The pace of the National Park Service’s management of Sleeping Bear Dunes picked up appreciably between 1975 and 1976. The transfer of state park holdings in April of 1975 and the acquisition of the Stocking lands in the fall of 1976 at last gave to the lakeshore staff large blocks of recreational land to manage. Emergency development funds allowed the park service to undertake some modest improvements to the campgrounds at D.H. Day and Platte River. But the shortage of regular development monies and the lack of a viable master plan ensured that any improvements were minimal. Even picnic tables had to be borrowed from the state for the first season of park service ownership. The Stocking tract posed several problems, the most persistent of which was controlling vehicle access. The old lumberman’s lands were criss-crossed with dirt two-track trails favored by hunters and off-road vehicle users. The closing of these roads and the park service’s attempt to restrict access to unofficial camping grounds near Aral and Good Harbor Bay were unpopular with some local residents. Complaints also arose from campers when the park service, in keeping with system-wide standards, removed the electric outlets at the lakeshore campgrounds. Holiday weekends, particularly Memorial Day, found the lakeshore unprepared for the flood of visitors and the frequency of incidents related to alcohol, drugs, and attendant disorderly conduct. It was several years before the ranger division was able to manage the campgrounds without the assistance of local sheriff’s departments. The inadequate size of the lakeshore staff and development budget irked local residents already opposed to the lakeshore. In May 1977, Congressmen Elford A. Cederberg and Guy Vander Jagt prodded Assistant Secretary of the Interior Robert Herbst to accelerate the flow of resources to Sleeping Bear. Within a week $150,000 was found to improve the roads at the Platte River campground.
When the agency acquired the state and Stocking lands it also acquired several popular visitor service concessions. With no viable master plan and little in the way of a development budget Martinek was loath to eliminate any existing visitor services. The most longstanding of these park businesses was the Dunesmobile Ride, which had been offered to visitors continuously since 1935. Louis Warnes, son-in-law to D.H. Day, the grand patriarch of Glen Haven, had founded the business. His thirteen Ford pickup trucks had been modified to carry fourteen passengers on a thirty-five minute tour from Glen Haven to the crest of the dunes. Between 50,000 and 55,000 visitors annually availed themselves of the ride. The problem with the dunesmobile ride was the clay and gravel road, which Warnes had designed and maintained to get his vehicles across the deep sand of the dune. The dune vehicles were also a visual intrusion for hikers. Martinek liked Warnes and felt he ran a “class operation.” From 1975 through 1978 Warnes continued the dunesmobiles as a concession on a special use permit. Also continued on that basis was a snack shop and souvenir store at the base of the dune climb operated by the Warnes family. “We are quite certain that long-range planning will not include the dune climb concession,” Martinek confided to the regional office, but this site was also continued on a special use permit with only a slight reduction in the scale of the souvenir shop. The dunesmobile ride and the concession stand were popular and profitable businesses and were long an established part of the Sleeping Bear summer season experience. Many of the junior members of the lakeshore staff wanted the National Park Service to move decisively to close the ride. Martinek, however, moved cautiously, so as to avoid “rocking the boat” and causing “local area and public relations problems for the National Park Service.”
The concession on South Manitou Island was both less profitable and less visible than those at the mainland dunes. It was a small commercial marina with a restaurant and a small grocery store. A commercial vehicle tour also operated on the island. In 1974, the lakeshore acquired the marina property. For several years the shadow of uncertainty hung over the future of the marina. If the master plan was going to be implemented as it was originally conceived, with a lodge and motorized tours on South Manitou then the marina development was a long-term asset. On the other hand, if Congress accepted the wilderness proposal then a commercial marina might not be needed in the long term. While these issues were undecided Superintendent Martinek attempted to keep the marina concession operating on a special use permit. The marina on the remote island was a marginal operation at best and attempts on the part of the contractor to expand the range of their operations were met by the superintendent’s reminder “the island is scheduled for wilderness, therefore we do not desire to build up the public usage.” In 1976, because it looked likely that the wilderness plan would prevail and Martinek granted what he anticipated would be a final three-year extension of the special use permit. However, in 1979, the lakeshore management elected not only to issue another permit but also to rehabilitate the entire marina-restaurant complex for use by day trippers to the island. Even the motorized island tour was expanded through the use of dunesmobiles from the defunct Warnes concession.
Pierce Stocking’s Sleeping Bear Park presented another type of management challenge. The scenic drive that Stocking had laid out through the woods and out to the top of the dune was very popular with visitors. Initially Superintendent Martinek opposed keeping the Stocking road open after the lakeshore acquired the tract in the fall of 1976. At public hearings environmental groups had persuaded the park service to include this land in a wilderness zone, which of course meant the road had to be closed. When the ramifications of the wilderness policy were announced to the Sleeping Bear Advisory Commission the local members exploded in outrage. They thought Stocking’s park had been one of the highlights of the area and a “key to the future.” It was the easiest way for senior citizens and others unable to get out and hike on the dune to and see the best views of both Sleeping Bear and Glen Lake. Commissioner John Stahlin, speaking with great emotion, accused the park service of once more “throwing the people out.” Superintendent Martinek, however, was critical of the Stocking’s road, which he thought was too steep and laid out over fragile dune terrain. Martinek eventually settled for a compromise. He closed several portions of the road, including a loop, which went out over the dune. The blacktop road was then patched and opened to the public. The lakeshore was influenced in this decision by the desire of the Washington office of the National Park Service to have a marquee feature of the park named in memorial of Sleeping Bear’s legislative founder. That political imperative settled the future of the scenic drive that was then opened to the public as the Philip A. Hart Trail. The opening of the road without Stocking’s former $5.00 per car charge was a huge boost to the park service’s image in northwestern Michigan.
Another image boost, as well as a much needed helping hand to the lakeshore’s strained maintenance staff, was the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC). The program was a Great Society throwback to the New Deal’s renowned Civilian Conservation Corps. Operated on a much more modest budget and administered through colleges and universities rather than the Department of Defense, the YCC played a quiet but important role in the new national parks of the 1960s and 1970s. At a time when staffing and development were severely constrained the YCC undertook vital, if mundane, tasks at parks like Pictured Rocks, Cuyahoga Valley, Indiana Dunes, and Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway. Superintendent Martinek, whose youth on the streets of Cleveland was turned around by summers in the Sleeping Bear area, was especially supportive of the YCC concept. In the summer of 1976 the YCC program at Sleeping Bear was initiated by moving a contingent of fourteen enrollees into the former motel that had been used as the American Youth Hostel. A second YCC camp was operated on South Manitou Island where a former warehouse had been converted into a dormitory. The YCC program was responsible for a variety of important tasks, not the least of which was the assembly of 400 picnic tables and the scraping of the lakeshore’s historic Coast Guard lifeboat. On South Manitou Island the YCC rebuilt an historic boardwalk, removed barbed wire and fence posts from abandoned farms, and cleared the old settlers cemetery of overgrown vegetation. Among the least pleasant tasks performed by the YCC was the cleanup of beaches fouled by alewives. An added bonus of the YCC program was to boost the image of the lakeshore in Benzie and Leelanau counties. The program enrolled exclusively boys and girls from northwestern Michigan.
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