The Advisory Commission
Public Law 91-479, the lakeshore’s organic act, specified the formation of a citizen’s advisory commission to counsel the National Park Service on the management of Sleeping Bear Dunes. The first such advisory commission was created in 1961 as part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, and citizen's commissions became a feature of all of the shoreline recreation areas created during the 1960s and 1970s. Like these other commissions the Sleeping Bear Advisory Commission was a purely consultative body and had no decision-making authority. It was composed of individuals appointed by the State of Michigan, Leelanau County, and Benzie County. There was no compensation for service on the commission. The commission met for the first time with National Park Service Director George Hartzog on March 9, 1971 in Washington, D.C. After that virtually all meetings were held near the lakeshore on a quarterly basis.
The most important function of the commission was to serve as a forum to inform the public of issues before the lakeshore management team, and to allow for comment on park service actions by individuals with roots in Michigan and the communities adjacent to the park. The commission fulfilled this function well on an issue like the preservation of the Sleeping Bear area. The commission usually advised the National Park Service to move forcefully to protect the lakeshore from outside intrusions such as the Platte River harbor, which the commission strongly opposed. The commission offered very farsighted advice to Superintendent Martinek regarding historic agricultural resources within the lakeshore. With inholders like John D. Stanz and Frank C. MacFarlane among the original commission members, the park service was guaranteed that the commission would serve as a vehicle by which the land acquisition program would be critiqued and monitored. In 1974 and 1975, when the lakeshore had run out of land acquisition funds, the commission played a substantive role by lobbying the Michigan congressional delegation to raise the acquisition ceiling and to shake loose appropriations. Again in 1977, direct lobbying by commission members led to a critical increase in development funds for the lakeshore.
Although no Sleeping Bear superintendent ever said as much, the Advisory Commission could occasionally be a thorn in the side. At the October 24, 1975 meeting of the commission Superintendent Martinek was forced, for better than two hours, into the familiar bureaucratic posture of “flak-catcher.” Noble Travis of Leland served as chair of the commission at the time. The lack of action on land acquisition had strained relations between the lakeshore and the commission. Chairman Travis repeatedly “rebuked” Martinek, demanding a date when the new acquisition funds would be released and threatening “if they had to pull the information out of him, they would do it.” At one point, “Chairman Travis told Mr. Martinek he had done a lousy job of management.” Several commission members congratulated Travis for his “great speeches.” The tenor of the meeting changed completely, however, when Carl T. Johnson, a member of the Michigan Natural Resources Commission, arrived late. While no rubber stamp, Johnson understood the practical problems with managing a conservation project. He advised the commission that “now was not the time to irritate the situation anymore than it already was” and he announced that he had recently been in contact with Congressman Vander Jagt and that the funds would be arriving soon.
Most meetings of the commission were not so confrontational and the mere existence of the forum provided a means by which disagreements and irritations with the lakeshore could be voiced in a cordial and cooperative setting. The Frankfort and Leland press covered the meetings so that the announcements and debates of the commission meetings were shared with the people of northwestern Michigan. During the 1970s the Advisory Commission helped to shape the lakeshore that exists today by its attention and advocacy on issues such as the Platte River, the scenic parkway, land acquisition, and wilderness designation. While many of the members made a distinct contribution to the lakeshore Carl T. Johnson of Cadillac played a special role. As a member of the Natural Resources Commission he acted as a very effective liaison between the lakeshore and the Department of Natural Resources. Johnson was also respected throughout the state as the leading advocate of sportsmen’s interests. An enthusiastic hunter himself, Johnson knew how to bring the fish and game community’s considerable political clout to bear. In 1979, he used that influence on the lakeshore area’s congressional representatives to secure funding to improve park campgrounds. He was an important asset to both Superintendent Martinek and his successor, Donald R. Brown.
NEXT> Martinek Retires