Mile after magnificent mile of sugar-sand beach skirt the shoreline of Lake Michigan, just waiting to be explored. The Saugatuck Dune Rides has been offering a one-of-a-kind experience for generations and this year, the Starring family celebrates their 30th anniversary with one of West Michigan’s premier summer attractions.
“Our goal is to provide guests with 35-40 minutes of entertainment, fun and excitement,” says Linus Starring. “We provide a unique tour to learn about local vegetation and wildlife, the natural surroundings of Lake Michigan and the lost “ghost town” of Singapore.”
Dune rides in the Saugatuck area date back to 1954, when Ron Jousma (then 21 and home from the Army) decided that Saugatuck needed a dune ride offering similar to what was taking place up the coastline in the Silver Lake Sand Dunes area. He bought the present dune property, west of Goshorn Lake, from a Chicago man and turned his 1942 Ford convertible into a dune buggy – with added seats in the rumble seat.
Later, he added Ford coupes (1946 and 1947) to which he cut off the tops and outfitted the cars with super-wide tires. Then, he took to forming trails through the dunes.
In 1961, Jousma and a friend picked up two half-ton Ford truck chassis and drove them back from Kansas City, sitting on wooden boxes. These were outfitted with steel beds and seats, adding to the fleet of buggies. Later on, Dodge power wagons were added, equipped with aircraft tires to handle the unforgiving sand.
Ten years later, in 1971, Jousma opened a dune ride in the Great Sand Dunes National Monument in Colorado, operating both facilities until selling them to an Indiana family in 1978.
Linus and Janice Starring purchased Saugatuck Dune Rides in 1981. It was a new adventure, as the couple had never even ridden on the schooners until they inspected them prior to purchasing the business. The past 30 years, the family has made their contribution to the Pure Michigan summer experience in the Saugatuck area.
The company now boasts a fleet of eight dune schooners and employs 10 full time and six part time employees during its six-month season (April 30-October 23, 2011). On average, 30,000 people take the dune rides each summer – with visitors coming from all over the country and the world.
In addition to all the fun and games on the dunes, there is the constant maintenance – on both the fleet and the dunes. Shifting sands require daily grading of the trails to make them safe for passengers. Driving in sand means the schooners need oil changes and engine maintenance every 100 miles.
During the off-season, Linus – who holds a degree in heavy equipment – is a railroad engineer for two small freight lines in Michigan. That’s in addition to the fabrication and updating of equipment for the next season. Meanwhile, Janice manages the all the office duties, handling all booking and scheduling for the popular attraction.
Saugatuck Dune Rides is located at 6495 Blue Star Highway in Saugatuck. Find them online at www.SaugatuckDuneRide.com (and on Facebook: Saugatuck Dune Rides). For reservations, call 269-857-2253 (firstname.lastname@example.org).