Pictured Rocks
An Administrative History
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One hundred years ago the north woods region of the American heartland was largely in private hands. It was the center of a rich and prosperous lumber industry, an important component in the national economy. Immigrants from foreign lands were drawn to the developing region by its abundant jobs and readily available land. One of the most remarkable, if little appreciated transitions in the history of American public lands, was the repossession of this region by government land managers during the century which followed. The administrative history of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore can only be understood in the context of a trend which saw the evolution of county, state and federal parks, forest, and game reserves in the Great Lakes region and the transition of the area from a forest products economy to a tourist destination. [1]

The National Park Service was the last of the public agencies to turn its attention to the north woods and its problems of resource management and economic development. Isle Royale, the first national park in the north woods region, was established in 1941. Local efforts to establish parks at Indiana Dunes and Apostle Islands were frustrated by a federal establishment that failed to see the recreational potential of the inland seas. It was only with the Great Lakes Shoreline Survey in 1958 and the federal government's expansive approach to regional redevelopment in the early 1960s that the National Park Service became a force in the protection of Great Lakes landscapes.

The national lakeshores of the Great Lakes have all had a challenging management history. In 1987 a Sierra Club spokesman referred to these units as the "orphans of the National Park Service." Pictured Rocks has shared with the other lakeshores the problem of being born in an era of inflated expectations and coming of age during an era of constrained federal budgets. Although Pictured Rocks, due to geography and politics, faced those problems in spades. [2]

Every national park is an artifact illustrative of the aspirations of the era in which it was created. Pictured Rocks, with a controversial "scenic shoreline drive" mandated in its organic legislation, is an example of the development-intensive, active-recreation oriented parks created in the era when "Mission-66" dominated Park Service planning and federal action was seen as the key to local economic development. The gap between the bold visions offered by the National Park Service to the economically hard pressed communities of northern Michigan and the reality of the lakeshore's modest development played a significant role in the history of Pictured Rocks. But no park is imprisoned in its original vision. Within the bounds of the legislative mandate, a park grows and changes with the needs of the American people. The administrative history of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is the story of the tension between the conception of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore as an recreation area and a economic development initiative, and the conception of the National Park Service as an environmental guardian. This tension was present in Public Law 89-668 and it became even more pronounced in the years since 1966.

The goal of this administrative history is to explore the unique management history of Pictured Rocks within the context of the evolution of National Park Service policy since 1966 and the history of the Upper Great Lakes region. The primary audience is the present and future administrators of the lakeshore and the National Park Service. "All good history, administrative and otherwise," Barry Mackintosh has noted, "describes and evaluates people, events, ideas, and actions in the context of their own times rather from a later perspective when definitions and other rules of the game may have changed." This volume will be a useful aid to park managers if it captures the context out of which emerged policy success or failure. From an understanding of context can come the most valuable insights of history, an understanding of why events happened the way they did. [3]

"The permanent Institutional Memory," said John Cook, Regional Director of the National Park Service's Rocky Mountain Region, "is the well-written administrative history." Yet the institutional memory of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore will function only if this volume is read by park managers--a group already over-taxed with conflicting mandates on their time. In preparing this volume the author has tried to balance the benefit of having within these pages a complete discussion of all major management issues faced by the lakeshore between 1966 and 1990, and the need to produce a volume brief enough to have some hope of being read in full. One Park Service veteran guaranteed that a good administrative history would provide "a few smiles and a collection of chuckles." This effort may fall short of that promise, but it will reward the reader with an understanding of how a remarkable part of northern Michigan was set aside and managed. It is a story of success and frustration, a narrow focused account of the limits and accomplishments of federal environmental policy. [4]

regional base map
(click on map for an enlargement in a new window)

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Last Updated: 05-Apr-2002