Michigan’s ‘skyscraper’ coastal sand dunes

Arcadia Dunes as seen from Greenpoint Dune

Michigan is blessed with some of the most beautiful and tallest coastal sand dunes on the planet. Below is a list of the tallest dunes as measured about the level of the adjoining lake elevation, many of these freshwater dunes top out at skyscraper heights.

View from Empire Bluff Dune overlook to the north – more enormous dunes are visible in the distance.

Please note that this is not meant to be a complete list of all the dunes exceeding 100 feet in height in Michigan, but is intended to represent the tallest ones where the elevation is known through the sources listed at the end of the post. Those dunes which are unnamed are identified by approximate location. A 100 foot minimum was used for the list. As always, additions and corrections are welcome.

Atop Old Baldy in the Arcadia Dunes Preserve with Elberta Dunes in the distance


  • Marked trails do not necessarily extend to the peak of some of these towering  bluffs.
  • Several overlooks were also included in the list as are their corresponding elevation – usually somewhat below the summit.
  • When resources varied on the height of specific dunes, topography maps were used to determine the most correct elevation.
  • For sizable dunes without published data, online topography maps from topozone.com and other similar resources were used to determine the dune’s height.
  • Thankfully, a number of additional dunes have become accessible to the public since the publication of Mr. Dufrense’s book in 2005 (see sources) due to successful preservation campaigns by land conservancies across the state. These include Arcadia, Greenpoint, and Elberta South. Hopefully, such efforts will continue to be successful in the future, as we protect our precious sand dunes across Michigan.

Dusk at one of the smaller Sleeping Bear Dunes near Glen Haven – note the microscopic person standing atop the dune.

