Relegislating the Lakeshore
Public Law 97-361 was an attempt to put into law the decisions that emerged from the general management planning process, as well as to address lingering complaints related to land acquisition. Signed by President Ronald Reagan in October of 1982, Public Law 97-361 was a carefully brokered compromise between public and private interests, environmentalists, and property owners. The three men most responsible for the amendment of the lakeshore’s organic act were John Graykowski, James Markwood, and Congressman William S. Broomfield. Markwood was a legislative aide to Congressman Guy Vander Jagt. He took up Congressman Vander Jagt’s commitment to introduce legislation to remove from the lakeshore the Glen Lake portion of the scenic highway. Graykowski was an aide to Senator Donald Riegle, a moderate Democrat interested in protecting resources vital to the character of the lakeshore. In HR 4062 Congressman Vander Jagt proposed to delete the Glen Lake corridor from Sleeping Bear lakeshore, disregarding the park service’s call for the retention of three vital natural areas. The natural areas were a 160-acre lowland called the Kettle and Kame area, the Bow Lakes and adjacent bog that covered a total of 975 acres, and the scenic upland known as Miller Hill, 1,208 acres. Together these areas represented important elements in the geological history of the Sleeping Bear country. Congressman Broomfield was a “suburban Republican” from Bloomfield, Michigan, a comfortable bedroom community west of Detroit. A moderate ideologically and a fiscal conservative he would normally have hesitated to intrude himself into national park politics. Nonetheless, Broomfield introduced a bill to protect constituents who had summer homes in the area. H.R. 3787 extended use and occupancy rights for up to twenty-five years to people who developed Sleeping Bear property after 1964. Some ninety cottage owners were due to lose their summer homes in February of 1983. Congressman Broomfield proposed to extend their right to their cottages through the remainder of the twentieth century. His arguments in favor of the bill were based on fairness and pragmatism. Most of the post-1964 homes were located adjacent to cottages built before that date and which were going to be allowed to remain in private hands until the late 1990s. Why not, Broomfield argued, give people with the post-1964 homes the same rights as those who built a few years earlier, either way these lands would largely be unavailable for public use anyway.
Compromise was essential if either the Broomfield or Vander Jagt bills were to get through the Congress. Environmentalists were loathe to let stand Broomfield’s extension of use rights for the post 1964 property owners. The Wilderness Society announced that it feared setting a precedent which would destroy the effectiveness of cut-off dates on development in areas proposed for park status. Both bills had to pass muster with Congressman John Seiberling (D-Ohio), an environmentalist and chair of the House Subcommittee on National Parks. In October of 1981 Seiberling and his subcommittee aides visited Sleeping Bear Dunes. He met with Superintendent Richard Peterson as well as homeowners concerned with losing their land. While making clear his support for an effective Sleeping Bear lakeshore Seiberling also felt it was important to work out a deal that would protect local landowners rights. He himself was the owner of property within the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area. “Basically,” he told reporters after his visit, “what we’re trying to do is reconcile the general public interest with the interests of those who happen to live in the park.” But the Citizens’ Council was dead set against the inclusion in the lakeshore of the three natural areas from the old scenic corridor. They wanted to see the park service’s land acquisition authority reduced as they still feared federal authorities were secretly attempting to take Glen Lake on the installment plan. 
The first step toward a compromise bill was the decision of Congressmen Vander Jagt and Broomfield to combine their proposals under one umbrella bill. Of the two, the Broomfield bill to help post-1964 property owners had more support. Even the Mackinac Chapter of the Sierra Club had come out in favor of the granting these people extensions, provided the park service had discretionary power over properties in environmentally sensitive or high visitor use areas. Congressman Vander Jagt dispatched his aide, James Markwood, to meet with the Citizens’ Council and Superintendent Peterson. Meanwhile, Senator Donald Riegle had become involved with the issue in the upper house. His aide John Graykowski also visited Sleeping Bear and toured the Kettle, Bow Lakes, and Miller Hill. The more they became involved with Sleeping Bear, the more Markwood and Graykowski found other problems requiring legislative solution. Into the legislative mix were thrown issues such as wilderness designation, fee collection at the lakeshore, the park service's condemnation authority, and the land acquisition ceiling. A complex round of give-and-take followed with Congressional environmentalists such as Representative Dale Kildee (D-Flint) trying to expand Sleeping Bear’s wilderness areas beyond even the General Management Plan guidelines. Senator James McClure (R-Idaho) demanded a provision, which returned all fees collected at Sleeping Bear to the federal treasury. In exchange for this concession McClure, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, pledged to support full appropriation of the lakeshore’s newly expanded land acquisition ceiling. With the lakeshore’s organic act open for complete overhaul, Vander Jagt and Markwood sought to create a mechanism short of condemnation to settle the frequent disputes between land-owners and the park service over property appraisals. Adding to the “let’s make a deal” atmosphere was the pending adjournment of Congress and the climax of the legislative election campaigns.
