Master Plan Revisions
“I believe that decisions on wilderness designation should not be made in isolation,” wrote Congressman Guy Vander Jagt, “but should reflect the overall management plan and development program for the Lakeshore.” The congressman very succinctly summarized the lesson that Superintendent Martinek drew from the controversy over the mouth of the Platte and the wilderness designation process. The Sleeping Bear master plan was badly in need of revision. Instead of acting as a guide to important long-range policy decisions it was largely superfluous because it did not reflect the type of park the public wanted and Congress authorized. South Manitou Island was a good example of how out of touch the 1968 report seemed in the mid-1970s. During the wilderness debate all parties agreed on only one part of the lakeshore being designated a wilderness, South Manitou Island. Yet, the master plan called for a lodge to be built there and visitors to be carted about the island on roving minibuses. At the Michigan Natural Resources Commission hearing on wilderness Commissioner Carl T. Johnson (also a member of the lakeshore Advisory Commission) called for the outdated plan to be changed. In the autumn of 1974 the lakeshore began the process of revising its master plan.
A master plan development contract was established with the National Park Service’s Denver Service Center to spearhead the creation of a new document. On September 20, 1974 lakeshore staff and representatives of the Denver Service Center held a public meeting at the Beulah VFW hall. The goal of the meeting was to gather public responses prior to drafting a planning directive for a new plan. “The original Master Plan needs to be scrapped entirely,” was a common refrain from the public. Three issues dominated the discussion, the stalled land acquisition program, the wilderness proposal, and the location of the legislatively mandated “scenic parkway.” Wilderness continued to be touted as a way to prevent “a high density recreation area.” But it was the scenic parkway proposal that clearly emerged as the most important unresolved issue. Objections were raised as to both the need for the parkway as well as its proposed location.
The scenic parkway had been added to the Sleeping Bear proposal in the wake of Senator Hart’s initial proposal to include large portions of the inland lake district adjacent and south of the dunes in the national lakeshore. The idea of the parkway was to provide vistas and corridors from which the natural history of the area could be interpreted to visitors, as well as to control the anticipated flood of summer visitors to the lakeshore. The exact right-of-way of the scenic roadway was not made clear for several years after the authorization of the lakeshore. Finally, in August of 1973 the Federal Highway Administration began an on the ground survey to stake-out the center line for the new road. Unfortunately, before the surveyors could complete the northern portion of the parkway they exhausted the survey budget. It was several years before the exact route of the parkway was determined but even then there were no land acquisition funds allocated to bring the right-of-way into federal ownership. For years the scenic road existed as a question mark, in the worried minds of landowners along its right-of-way and on the optimistic planning maps of the National Park Service.
The scenic parkway was one of several proposed lakeshore developments which promised a major impact on the nearby Benzie and Leelanau County communities. In 1972, those counties’ planning commissions contracted with Chicago-based consulting firm Wilbur Smith & Associates to prepare a report to help local governments develop the zoning and planning necessary to absorb the environmental and economic impacts of the new lakeshore. The National Park Service contributed $25,000 to the study and while not bound by its findings, neither could the lakeshore easily ignore the results. The heart of the Wilbur Smith study, which was completed in April of 1974, was zoning recommendations for the neighboring communities. The report did, however, critique several features of the lakeshore master plan, especially the location of the visitor center off the scenic parkway in the highlands south of Glen Lake. The Wilbur Smith study also questioned the desirability of undertaking major road building effort like the new parkway, with all of its attended damage to the environment, until it was clear that lakeshore traffic patterns necessitated a new circulation system. The consultants also advised that if the traffic became heavy it might make better sense to adopt a mass transit solution to lakeshore circulation. These recommendations had an important long-range impact on the lakeshore. In the short run the Wilbur Smith study gave momentum to calls for a heavily revised master plan and the need for some new thinking at Sleeping Bear.
The promise of a new master plan conditioned almost every policy statement made by Superintendent Martinek between 1974 and 1977. Questions about the scenic road, the fate of South Manitou Island, the wilderness recommendations, the location of the permanent visitor’s center all were qualified with the statement that those issues were being “reviewed and reconsidered” by the National Park Service. The fact was, however, that for three years the master plan revision was stuck on “hold” by a shortage of funds. The scores of new national parks created in the 1960s and 1970s were all competing for scarce development funds. At Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore their revised master plan gathered dust because of an almost complete absence of funds to carry out its grand designs. The Sleeping Bear master plan did not advance beyond the very preliminary Planning Directive stage. Part of the problem was that the lakeshore’s much delayed land acquisition program had still not completed its work and Superintendent Martinek was constrained by the small amount of actual acreage under his control from leveraging planning and development funds. Those requests he did send to Philadelphia encountered another problem. As the nation prepared to celebrate the Bicentennial of American Independence the Northeast Region of the National Park Service naturally had to undertake significant capital expeditures to prepare its large number of historic parks for the anticipated surge of visitors. Even though Sleeping Bear Dunes had been shifted to the Midwest Region in 1974 it and other newly created lakeshores had to wait for additional resources and a change of priorities. “I do not really hold too much hope that a new master plan will be done soon,” confided Fred Kass, the chief of the park service’s Planning and Development Division. 
The very public slowdown in lakeshore planning and development, coming on the heels of the protracted land acquisition process dealt another blow to the National Park Service’s tarnished image in northwestern Michigan. Yet behind the scenes Superintendent Martinek did a very good job keeping the lakeshore moving forward by putting together several of the internal documents that would form the foundation for a new master plan. In February of 1976, the lakeshore completed its new Statement For Management, a summary of the objectives, planning requirements, legal constraints and influences on the management of the lakeshore. Charles Parkinson completed an Interpretive Prospectus, which laid out a visitor use plan for the lakeshore. This document recommended several important changes in visitor planning including removing the location of the proposed Maritime Museum from South Manitou Island to the Glen Haven Coast Guard Station. Yet such draft documents were no substitute for having an approved plan that managers could use as a blueprint for actions which effected the entire lakeshore. Besides, by 1975 the Sleeping Bear staff was fully engaged with the day-to-day challenges of trying to meet the needs of more than 700,000 annual visitors.
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