From Economic Necessity to Environmental Amenities
As the Eighty-ninth Congress became history the Sleeping Bear compromise became a dead bill. Senator Hart could console himself that the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore had succeed in becoming law. Pictured Rocks was created out of the Kennedy-era emphasis on pairing conservation and economic development. That ambivalent, if not contradictory, approach to the environment had been successful in pushing a host of new park programs through a Congress committed to waging a “War on Poverty” and creating a “Great Society.” During the two-year run of the Eighty-ninth Congress, twenty-two new areas were added to the National Park System, including three shoreline parks, three major new recreation areas, and a large number of new historic sites and national monuments. But the dubious linkage of conservation to economic development had outlasted its usefulness by the late 1960s. A fresh green wave was sweeping across the country that would transform the old conservation alliance of sportsman, nature lovers, and the recreation industry, and give birth to a more aggressive, alarmist environmental movement. 
The new environmentalism was born in an era of social and political conflict. Late 1960s America was a society wracked by social, racial, generational, and political conflict. The liberal orthodoxy of the early 1960s was followed by a deeply critical, often cynical, analysis of America. Taking its initial inspiration from Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring, this new environmentalism focused more on air and water pollution than public lands. Where older conservationists were concerned about the number of campsites at shoreline line parks, the new environmentalists recognized that pollution, some of it caused by recreation users, was degrading the waterways, in some places past the point of recovery. In the Great Lakes region sensational stories aroused the public. Giant algae blooms washed ashore at Chicago and Milwaukee, rendering beaches unswimable. The spring die-off of alewives, a small silver fish that invaded the Great Lakes from the Atlantic in the late 1940s, made it impossible to even walk along those beaches. The stench from the thousands of dead fish that washed ashore each day drove people from the lakefront. Lake Erie was even worse than Lake Michigan. Scientists testifying at Public Health Service hearings claimed that Erie was “dying.” As if to punctuate that point emphatically, in 1969, the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River at Cleveland caught fire. Waters stinking, lakes dying, and rivers burning were clear signs to environmentalists that America had put too much emphasis on economic development and not enough on natural resource protection. 
The new environmentalists borrowed some of their tactics from the civil rights and anti-war movements. They took an aggressive and confrontational approach to the problems of the region. There was a counter-cultural tone to some of their rhetoric, particularly as it applied to business. Corporate polluters were the first to feel the weight of the new movement. If housewives had to give up their favorite dishwashing detergent to reduce phosphate pollution in the Great Lakes, ordinary citizens had no pity on corporate polluters. This sentiment spread out from the suburban subdivisions to elected officials in Washington, D.C. and Lansing. The hard-edged activism of the new environmentalism was best exemplified by the Sierra Club, which by 1968 had thrown-off its amateurish, if earnest, origins along with its not-for-profit status and became an active and effective political action organization. While involving itself full-time in legislative activities in Washington, D.C., the Sierra Club also began to build local chapters all across the country to be prepared to fight environmental battles in the hinterland. Nationally strict restrictions on air and water pollution were achieved in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Locally in northern Michigan, concern over what business, unrestrained, might do to Sleeping Bear attracted the interest of the newly organized Mackinac Chapter of the Sierra Club. 
The building of subdivisions and summer homes in the Sleeping Bear area was initially hurt by Senator Hart’s attempt to create a national lakeshore. But as each of the Senator’s bills, year after year, met with a stonewall in the House, people in northwest Michigan went back to the business of development. In 1965, Senator Hart’s proposal, as modified by the Senate Interior Committee, included 266 private homes. That number swelled to 436 by 1970. The opposition said that a National Park was not needed to take care of the area, but as more and more of the frontage on Glen and Platte lakes came under development, as neighbors became crowded on the edges of busy lakes and roads, that claim began to sound a bit hollow. At North Bar Lake, a secluded pristine embayment set among the dunes just north of the town of Empire, developers began to lower the level of this popular swimming area in order to create more frontage to sell. Another disquieting sign of unrestrained development was the chaos that descended on the Platte River each fall. In 1965, in an effort to control alewife populations in the Lake Michigan, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources had planted Coho Salmon in the Platte. In 1967, the mature fish returned to the river to spawn. Larger than anything most Midwestern fisherman had ever caught, the salmon ignited an acute case of angling fever. The press dubbed the result “coho madness.” To the manager of Benzie State Park the rush of hundreds of vehicles and the swarm of anxious anglers did indeed look like madness. An unsightly concrete block motel, a gas station, and a hastily installed boat ramp marred the once beautiful mouth of the Platte. A swimming and picnic area enjoyed by generations of area residents and visitors had been transformed, almost overnight, into an example of the inability of local controls to preserve the area.. 
It was, however, the development of a privately owned park on the dunes that drew the most attention. The park was the work of Pierce Stocking, a flannel-shirted lumberman of the old do-it-yourself school. He was already a considerable property owner in the area when the National Park Service first nominated the dunes for park status. Stocking sensed a big payday when the legislation finally passed and he increased his holdings in the area. What he did not expect was a decade delay in the authorization of the lakeshore. With most of his assets tied-up in Sleeping Bear real estate, the failure of Congress to act on Hart’s proposals left Pierce Stocking economically stymied. But he was not a man who was temperamentally or financially able to sit and wait for the folks in Washington to sort things out. He developed a trout pond on one piece of property and operated a motel on another. Finally, in 1968, he decided if the park service was not going to open a dunes park, Stocking intended to open one for himself. He had in the past sought the cooperation of the Michigan State Parks to operate a dune tour on state land, but in 1968 he opened his own dune scenic drive park. To the uninitiated visitor Stocking’s “Sleeping Bear Dunes Park” had the look of a well-designed, if small, state or even federal park. From the attractive entrance sign to the “park headquarters building,” to ten miles of scenic roads—complete with lookouts and picnic areas—Stocking’s park was an impressive accomplishment considering it was constructed in six months. Even the National Park Service team that visited the park in 1968 offered a “favorable response.” What troubled people was that in developing his park Stocking closed-off a large area in the middle of the dunes. Visitors had the option of paying a reasonable fee of five dollars per car to enter the park, but his effort was a blunt reminder that the fate of the dunes was, in part, in private hands. “Keep out” signs could just as easily be placed in the sand as a picnic area.
In the end it was a curious alliance of environmental activists and business people in favor of economic development that formed the local impetus for the Sleeping Bear Lakeshore. Northwest Michigan began a slow but steady population growth in the 1960s. The terrible riot that rocked Detroit in July 1967 engendered in many middle-class Michiganders revulsion with the violence and racial tension of urban living. A pristine environment and access to nature were amenities that new residents and summer home owners expected in Leelanau and Benzie counties. Far-sighted business people realized that controlling the pace of development was critical to maintaining the quality of life that attracted residents and businesses to the area in the first place. A good example of the way in which the pro-development and pro-environment forces cooperated to promote the park plan was the “Save the Bear Day.”