The period from 1978 to 1983 was a period of planning and controversy in which the most significant decisions were those which recommended taking no action at all. It was a period when the executive branch itself questioned the efficacy of federal environmental leadership. A significant portion of the lakeshore, the scenic highway around Glen Lake was removed from the park plan, but this fell far short of the heady “Reagan Revolution” rhetoric of returning the whole of Sleeping Bear to state control. Four and a half years were spent studying a possible site for a harbor, which upon reflection was not needed after all.
What was produced at Sleeping Bear during this five-year transition period were plans; a General Management Plan, plans for new campgrounds, plans for a new park headquarters, plans to complete the land acquisition program, plans for a harbor that would never be built. The plans laid out the path by which the National Park Service would meet its mandate in northwest Michigan to serve the public’s recreation needs and preserve a special environment. Perhaps more important than the plans themselves was the process by which the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was reimagined between 1978 and 1983. During these years Sleeping Bear evolved from being a new area to an established entity. The demise of the scenic drives compromised the vision of people like E. Genevieve Gillette who wished to see the lakeshore embody the entire geological history of the region’s unique landscape. Also compromised were the aesthetics of graceful park drives and breathtaking viewsheds that New Deal-influenced planners like Allen T. Edmunds had seen as central to the park plan. These losses were the price for what was gained: a genuine, if always painful, engagement with the people of the Sleeping Bear area. The public turned the direction of National Park Service planning on the issue of the scenic drives. The service won acceptance for the special conservation areas within the defunct corridor. Through the park service’s reluctant operation of a drag-line at the mouth of the Platte and Leland’s wary embrace of the Manitou ferry dock, the habit of consultation and even cooperation was beginning to be learned.
Whether consultation between the local community and the lakeshore could be used to produce a better lakeshore or whether the long-term interests of the nation and the local interests of northwestern Michigan could be harmonized to preserve a treasured landscape, were the questions faced by the park service in the 1980s and 1990s.