  1. Sleeping Bear Dunes (Empire Bluff Main Dune) in Leelanau County = 526 feet
  2. Sleeping Bear Dunes (Empire Bluff, second peak) in Leelanau County = 492 feet
  3. Sleeping Bear Dunes (Empire Bluff Dune, third peak) in Leelanau County = 479 feet
  4. Sleeping Bear Dunes (Momma Bear Dune) in Leelanau County = 473 feet
  5. Sleeping Bear Dunes (Old Baldy Dune) in Leelanau County = 469 feet
  6. Arcadia Dunes (highest dune) in Benzie County = 460 feet
  7. Sleeping Bear Dunes (Shauger Hill Dune) in Leelanau County = 460 feet
  8. Sleeping Bear Dunes (Pierce Stocking/Overlook 9) in Leelanau County = 450 feet
  9. Sleeping Bear Dunes (dune NE of N Bar Lake) in Leelanau County = 447 feet
  10. Sleeping Bear Dunes (dune NW of Aral Hills) in Leelannau County = 430 feet
  11. Sleeping Bear Dunes (South Manitou Island – five highest dunes) in Leelannau County measure at 424 feet 338 feet, 329 feet, 325 feet, and 319 feet respectively
  12. Sleeping Bear Dunes (dune SE of Momma Bear Dune) in Leelanau County = 417 feet
  13. Sleeping Bear Dunes (Empire Radar Station Dune) in Leelananu County = 407 feet
  14. Sleeping Bear Dunes (Empire Bluff Overlook) in Leelanau County = 400 feet
  15. Sleeping Bear Dunes (dune E of N. Bar Lake) in Leelanau County = 397 feet
  16. Sleeping Bear Dunes (dune east of Shauger Hill Dune) in Leelanau County = 388 feet
  17. Sleeping Bear Dunes (dune east of Momma Bear Dune) in Leelanau County = 384 feet
  18. Sleeping Bear Dunes (dune north of Shauger Hill Dune) in Leelanau County = 381 feet
  19. Sleeping Bear Dunes (dune S of Old Baldy Dune) in Leelanau County = 381 feet
  20. Lookout Point Dune in Manistee County = 379 feet
  21. Sleeping Bear Dunes (Pyramid Point Dune) in Leelanau County = 377 feet
  22. Arcadia Dunes (Old Baldy/North Bluff Dune) in Benzie County = 360 feet
  23. Sleeping Bear Dunes (Pyramid Point, second peak) in Leelanau County = 357 feet
  24. Sleeping Bear Dunes (dune north of Momma Bear) in Leelanau County = 355 feet
  25. Sleeping Bear Dunes (dune SE of Shauger) in Leelanau County = 352 feet
  26. Prospect Hill Dune in Leelanau County = 314 feet
  27. Sleeping Bear Dunes (Cottonwood Trail Dune Overlook) in Leelanau County = 311 feet
  28. Sleeping Bear Dunes (Pyramid Point, third peak) in Leelanau County = 311 feet
  29. Green Point Dune (highest dune) is Benzie County = 311 feet
  30. Dune apprx. one mile north of Onominese Cemetery in Leelanau County = 302 feet
  31. Whaleback Dune at Carp River Pount in Leelananu County = 301 feet
  32. Grand Sable Dunes in Alger County = 300 feet
  33. Sleeping Bear Dunes (Pyramid Point, fourth peak) in Leelanau County = 298 feet
  34. Green Point Dunes Overlook in Benzie County = 288 feet
  35. Sleeping Bear Dunes (Prospect Hill Dune) in Leelanau County = 263 feet
  36. Elberta Dune South in Benzie County = 265 feet
  37. Arcadia Overlook/Inspiration Point in Manistee County = 252 feet
  38. P.F. Hoffmaster State Park (highest dune) in Muskegon County = 249 feet
  39. Laketown Park Dune in Allegan County = 240 feet
  40. Warren Dunes State Park (Tower Hill Dune) in Berrien County = 236 feet
  41. Elberta Bluff Dunes (highest dune) in Benzie County = 228 feet
  42. Saugatuck Dunes (highest dune) in Allegan County = 233 feet
  43. High Island Dunes in Charlevoix County = 220 feet
  44. Phillips Cemetery Dune in Mason County = 217 feet
  45. Warren Dunes State Park (Mt. Edward Dune) in Berrien County = 217 feet
  46. Mount Baldhead Dune in Allegan County = 214 feet
  47. Petoskey State Park (Old Baldy Dune) in Emmet County = 212 feet
  48. Bass Lake Dunes in Oceana County = 207 feet
  49. Cathead Dune in Leelanau County = 207 feet
  50. Baldy Dune at Castle Park in Allegan County = 204 feet
  51. Sleeping Bear Dunes (Old Baldy Hill Dune/N. Manitou Island) in Leelanau County = 204 feet
  52. Warren Dunes State Park (Mt. Randall Dune) in Berrien County = 203 feet
  53. P.F. Hoffmaster State Park (unnamed dune) in Muskegon County = 200 feet
  54. Rosy Mound Dune in Ottawa County = 200 feet
  55. Thunder Mountain Dune in Van Buren County = 200 feet
  56. Muskegon State Park (highest dune) in Muskegon County = 200 feet
  57. Sleeping Bear Dunes (Sleeping Bear Point Dune) = 199 feet
  58. P.F. Hoffmaster State Park (Dune Climb) in Muskegon County = 190 feet
  59. Clay Cliffs Dune in Leelanau County = 179 feet
  60. Dune north of Leland in Leelanau County = 174 feet
  61. Warren Dunes State Park (Pikes Peak Dune) in Berrien County = 171 feet
  62. Baldtop in Grand Mere State Park in Berrien County = 170 feet
  63. Tank Hill Dune in Benzie County = 168 feet
  64. Mt. McSauba Dune in Charlevoix County = 163 feet
  65. Silver Lake State Park (highest dune) in = 163 feet
  66. Kirk Park Dune in Ottawa County = 160 feet
  67. Green Mountain Beach Dune in Allegan County = 158 feet
  68. Warren Dunes State Park (Great Warren Dune) in Berrien County= 158 feet
  69. Mt. Pisgah Dune in Ottawa County = 157 feet
  70. Warren Dunes State Park (Mt. Fuller Dune) in Berrien County = 152 feet
  71. Mt. Pisgah Dune on Beaver Island in Charlevoix County = 150 feet
  72. North Beach Park Dune in Ottawa County = 148 feet
  73. McCort Hill Dune in Emmet County = 145 feet
  74. Pelican Peak Dune in Allegan County = 142 feet
  75. Kitchel-Lindquist Dunes (highest dune) is Ottawa County = 140 feet
  76. Nordhouse Dunes (highest dune) in Mason County = 140 feet
  77. Porter Creek Dune (lookout) in Mason County = 140 feet
  78. Tunnel Park Dune in Ottawa County = 140 feet
  79. Big Knob Dune in Mackinac County = 130 feet
  80. Holland State Park (highest dune) in Ottawa County = 130 feet
  81. Kruse Park Dune in Muskegon County = 130 feet
  82. Kitchel Dune in Ottawa County = 130 feet
  83. Sleeping Bear Dunes (Dune Climb) in Leelanau County = 110 feet
  84. Sturgeon Bay Point Dune in Emmet County = 109 feet
  85. Frenchtown Dune in Oceana County = 109 feet
  86. Duck Lake Dune in Muskegon County = 102 feet
  87. Week Beach Dune in Berrien County = 100 feet

