A Note from a Past Innkeeper

Yesterday we had a visit from the grandson of one of Sleeping Bear Inn’s former innkeepers. Roger and Dee shared with us a few documents and photos from Cora and Melphie Barber. Roger gifted us this precious postcard his grandmother Cora sent to Rapid City Michigan on June 15, 1910 while she was the Innkeeper and her husband worked with livestock in the barn that once stood behind the Inn. The barn no longer exists as it burned down and was eventually replaced with the Sleeping Bear Inn Garage. Sadly Cora wrote of the very sad news that their mail carrier from the Island had drown. Read more (new window)

Check out the postmark! Glen Haven was a thriving Village in 1910 with its own post office and look at this glimpse of the very familiar DH Day Barn and homestead that was the photo on the front side of the post card. Look closely, there are 2 men in the photo. I wonder who they are? Maybe DH Day and his employee Phillips who married DH and Eva’s daughter and lived at the pictured home and farm as Eva and DH preferred to live in Glen Haven.

First Wedding at Sleeping Bear Inn?

First Wedding at Sleeping Bear InnPlease meet Christina and Aaron who are getting married on the front porch of Sleeping Bear Inn this October and we believe this could very well be the first wedding to take place INSIDE the Inn ever! We know there have been weddings outside the Inn and vows have been renewed, however this could be a first. If someone knows differently, please let us know.

Although the entire Inn renovation will not be complete by October, the front porch will be and we are grateful it will be the venue for the wedding ceremony of this terrific couple. Sleeping Bear Inn certainly is not a typical wedding venue and probably will only be a fit for creative couples wanting something small and less traditional.

Aaron and Christina are Northern Michigan natives and after both spent time living out west, they met after returning to the Traverse City area around the same time, Aaron from Montana and Christina from Colorado. Both have a mutual love for wilderness and water. Whether camping, hiking, sailing, snorkeling, or skiing, spending quality time together in this beautiful area is one of their favorite pastimes. They feel fortunate to live in their little log cabin near the lakeshore with their sweet puppy, Bonnie. The couple feels incredibly honored to be a small part of the history at the Sleeping Bear Inn, a building Christina has admired for many years and we are very happy to be able to be part of their special day.


Planting Trees in Glen Haven

Dave, Peg & Maggie planting trees

It may not have been the most optimal time of year to plant new trees and the trees we found were not quite as tall as we had hoped however we could not be more thrilled with the opportunity to start replacing trees in Glen Haven. The Park settled on Black Cherry as the replacement for the Black Locust trees planted in the 1920’s and later largely wiped out of Glen Haven in the devastating storm of 2015. I am pictured here with faithful volunteers Peg and Dave as we plant in locations the NPS archeologists first examined in April for potential Village artifacts.

Given the all-clear, and with generous donors answering a call for tree sponsors, we were all set to purchase trees. George finally found a source with trees, not quite as large as we had hoped, however still hearty and we set out to plant as soon as they arrived. Mother Nature cooperated by turning the clock back to spring and the trees have hardly skipped a beat! Since we purchased smaller trees than we anticipated, we will use the leftover tree donations to purchase additional trees to plant along Glen Haven Road in the Village.

Group Reservations for 2024 at Sleeping Bear Inn

mLive’s Emily Bingham stopped by to talk with Maggie about taking group reservations for 2024:

A little more than a year after restoration work began at Sleeping Bear Inn, the long-shuttered historic lodge within Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is now taking group reservations for 2024.

The 150-year-old inn, which sits along Lake Michigan in the park’s Glen Haven Historic District, is currently booking “whole inn” rentals next year for events such as weddings, family reunions and company retreats. Individual reservations for the eight-room inn will be coming very soon for next year as well, according to Maggie Kato, president of the non-profit Balancing Environment And Rehabilitation, or BEAR, which is overseeing the work.

“The number one question I get asked wherever I go is, ‘When are you opening?’” Kato says. “We feel good about 2024. We’re working very hard to make sure the inn has its historic integrity, and that takes time.”

Click through to mLive for more and click here if you’re interested in booking a whole Inn rental.

Memorial Day Greetings

Happy Memorial DayJeff from Northwoods Hardware in Glen Arbor dropped off 30 low-grow sumac plants and 3 rose plants a few days ago and thanks to several volunteers, we were able to plant them all by the Memorial Holiday weekend. Phyllis and I started removing the grass and the next day, Steve, Peg, Dave and John continued the work. On the third day, Peg returned and we were joined by Sharon and David. We have added 4 yards of mulch to the 5 new beds we created to surround the eastern and northern sides of the Inn and lined the beds with rocks that we found around the Inn.

Thank you to the volunteers that helped; so many visitors to Glen Haven this weekend have commented on how terrific it looks!

As our subcontractors have wrapped up their respective parts of the project, George has been busy replacing the windows and siding getting the Inn ready for insulation. We will also be getting ready to paint the interiors of the two second story Garage apartments.

These Guys Make Us Look Good

These Guys Make Us Look GoodI first met Tony, (smiling on the left) years ago when I worked for Genesee County Habitat for Humanity. Tony finished the walls for dozens of Habitat homes and he re-surfaced from semi-retirement to help us work on the Sleeping Bear Inn. How exciting these past two weeks have been as we have seen subcontractors move forward our project including these walls on the second story of the Garage.

