Pictured Rocks
An Administrative History
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In 1986, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore very quietly recognized its twentieth birthday. No ceremonies or celebrations were staged. Superintendent Petersen was careful to avoid the excessive optimism of 1966. An anniversary logo featuring the Au Sable lighthouse was utilized in all park publications and news releases that year. Not surprisingly, press accounts of the milepost were quick to point-out that very little happened until 1977. But they also reflected a new tone of recognition for what had been done since the adoption of a General Management Plan in 1981. The key to the recent success, Grant Petersen observed, was cooperation between local, state, and federal authorities. "We've come to realize that in this day and age, you're going to have to get a strong cooperative effort to accomplish anything." [312]

Pictured Rocks became America's first national lakeshore because of a strong cooperative relationship between the National Park Service, the local community, environmentalists, and Michigan's legislative representatives. This alliance was fractured after 1966 because of profound misunderstandings concerning the nature of the park which was created. The National Park Service approached Pictured Rocks as if it were adjacent to the teeming cities of the eastern seaboard, not a natural area in the midst of the north woods. The agency's initial conception of the lakeshore was misguided and impractical. The Alger County community, in the depths of a half-century of economic depression, viewed the lakeshore more as an economic development project than as an exercise in environmental protection. Preservation of the lakeshore's natural features had been part of every Park Service proposal for the area. While the local community was justified in their frustration over the slow and uncertain pace of park development, the Pictured Rocks had become part of a national system, the management of which was determined by the best interests of the nation. It was the national interest which dictated the eventual expenditure of millions of tax dollars on land acquisition, development, and payroll. That the national interest changes is part of democratic society. The cost of the Vietnam War, the rise of environmentalism, and concern about federal expenditures are all national forces which have shaped the way the National Park Service implemented Public Law 89-668. The divergence between the needs of the local community and the needs of the nation is an inevitable part of the relationship between any federal facility and its host community. But recognition that the National Park Service has different interests than Alger County should not preclude the development of shared goals. The progress made at Pictured Rocks since 1981 is the result of a recognition of the need to restore, in a guarded and more realistic manner, the partnership forged in 1966.

"We can see things are beginning to roll, " Grant Petersen observed in 1986. "Hopefully we can keep the ball rolling." The lakeshore seems to have maintained the positive momentum of the 1980s. As Pictured Rocks approaches its thirtieth anniversary, it has begun to take on the look of a mature park with an established mission and a well established clientele. The prospect of road construction, which has simmered on the back burner for the past five Years, must be met squarely. The challenge of determining the lakeshore's "carrying capacity," and managing backcountry and automobile tourist traffic will likely emerge as major issues. Perhaps most intimidating of all there is the prospect of maintaining the excellence of resource management and interpretation at the lakeshore in a political climate hostile to federal administration. [313]

Future keepers of the Pictured Rocks can draw solace from the up and down cycles which have marked the history of the first National Lakeshore. The weathered face of the cliffs, the unstable sands of Grand Sable Banks, and the history of the lakeshore all reveal change. Yet it is the social context in which the National Park Service has carried out its charge that is perhaps the most unstable feature in the lakeshore. If environmental science teaches that the diversity of life is tied together in a stable, self-equilibrating natural order, history teaches the volablity and unpredictability of human affairs. To manage a national park is to embrace this dialectic and to try and draw from the conflict an answer which respects and preserves the Pictured Rocks. [314]

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Last Updated: 05-Apr-2002