OCEANA COUNTY, Mich. — April 1 is the annual start of the dune riding season at Silver Lake State Park in Oceana County.
In 2020 COVID-19 delayed the opening to June 13. Even with 10 weeks cut from the typical season the 450-acre park attracted about 1.6 million visitors.
In Oceana County the tourism economy is only behind agriculture when it comes to importance. And the dunes are the biggest attraction that draws visitors to the rural county.
"It's the economic driver for all the tourism in Oceana County," said Executive Director Silver Lake-Hart Visitors Bureau Scott Beal.
Beal said the opening of the Silver Lake ORV area Thursday morning is a good sign that some small events canceled in 2020 will return in 2021.
The larger gatherings for fireworks and festivals are the ones at this time with many unknowns.
"Things are a little bit back to normal," said Beal. "The very large events are still very much up in the air."
Between 100 and 200 visitors took part in opening day at the dunes.
"It's a good start to the season," said Silver Lake State Park Supervisor Josh Smith. "We're hoping for a wonderful season."
The first vehicle in line when the gate to the off-road area swung open belonged to a mother and daughter who drove to Oceana County Wednesday night from the Lansing.
"It's kind of a tradition," said Bill Arszulowicz from Sparta. "Just one of those things to say you got out here and did it."
Vehicles that enter the park need to have a recreation passport. Vehicles that go onto the dunes also need a trail permit and dune flag.
The off-road portion of Silver Lake State Park is open each year from April 1 through Oct. 31.