Portion of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore from space – Source: earthobservtory.nasa.gov


Posted in environment, geography, Geology, hiking, historic preservation, history, Maps, nature, place names, planning, Statistics, topography, tourism, trails, Travel, walking, weather, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Pebbles for Peace

Pebbles for Peace on Empire Beach in Empire, Michigan

Recently I have started the habit of creating a peace symbol out of pebbles and small stones on the beaches of Northwest Lower Michigan. In these troubled times of strife, violence, war, and injustice, these simple tokens of harmony and concord may not seem like a lot, but they bring moments of joy to me. If these Pebbles for Peace bring just one moment of thought or reflection then they have been worth the time and effort  it took for me make them.

Sometimes, it is the small things that have the greatest impact in our lives – a kind word, and warm smile, a hug, or simple work of art found in the sand.

Pebbles for Peace on Maple Bay Beach near Elk Rapids, Michigan

Please consider creating your own peace symbol on a beach near your home or when you travel. If stones or pebbles are not readily available, seashells would work perfectly. Even fashioning the symbol entirely out of sand would be an awesome statement.

Once you have created your peace symbol, please take a photograph and link it to the comments section of this blogpost. It will be fun to seen how far and wide we can spread the simple message of Pebbles for Peace.


Posted in Advocacy, art, civics, civility, environment, fun, geography, humanity, inclusiveness, peace, pictures | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

America’s oddest air terminal

First opened in 1935, Woolsey Memorial Airport is located near Northport, Michigan, close to the northernmost point of the Leelanau Peninsula.  As is evident from the following photos, this charming 200 acre airport facility is home to one of the most unusual terminal buildings you will find in the United States.

The terminal building appears to be constructed out of or at least adorned on the exterior with native Lake Michigan stones. Furthermore, includes an elevated control tower/observation deck and a black and yellow paint-striped roof to alert pilots of its location. The freestanding his and her privies are a particular delight.

While the two grass strip runways remain intact for general aviation, the quaint air terminal building is in need of some tender love and care to assure its long-term survival. Several windows are boarded up, which detracts from its overall appearance.  Nevertheless, the terminal is a handsome and well-preserved icon from the pioneering days of American aviation.

Due to its close proximity to both entrances to both units of Leelanau State Park, a park visitor’s center would seem to be the most logical and viable option. The building should definitely be added to Leelanau County’s growing list of sites on the National Register of Historic Places, as well.

Below are a few additional photos of this wonderful piece of aviation history and nostalgia. If you are even visiting Leelanau County, the airport is directly adjacent to M-201, north of Northport. Peace!