Like most election eve bills Public Law 97-361 left a smile on the face of all of the interested parties. The Citizens’ Council proclaimed victory because the scenic corridor in Leelanau County was formally removed from the park plan. “We’re satisfied,” proclaimed a Sierra Club spokesman. The lakeshore received authorization to purchase two of the three remaining environmental areas within the old corridor that had been protected by Congress in the 1970 Act. The Bow Lakes bog and the Miller Hill area were secured, while the glacial depression known as the Kettle was not open to purchase and could only enter the lakeshore through donation. Without this clear direction from Congress it is unlikely the park service had the authority to make new acquisitions within the old scenic corridor. Congressman Broomfield was pleased to be able to extend the leases of most of the post-1964 property owners until 1998. The bill also directed the Department of the Interior to formally submit the lakeshore’s wilderness preservation plan to Congress by 1983. “The net result,” according to the Sierra Club, “is that in the year 2000 the park will be a better place.” The final bill also increased the land acquisition ceiling to $66 million. Attempts to create a binding arbitration procedure for contested purchases, were turned aside when the Senate amended the final bill. The 1970 bill creating the lakeshore had run some seven pages. The 1982 bill amending the lakeshore was twice as long, even so it left hanging several controversial issues.
Left unaffected by Public Law 97-361 was the proposed six and a half-mile scenic road corridor through the Crystal Highlands in Benzie County. People in the county were divided over the desirability of the corridor. Property owners on Platte Lake generally opposed the project as something that might degrade the quality of water within that lake’s drainage. In 1977, the County Board of Commissioners had enthusiastically approved the proposed scenic road. Some business interests still favored the road as a way to guarantee that Benzie County was seen as the gateway to the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Unlike the politically savvy Citizens’ Council in Leelanau County, the Platte Lake Improvement Association did not act decisively to have the scenic corridor removed from the lakeshore when the issue was before Congress. “Whatever they did, we’ve got to do,” lamely observed a member of their board of directors after the fact. The formal removal of the Leelanau portion of the scenic drive from the lakeshore acted as a prod for Benzie County to bring the issue to a head. An ad hoc committee of the county commission was formed to review the road. That feasibility study established that there would be no serious environmental side effects from the road, that it would, however, be very costly ($18.7 million), and that based on current park visitation rates the road was not necessary. The park service’s main reason for wanting the road—to maintain the area’s rural character—was turned on its head, with the corridor cited as the main threat to the areas rural landscape. Finally in August of 1983 the county commissioners met and voted to reverse their earlier support for the park road. Later that year Congressman Vander Jagt introduced H.R. 4242 to delete the Benzie Corridor from the lakeshore. “I’d say it’s dead as a doornail,” one of the Congressman’s aides told the press. “If the local people don’t want it, forget it.” Nonetheless no bill to officially remove the corridor from the lakeshore was ever approved and two decades later it remains part of the Sleeping Bear park plan.
The amendment of the lakeshore’s organic act dictated the dimensions of Sleeping Bear’s land protection plan. The plan was the brainchild of Secretary Watt and was part of a nation-wide effort to make the National Park Service’s land acquisition program more efficient and transparent. Land protection plans, it was hoped, would also cut the cost of park expansion by asking units to identify alternatives to fee acquisition and by encouraging parks to acquire only the absolute minimum interest in the land needed to meet management needs. The Sleeping Bear plan focused on the remaining 5,012 acres of non-federal land within the revised boundaries of the lakeshore. It proposed how best to use easements and other protection regimes on these lands as well as reviewing the status of the 1,399 acres of private land already under restrictive agreements. The plan also proposed scenic overlooks, parking areas and access roads for the Miller Hill and Bow Lakes preservation areas. The plan largely confirmed what had been enacted in 1982 and this angered many people who expected that the plan would reflect the new local consensus against the Benzie corridor. Public meetings presenting the plan were predictably stormy as old grievances were voiced and threats muttered. Even the proposal to use easements to protect the Bow Lakes drew flak from a property owner who argued he would rather the lakeshore bought the whole tract rather than place restrictions on the use of a portion of it. The sentiment, which drew the largest applause at the public meetings, however, came from State Senator Connie Binsfeld. “Landowners have had to go through turmoil throughout the creation of the park while officials come and go,” she observed. “There is a lot of stress involved on the resident’s part. Enough is enough—I hope there would be no more changes in the plan.”
The lakeshore had to wait before receiving the funds necessary to purchase the Bow Lakes area. In 1987, Congress appropriated $2 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund and a portion of the 725-acre bog area came under lakeshore management.