The summer brought lengthy stretches of sunny skies and warm temperatures, which helped more than poor weather would have hurt.
Baker said there have been a lot of bicyclists using the newly completed blacktop on H-58 and the upcoming fall color season is expected to draw many more visitors to the park over the next month or so.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.