Posted in aerospace, air travel, airport planning, airports, architecture, aviation, commerce, economic development, fun, geography, placemaking, planning, revitalization, tourism, transportation, Travel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

From protective to active – repurposing historic city walls

Lucca, Italy – Source: www.turismo.intoscana.it/allthingstuscany/tuscanyarts/city-walls-of-lucca/

When we think of city walls, some of the first images that come to mind are imposing structures erected as a protective or defensive barrier. More often than not, city walls were constructed from stone, masonry, brick, and/or concrete. Unfortunately, the best known example is probably the Berlin Wall, which was employed as a way to keep the populace of East Berlin imprisoned more than as a defensive or a protective barrier.

Thankfully, the vast majority of old city walls were not used for imprisoning their residents. Many cities, particularly those dating prior to or during the Middle Ages built defensive walls around them for protection from invading armies or bandits. Hundreds of examples remain preserved today, most often in Europe and Asia. Thankfully, a number of them have been thoughtfully preserved, along with their related gates and towers. These impressive structures provide interesting insights into those dangerous times. Another common and more recent purpose for urban walls is to protect coastal cities from damage associated with storms, storm surges, or high tides. As sea levels continue to rise, more cities around the globe are (and will be) exploring the idea of building new seawalls or heightening their existing seawalls to fend off the salty seas.

In this post, I identify two cities that have decided to transform and repurpose their protective walls into something much more than just a defense perimeter. These cities; Lucca, Italy and Vancouver, Canada, have modified their walls into impressive linear parks which enhance active and healthy lifestyles of their residents.

In Lucca, Italy, the city’s historic wall (actually the fourth such rampart) dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Actual construction took 105 years (1545-1650). During the early 1800s, the Duchess of Lucca, Maria Luisa of Bourbon commissioned the Royal Architect, Lorenzo Nottolini, to add vegetation, trees, walkways, and related amenities along the top of its four (4) kilometer long rampart.

Lucca wall at night – Source: Simone Garland viawww.turismo.intoscana.it/allthingstuscany/tuscanyarts/city-walls-of-lucca/

Now, instead of just being an impressive fixture of the city’s past, Lucca’s historic wall is also a lovely linear park with amazing views of the city. Lucia basically established an urban greenbelt well before anyone knew what one was. So impressive is Lucca’s linear greenbelt, that Australian author Peter Moore raved about it in his charming vintage Vespa riding travelogue of Italy entitled, Vroom With a View.

Along Vancouver’s Seawall Trail in 2014

Meanwhile, in Vancouver, Canada, the city developed a bicycling and walking trail along the top of its historic 1917 seawall. Since then, the project has extended beyond Stanley Park. This inspired idea gave the city yet another brilliant jewel in its crown of visual gems. I can personally attest to the sanguine beauty of this bike ride and the immense popularity of it among locals and visitors alike. The vistas alone are worth the ride/walk around Stanley Park.

Obviously, not all cities, particularly those in the Western Hemisphere, have old city walls just sitting around unused. However, seawalls are much more common. Even those cities with levees, essentially an earthen seawall, could consider the potential active and passive recreational opportunities afforded by utilizing such a physical structure. Fort Wayne, Indiana has done just that with portions of its Rivergreenway trail network along the St. Mary’s, St. Joseph, and Maumee Rivers.

Combining a historic city wall with the many environmental, societal, recreational, and health benefits of a linear park should be a no-brainer for many cities. It is a unique and proven method for providing a serene and scenic linear park with limited disruption to the existing fabric of the community.


Posted in adaptive reuse, architecture, bicycling, Canada, cities, culture, economic development, entertainment, environment, Europe, fitness, geography, health, hiking, historic preservation, history, infrastructure, land use, placemaking, planning, recreation, revitalization, spatial design, topography, tourism, transportation, Travel, walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Strongest Town Contest – Championship Round

Please consider voting for my hometown of Traverse City, Michigan in the Championship Round of The 2017 Strongest Town Contest. We are up against Guelph, Ontario in the finals sponsored by strongtowns.org. The competition began three weeks ago with 16 cities/towns and we have now reached the final round.  Thank you!

