Windmill Island Gardens is extending its 2021 season. Courtesy
Windmill Island Gardens is again celebrating record-setting attendance. After breaking a decades-old record in 2021, the popular Holland attraction has eclipsed last year’s mark.
The Dutch-themed park and gardens, which opened in 1965, experienced attendance peaks of 122,000 in 1972 and 1988. In 2021, pent-up demand from the pandemic led to a very busy summer, as the park welcomed over 131,000 guests.
This year kicked off with a bang as nearly 75,000 guests visited during the nine-day Tulip Time festival. With a steady stream of summer visitors, park manager Matt Helmus estimates a final visitor count will be around 140,000. He cites a marketing approach that is “coordinated with community partners such as our visitors bureau and focused on our summer and fall seasons” as key to drawing more visitors.
Over the last few years, staff at the park has focused on enhancing the visitor experience by refurbishing current exhibits and adding new garden areas and attractions. Examples include themed annual gardens, updated interpretive signs, a permanent grove of larger-than-life tulip sculptures carved from oak trees, a pollinator garden in conjunction with the local MSU Extension, and more.
Special weekend attractions
While daily operations end Oct. 2, the park will be open on weekends through Oct. 16. Part of the extended season includes an artisan market during Holland’s Fall Fest on Oct. 7-8. Admission during the extended weekends is $5 for adults, with kids admitted for free. During this time, grounds staff members are busy pulling displays of annual plants and beginning to plant tens of thousands of tulip bulbs in preparation for next spring.
The staff also is busy finalizing details for the first Magic at the Mill winter exhibit. The ticketed event will take place Friday and Saturday evenings from Dec. 2-17. The centerpiece is a “tulip field” of 1,000 LED blossoms displaying a synchronized light and music show.
“Imagine if Holland’s Tulip Festival and Grand Haven’s Musical Fountain had a baby,” Helmus says.
The windmill and park grounds will be lit up, and attractions such as the carousel, street organ, and shops will be open. There will also be an opportunity for kids to greet Sinterklaas (the Dutch predecessor of Santa Claus) along with snacks and beverages. Tickets must be pre-purchased, with information found at windmillisland.org.