SOS The First Sleeping Bear Bill
The first step in fashioning a national park out of the work of the Great Lakes Shoreline Survey was boldly taken by four members of the United States Senate in the summer of 1959. Richard L. Neuberger of Oregon, James E. Murray of Montana, Clinton P. Anderson of New Mexico, and Paul H. Douglas of Illinois, jointly sponsored S.2460, an omnibus shoreline preservation bill. They cobbled the best areas identified by the National Park Service from all of the shoreline surveys into a single bill. Behind the catchy title “Save Our Shorelines,” or simply “S.O.S.,” they grandiosely proposed a $50 million appropriation to create ten shoreline recreation areas. Their sites included Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Padre Island, Texas, the Oregon Dunes, Indiana Dunes, Point Reyes, California, Cumberland Island, Georgia, the Channel Islands, California, and the Huron Mountains, the Pictured Rocks, and the Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan. “Nearly all of the great National Parks of the United States are in mountain ranges,” Richard Neuberger told the New York Times. “In the process of setting aside these magnificent upland reserves, the nation has neglected another realm which is equally alluring to the tourist and the seeker of outdoor recreation. This realm consists of the seacoasts and shorelines of the United States which are among the most beautiful on earth.” Like Senator Neuberger’s rhetoric, the S.O.S. bill was more designed to inspire future action than to be a serious proposal. Not only was S.O.S. opposed by the Eisenhower administration, it had only modest support from legislators actually representing the states effected by the bill, although Philip A. Hart, Michigan’s junior Democratic senator did step forward as a co-sponsor. Neuberger’s real concern was to promote the prospect of an Oregon Dunes and Sea-Lion Caves National Recreation Area. While he promoted S.O.S. in the national press he also sponsored a much less ambitious $15 million bill to create three new shoreline parks at the discretion of the Secretary of the Interior. Senate Bill 2460 succeeded in its initial purpose of putting shoreline parks on the legislative table. Individual bills were introduced for the creation of new park units at Cape Cod, Oregon Dunes, Padre Island, Point Reyes, and Indiana Dunes and the general issue of shoreline preservation was brought before the public through local and national media. But Senate Bill 2460 and House Resolution 8445, the companion bill sponsored by John Dingell, a Democratic congressman from lower Michigan, had a very negative impact on the prospect of realizing Michigan’s new proposed national parks.
The “Save Our Shoreline” bill came at an unfortunate time for the National Park Service in Michigan. In July 1959, the agency had just begun its specialized studies of Sleeping Bear, Pictured Rocks, and the Huron Mountains. Unlike Cape Cod, where the park service was well along in its plans for a park, the Michigan sites were known only through the recommendations of the Great Lakes Shoreline Survey. Casting those general recommendations into the form of a legal proposal exposed the budding park projects to premature public scrutiny. The greatest damage was done to the Huron Mountain proposal. While the National Park Service was still trying to negotiate access to the private preserve, critics were able to blast the prospect of a significant taking of well-managed private conservation lands. The Huron Mountain Club was able to frame the public debate strictly in its own terms. They were the “wise” husbands of the area and the government was uninformed about the recreational potential of the area. “We know very well,” said Renville Wheat, a club director, that “casual visitors or tourists unaccustomed to such conditions (wilderness) would generally speaking, not enjoy these woods.” Concepts only in the discussion stage at the Northeast Region Office, of trying to preserve individual club members’ holdings while opening the lakes and mountains to the public, of working in partnership with the Huron Mountain Club, were too raw to be floated publicly. Before the park service even knew the battle had been joined, the club engineered a resolution in the Michigan State Senate to condemn a Huron Mountain National Park.
While most of the attention generated by “Save Our Shorelines” in Michigan was focused on the Huron Mountain proposal, the well-meaning omnibus bill did negatively impact the Sleeping Bear area’s park prospects. Senate Bill 2460 called for a 26,000 acre recreation area at Sleeping Bear. This figure was based on a one-page description of the area in the report of the shoreline survey. It did not grow out of a detailed local investigation and consultation with state officials and local conservationists. The bill did not even set any boundaries for the proposed park, leaving that to the discretion of the Secretary of the Interior. The prospect of a 26,000 acre park at Sleeping Bear did not draw a lot of attention, but when the agency after completing its detailed study of the Sleeping Bear area recommend a 77,000 acre park, the fact that a much smaller amount of land had been earlier endorsed was used to question the creditability of park planners and bolster opposition calls for a smaller dune park. Senator Philip Hart, who was on record as endorsing the 26,000 acre park, learned his lesson from the “Save Our Shorelines” bill. His office thereafter attempted to work closely with the National Park Service, he patiently avoided premature legislation, urged park supporters to be circumspect, least they arouse “local opposition,” and he waited until the official proposal was ready for public scrutiny.