The deadline to vote is Friday, March 24th at 6:00 PM, ET.  Here is a link to vote:



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Combating the bus transit snobs

Source: linkedin.com

In the years preceding our move from Greater Lansing to Traverse City, there were lengthy discussions on developing some form of enhanced transit along the primary corridor in the region – Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) Route 1 which extends from the State Capital in Lansing along Michigan Avenue to downtown East Lansing, past Michigan State University and to Meridian Mall in Okemos. By enhanced transit, I mean three options – light rail, modern trolley, and bus rapid transit.

Through many public forums, charrettes, and work sessions the process determined that bus rapid transit was the most probable and viable option at the time. Unfortunately, as planning progressed further, an element of the suburban population began to argue vehemently against bus rapid transit. The reasons cited were most often cost effectiveness, need, disruption of traffic patterns, safety and the like. But, under much of this commentary were subtle undercurrent of elitism and worse. These undercurrent became evident in comments which included phrases like “those people.”

What is most surprising is that well over a million riders a year use Route 1 already – many of whom are inner city residents and MSU students traveling outbound to shop, dine, work. So what difference does a few minutes shaved off their commutes make?
In the end, I think there are two factors at play – aside from the elitism and subtle bigotry against folks from the city and campus, I believe there is the same attitude towards “buses.” It seems that no matter how much you dress up a bus, there are still people who feel they are simply a vehicle for transporting the poor, elderly, and the underprivileged. As one who has ridden transit buses in a number of cities, this is grossly incorrect.

Unfortunately, it is a hard impression to break here in the states. And sadly, the underlying attitudes associated with transit snobbery are often used as a pretext for poor decision-making that ending up hurting more people than it helps.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who has observed this phenomenon as thew following articles show:

The following quote from the Atlantic’s CityLab article perfectly sums up the attitudes that must be overcome when trying to encourage the public to use buses, whether they are intra-city, inter-city, bus rapid transit, airport shuttle, or supersonic buses:

“I felt like I was too good for the bus,” Carr told the Los Angeles Times of the origins of her “snobbish” take. “I think there’s a social understanding and a construction around that if you take the bus, you take it because you don’t have money. There’s a social standard. Obviously I had bought into that.”

How does a transit system overcome such attitudes? That’s a tough one. All I know, is the many times I have used public buses, I have almost always felt they were clean, safe, maintained, and used by folks from all socioeconomic and demographic strata. And perhaps that is all that is necessary – get people on the bus so they can see their preconceived notions are out of date of flat-out wrong.

The best way I see doing this is offering free or steeply discounted service for special events. Here in Traverse City, our local transit system (BATA) offers such shuttle services for the National Cherry Festival. This is immensely easier that trying to negotiate the traffic by car. I am positive other cities do this too, but perhaps such a service needs to be provided more often at more events until the public catches on. I am not sure once-a-year is enough.

Other ideas include:

  • Get more young people, including those in middle school and high school to ride public transit – perhaps a free ride for each ‘A’ on their report card. It was young people who swayed their parents towards recycling – the same can be done with bus transit.
  • Require school bus ridership for elementary and middle school students along bus routes – not only will this better acquaint them with bus riding in general, but also will reduce parent valet traffic jams at schools.
  • More heavily promote Smart Commute and Clean Commute weeks.
  • Encourage city/town/township/county/state officials to ride the bus on a regular basis.
  • Offer music, poetry, and book readings on buses.
  • Start a bus riders book club.
  • Link route timing with theater schedules (both before and after shows/movies/plays).
  • Offer more express commutes in the morning and evening.
  • Be sure to have bike racks on every bus.
  • Incorporate a public transit center in the airport design that does not require going being subjected to rain or snow and time bus schedules with flight arrivals and departures at the airport. The airport transit center could be the focal point for bus transit, taxis, shuttles, and rail service if it is available.
  • Utilize energy-efficient and clean operating buses – no smelly diesel allowed.

Any other suggestions are most welcome. Peace!

