EMPIRE — Getting out into nature can be a challenge, but for Julie Den Uyl, it’s just a walk in the park.

The outdoorsman and licensed tour guide seeks to make exploring Northern Michigan’s wilderness at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as easy as possible.

Sleeping Bear Tour Co. in Den Uyl offers several hiking options ranging from a three-hour nature hike to shoreline and dune expeditions.

As a former ranger at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in 2020, Den Uyl gained a wealth of knowledge about the park – but his experience as a nature guide goes back even further, and further, to his time there. in the US Virgin Islands.

“I started a hiking guide service in the US Virgin Islands…then two hurricanes blew through – Irma and Maria – and actually took me to Alaska,” she said. “From there I was a ranger for the US Forest Service in Alaska and then ended up here in 2020 for a ranger in Sleeping Bear.”

Den Uyl says his goal is to “introduce people to nature” and inspire them to “start protecting it,” but his work at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has inspired him to do more.

“It was more of a desk job than I expected, so I wanted to get people out and (starting Sleeping Bear Tour Co.) was a way to do that,” she said.

For Den Uyl, enjoying the outdoors means getting to know it firsthand, and with Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, that means getting to know its geology.

“I like extremes,” Den Uyl said. “Apparently because I’ve lived in the Virgin Islands and I’ve lived in Alaska. I love those extreme lands. Sleeping Bear, being in the middle of that, encompasses a lot of extreme weather, which for me is interesting Glacial formations are very fascinating, so to understand the process of formation of these beautiful sand dunes, you really have to go inside and be a part of them.

With an abundance of natural resources, Den Uyl believes even long-time residents can see and experience new things in the 71,000+ acre park.

“I think people are very surprised at how much fun and learning they have because … people who come from Michigan think they know a lot about Michigan and I tend to talk about things that they’ve never really considered before,” she said. “It’s more than white pine and Petoskey stone. We talked a lot about a lot more.

Den Uyl recently launched a new tour focusing on the rare Great Lakes Piping Plover, a small shorebird that inhabits the park. The tour allows people to “see the antics” of the plover, help with its protection and visit shoreline nesting areas, according to its website, sleepingbeartourco.com.

“Piping plovers are an endangered species (and) we are, I believe (one of) the only ones in the state of Michigan to offer a dedicated Great Lakes piping plover tour,” she said. declared.

Den Uyl said about half of the plover population nests along the 35 miles of coastline in Sleeping Bear Dunes. Another hike through the park’s wilderness area focuses not only on the park’s wide array of native birds and wildflowers, but also on their cultural significance.

“We focus on connecting with the Anishinaabe people, the original keepers of the lands here in Sleeping Bear and bringing a lot of their survival skills and what things were used for,” Den Uyl said. “There are many plants on our nature hike that are not found anywhere else in Michigan, and they are used for medicinal purposes by the tribes and I know they always come to pick them.”

With the exception of a national parks pass, Den Uyl says minimal preparations are needed for the visit. She recommends people to “arrive happy” and with “an adventurous attitude”.

In fact, she says tourists don’t need to be “in perfect condition” to enjoy their hike.

“We’re very slow – we go at your pace,” she said, adding that the Piping Plover tour had access to a beach wheelchair. “I’m happy to grab that and get somebody out there,” she said. “I’ll do my best to get you out, wherever we go, we’ll make it work.”

More information on how to start an adventure at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore can be found at sleepingbeartourco.com.