If you drove or biked by the Inn last week, you probably saw the massive septic system being installed by AJ’s Excavating from Honor. Or maybe you saw the rocks that outline the front lawn being put in place. If you missed seeing those, hopefully you will get a glimpse of volunteers working on the new boardwalk outside the Inn over the next few weeks. We are grateful to work alongside professional contractors who have adjusted their schedules to fit in our project and to dedicated volunteers that keep us moving forward.

Electricians, Plumbers, Excavators, Oh My!

Electrical work at Sleeping Bear InnHappy Spring from Glen Haven! The season has brought back all of our subcontractors to the Inn and the progress is exciting. The porch floor is refinished and fabulous (check out the photo on Facebook, the link is at the bottom of the page). The 3 chimneys have been relined and wood burning inserts have been installed in the fireplaces. Yesterday and today, the electricians have run several hundred feet of wire throughout the Inn.

Tomorrow our excavator will start the work on our septic system and next week the plumbers and fire suppression professionals will be back to finish their rough installations in the Inn. George finished installing all the new windows in the Garage and the drywaller will start hanging and finishing next week as well.

So Close to Complete!

So Close to Complete!The 1928 enclosed porch renovation is very close to completion and today as you are receiving this, the floor is undergoing refinishing. Everything on the porch has been restored down to the original brass window hardware that were covered with layers of paint and now shine again. 340 panes of glass were removed from caked on glazing and caulk and 44 window frames were sanded and repaired. Brand new storm windows were built to cozy up the area during inclement weather and to keep the rain and snow out. The ceiling is shiny fresh and the walls have been repainted.

Monday the fireplaces will be lined and wood burning inserts installed. There is still a bit of work to be done on the exterior window sills and the original exterior porch doors, however she is close enough to perfect for me!

Thank you to everyone who sanded, painted, patched and pitched in to make this fabulous!

I’ll Be Back

Old SignThank you to a generous donor who was too late to fund a replacement tree, but stepped up to fund the replication of this historic sign. Legendary Leelanau County sign painter Dennis Gerathy has been commissioned to build and paint a copy of this historic sign that hung outside of the Inn for decades. The Park had placed the original sign in their collection making it unavailable to us for reuse however thanks to our donor and Dennis, it will live on. We also had another donor who wished to fund a tree also pivot and is funding the sign holder. Please look for this sign out front of the Inn later this summer.

Progress has been moving quickly at the Inn and Garage since the temperature has inched slowly upward. Our plumber/mechanical contractor has completed much of his rough installation at the Inn and our electrician has begun the process for his work as well. The fire suppression contractor will be back at the end of the month to complete his installation and our excavator has told us we will be first on his list this spring to square away our septic system.

We are working with Glen Arbor Northwoods Hardware Garden Center to obtain our trees and shrubs that will be planted around the Inn this spring. They are terrific to work with and we could not be more grateful for Chris Skellenger’s guidance. We are also planting beachgrass on much of the north facing yard which we are purchasing from the Leelanau Conservation District’s spring sale. Many thanks to all who have donated to our landscape plan! There are many other opportunities for sponsorship! If you are interested please email me at info@sleepingbearinn.org.

Mercyhurst University profile of Maggie Kato

Mercyhurst Sleeping Bear Inn FeatureMercyhurst University Magazine has a great feature on Maggie and the Inn:

Maggie Kato ’82 isn’t afraid to wake a sleeping bear. In fact, she’s taken on the ambitious task of rehabilitating and soon operating the Sleeping Bear Inn, the oldest inn within the National Park Service.

If you knew Kato in her Mercyhurst days, you knew her as Margaret Wirtz. She only recently started going by Maggie, around the same time she retired from a meaningful career with Genesee County Habitat for Humanity. Now Kato and her husband, Jeff, are stewards of a historic property that will open as a bed-and-breakfast this year. Located in Glen Haven, Michigan, Sleeping Bear Inn is part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a national park on the northwest portion of Michigan’s lower peninsula.

“The Lake Michigan water is often a Caribbean blue hue that contrasts with the brilliant blue sky and the tawny sand perfectly,” Kato says of the spot, which she describes as “paradise.”

The inn was built in 1866 as a frontier hotel and operated until the 1970s. The Katos noticed the historic but empty building while on vacation, and their curiosity was piqued. They formed the nonprofit Balancing Environment and Rehabilitation (BEAR) in 2018 and submitted a proposal to rehabilitate and run the inn. In March 2022, it became official when BEAR secured a 40-year lease.

Kato would not have imagined herself restoring the oldest inn in the National Park Service—“never in my wildest dreams!”—however, her path to this point might make perfect sense. At Mercyhurst, she majored in Human Ecology, a field that studies the relationship between humans and their natural and built environments. Looking back, her college concentrations in Interior Design and Foods and Nutrition also foreshadowed her current role, as Kato seeks to maintain the historic charm and authenticity of the building even as it is modernized, and she looks forward to cooking for guests in the inn’s large, homey kitchen.

She credits her career as executive director of Genesee County Habitat for Humanity with preparing her for this project. During her 15 years in the position, Kato saw the organization grow from building one or two homes a year to building and rehabilitating as many as 50 homes a year.

“I’m very proud of what we were able to accomplish,” Kato said. “I believe our response to the Flint water crisis was especially impactful, and during my time with Habitat for Humanity, we were able to provide decent, affordable housing solutions, and that is wonderful work to be a part of.”