    Posted in Active transportation, Advocacy, Bus transportation, civics, demographics, environment, geography, health, inclusiveness, infrastructure, land use, placemaking, planning, social equity, spatial design, transit, transportation, urban planning | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

    “The D” in our destiny is Detroit

    “The Spirit of Detroit” – Source: flickr.com

    In graduate school nearly 30 years ago, one of the courses I took at Virginia Tech was Urban Economic Geography. In this class, the primary textbook was entitled, Detroit: Race and Uneven Development. Even though I was born and raised in the Midwest, this book opened my eyes to the many struggles facing the Motor City, well before its bankruptcy. What I didn’t realize at the time was how much Detroit would come to mean to both me and my family in the future.

    In January of 1991, we traveled from our home in Hagerstown, Maryland, through a raging Lake Erie induced snowstorm, to see the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. At the time, my former brother-in-law and his family lived in Romeo, about 30 miles north of the city center. Attending this event was the first time I had ever been in downtown Detroit and we were duly impressed by the crowds and the show. Granted, other aspects of the city needed help, but the show was impressive.

    Just a little over a year later, we would be calling ourselves Michiganders too, and remain so today. For the next three years, my work as a planning consultant provided me/us with a myriad of opportunities to experience the City of Detroit and its suburbs. Some of these left very positive impressions, while others reminiscent of the criticisms articulated in book I had read in graduate school – racial disparities, social and economic injustice, crime, sprawl, bad planning decisions, etc., etc. Now and then, one would seem glimmers of hope, but far too often they were being overshadowed by inflated egos, bad attitudes, pure animosity, and bigotry.

    As the years went past we remained within The D’s economic and geographic zones of influence, as my three sons competed against teams from the Detroit Metro area. Two of them later attended/graduated from U of M, the third from MSU. We cheered for the Red Wings, the Tigers, the Pistons, and the Lions, and occasionally attended events in the city such as the auto show, concerts, sporting events, etc. Every time I was downtown or midtown, my urban planning and history geek eyes would be amazed by the astounding architecture that remained in the city. In addition, the rich tapestry of the city’s cultural fabric was always inspiring.

    Source: algertheater.org

    What really cemented Detroit’s destiny in our lives was when I remarried in 2014 to a lovely lady who was born and spent her entire childhood on the eastside of the city, off East Warren Drive near the historic Alger Theater (which is being renovated). She and her extended family have many stories to tell of growing up in The D – some were happy and joyous. Others, were sad and quite scary. But, each time I travel back to Detroit, I feel like it has become a second home, partially due to the experiences my family had in and about the region, but even more so now that I have experienced the city through my wife’s eyes. Is everything perfect…of course not. But at the same time, to say The D is dying or dead is a flat-out misstatement. Detroit contains more creative spunk than any other city in the Midwest, with the “possible” exception of Chicago and tons more than many cities across the country.

    Today, our bonds to The D have grown even tighter as two of my sons work in the heart of the city. As Detroit has become a magnet for technology jobs, both of them are among thousands employed there.  They are experiencing a completely different Detroit than either my wife did in her youth, or than I did in the 1990s and 2000s. What they are being privileged to observe and experience is the total rebirth of a very proud city that has withstood wave after wave of bad ideas, bad planning, bad leadership, bad oversight, bad media, bad business decisions, and bad attitudes that occurred both inside and outside its limits. And best of all, they are an active part of this rebirth.

    Eden Gardens Block Club – Source: edengardensblockclub.com

    Lesser cities would have surrendered to the negative forces imposed on Detroit and would have all but withered away. But Detroit is different. It has indomitable spirit that cannot be shaken. A spirit that manifests itself in its residents and their families and friends. I have sensed this spirit ever since I arrived in Michigan in 1992. And despite all the negatives, tried and true Detroiters dearly love this city and want to see it rebound to as close to or beyond its former glory. That says something folks.

    Scoff if you wish. Laugh if you must. But let me tell you this: Detroit will surprise all of the naysayers and make them believers too. Why, you may ask? Because as Americans, we love an underdog…and in this case, its name is Detroit.


    Posted in Advocacy, architecture, branding, cities, civics, culture, diversity, downtown, economic development, entrepreneurship, geography, government, historic preservation, history, humanity, inclusiveness, infrastructure, land use, pictures, placemaking, planning, revitalization, spatial design, urban planning | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments