I’m back in Traverse City now after 5 years in Charlotte, NC, followed by 25 years in Marquette in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It’s good to be home. So much is the same, yet so much has changed. I have to say I like most of the changes. This area has matured well, and I think that’s because those in the know, the long time residents, treasure it so much. They get involved and work to keep it great.

The natural beauty of Northwestern Michigan was something of a secret when I left. Not now. The Sleeping Bear Dunes/Glen Lake area in Leelanau County, just a couple miles from my old home on Sleeping Bear Bay, has been called “The Most Beautiful Place in America” on Good Morning America. The sugar sand beaches here are world class. All the harbor towns, Frankfort, Leland, Traverse City, Elk Rapids, Charlevoix, Petoskey and Harbor Springs are booming because of the great quality of life in this area.

It’s the Northwestern shore of Michigan. I’ve canoed and camped along Lake Michigan shore from Manistee north, past Sleeping Bear Dunes and the Manitou Passage and continuing up and around Leelanau County. In those days, mostly the 1950’s and 60’s, you could stop and camp almost anywhere, and I miss that, but the homes that line the beaches now form an economic base that supports the profusion of great restaurants, artists, writers, museums, and cultural events.

Even the landscape has changed. There were plenty of cherry trees then but now cherry orchards are everywhere and have been joined by vineyards and wineries in profusion. Rows of poplars have been planted to slow the wind that can bruise the fruit, and they add a new dimension to the landscape. Northwestern Michigan soils are mostly sand or sand and gravel, excellent for fruits and berries of all kinds, and the thinner soils produce a thinner woods of oak, maple and aspen, excellent for hiking and wandering. The combination of clear blue freshwater lakes, great sand beaches, high dunes and rolling, interesting land covered in orchards and vineyards with long views everywhere makes such an appealing setting and such a great place to live.

I remember sitting at a table in the Lower Peninsula in 1982 with half a dozen of the downtown merchants at a Rotary luncheon after a particularly cold Fourth of July weekend. They were looking glum and saying things like: “This area is too remote, the winters are too long, airline service is lousy, the roads are no good, you can’t make a decent living…it’s never going to amount to anything.” Well, that was wrong! The larger towns have big city traffic and this one of the fastest growing areas in the country. It is constantly in the national press for its scenic beauty and appealing lifestyle.

AOL Travel News named Traverse City one of America’s Top 10 Beach Towns, TripAdvisor.com called it one of America’s Top 10 Charming Small Towns and Bon Appetit magazine called it one of the country’s Top Five Foodie Towns. Part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was named “one of the 21 top beaches on Earth.” It is all of those, and so much more. There are so many interesting things to do — events at Interlochen, or at the old 125-year old City Opera House, or films and film festivals  at the refurbished, volunteer run, State Theatre, to name just a few.

I won’t try to describe it all. You can search the Internet now and learn so much about the area. Good places to start are puremichigan.com and traversecity.com. Better yet just come and wander with no time schedule or agenda. Wherever you land in this area you’ll be enthralled, and glad you came.