Eighty Years in the Making
A Legislative History of Voyageurs National Park
NPS Logo



Rita Shemish told the VNPA executive committee that it was essential that they get action on the Voyageurs bill in the current session. She noted that the operating funds for the association were getting lower but were sufficient to see the bill through the remainder of the year. However, if the legislation failed passage in this Congress, a major fund drive would be necessary and the VNPA would have a difficult time regenerating public support for another run. Others voiced concern as to what the 1971 state legislature might do to create public doubt about the merits of the Voyageurs project.

Given the gravity of the situation, Shemish appealed to members to accept responsibility for calling key people in Washington whom they believed could assist in keeping the legislation moving. [407] The wisdom of Shemish's urgent call for direct action by the VNPA committee members was confirmed on the next day, September 11. She received a telephone call from Lee McElvain, a consultant, who was working for the House Subcommittee on National Parks and Recreation. McElvain told Shemish that the Voyageurs bill was not scheduled for mark-up this month and he didn't hold out much hope for action by the subcommittee or the full committee for that session. [408] With this alarming report from a person working very closely with the subcommittee, she decided to use even more aggressive tactics to get the bill moving again.

Shemish realized that Voyageurs' only chance was to persuade Taylor and Aspinall to move the authorizing legislation to the top of the agenda for action during the final session of the Ninety-first Congress. In turn, the one person who had the best chance of persuading these congressmen was the author of the legislation and one of the key members of Congress—John Blatnik. She dispatched a letter to him on September 15, just two weeks before the deadline for the bill to clear the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. Her letter said, "You John, are the only person that can motivate Taylor and Aspinall to see it through. I believe we have done everything needed; the next move is now yours. I know we can count on you, John." [409]

About the same time Shemish's letter reached Blatnik's Washington office, the news wires were carrying stories about the results of the September 14 primary elections held around the country. One such story was published in the New York Times on September 17. The article cited the defeat of Representative George Fallon, Democrat from Maryland and chairman of the House Public Works Committee, who was seeking his fourteenth term in the U.S. House. For those close to the campaign for Voyageurs, Fallon's defeat was quickly interpreted as a major boost for the park cause. John Blatnik, who was second in seniority to Fallon on the Public Works Committee and held a "safe" seat as Eighth District Congressman in Minnesota, was immediately seen by his colleagues in the House as the chairman designate of this very powerful committee. Requests for roads, bridges, water pollution control facilities, etc. in the congressional districts always moved through the chairman's office. Blatnik wouldn't have to wait long to find out just what Fallon's defeat would mean to the chances for passage of the Voyageurs legislation.

On Friday, September 18, Blatnik's administrative assistant Jim Oberstar, who remained in Washington while Blatnik campaigned back in Minnesota, learned of Aspinall's doubts about the usefulness of Levander's recent letter. Levander had proposed federal condemnation of state-owned lands to establish the value of those lands and then proposed payment to the educational trust fund by legislative appropriation or private subscription. Aspinall held that this proposal gave no assurance that the federal government wouldn't be required to pay for the land after condemnation.

Apparently after much wrangling during the July hearings over the land donation issue and Levander's subsequent submission of a "clarifying" letter to Representative Taylor, the question was still not resolved to the satisfaction of Aspinall. The word around Washington was that he planned to adjourn his Interior and Insular Affairs Committee on September 23 and do some campaigning in his Colorado district. After listening to Oberstar's account of Aspinall's concerns and intentions, Blatnik realized that if the committee adjourned on schedule his park bill was dead, not only for that session but for good.

It was already September 18, which left little time to get Aspinall to delay adjournment of his committee until the Voyageurs bill was heard and reported out. Blatnik immediately tried to reach Aspinall at his Colorado home but was unable to make contact. His chances of meeting with Aspinall were better on the following Monday, September 21. There are slightly different accounts of what transpired over the period from September 21 through the day the Voyageurs bill finally won committee approval. But each one describes a remarkable effort on the part of Congressman Blatnik, his staff, NPS personnel and VNPA leaders to keep the Voyageurs legislation on the path to final approval in the House.

Rita Shemish learned on September 21 of Aspinall's plan to "shut down" his committee from Joe Penfold, executive director of the Izaak Walton League. The only prospect of any reversal of Apsinall's intentions, according to Penfold, "would be if John Blatnik twists Aspinall's arm on a political basis." When she heard this, Shemish said, "The wheels of the VNPA's infallible machinery were put in motion." [410]

Shemish called Sigurd Olson, Elmer Andersen, Vita Ponikvar, her principal contact on the Iron Range, and key members of the Citizens Committee for Voyageurs Park and asked them to track down the congressman and urge him to move quickly to rescue the bill. Later that morning or early in the afternoon, Shemish learned that Blatnik was scheduled to address a meeting of the AFL-CIO in Duluth later in the day. She made contact with him by phone and emphasized the urgency of the situation. Blatnik, as did many other veteran members of Congress, well remembered how Aspinall used delaying tactics to keep the wilderness bill bottled up for several years until it was finally passed in 1964. Blatnik didn't want to see that happen to the Voyageurs bill. Unlike the wilderness bill, Voyageurs probably wouldn't make it to the next Congress. Later in the afternoon of September 21, Blatnik began his aggressive effort to rescue the bill.

Blatnik reached Aspinall in his office Monday afternoon. He reminded Aspinall of his promise to report the bill out of his committee in that session. Aspinall refused to reconsider even after Blatnik assured him that the land donation matter could be resolved. Realizing that he wasn't getting anywhere with Aspinall, he angrily ended the conversation and called the Speaker of the House, John McCormack. Blatnik explained the situation to the Speaker and about Aspinall's refusal to reconsider his intention to adjourn the committee on September 23. McCormack quickly arranged a conference call whereby all three could discuss the problem.

According to Albert Eisele of the Knight-Ridder newspapers, Blatnik and Aspinall proceeded to engage in a shouting match, at which point McCormack asked Blatnik what he wanted Aspinall to do. Blatnik said he wanted him to turn the bill over to Representative Taylor and he, Blatnik, would guarantee that the problems could be worked out. And, contrary to Aspinall's angry claim, enough members of the full committee would be present to vote the bill out of committee. [411]

Blatnik's claim that he could deliver the necessary votes for committee passage was an unmistakable reference to his power as the chairman designate of the Public Works Committee. Aspinall refused to budge on his intentions whereupon Blatnik announced that he was flying to Washington and then abruptly ended the conversation, but only after telling Aspinall that he (Aspinall) wouldn't treat a freshman congressman this way. Blatnik, who was Aspinall's senior in congressional service, said he never forgot the shabby treatment at the hands of the one person in the House who could have assured Voyageurs a smooth path through the House committee structure. [412]

Blatnik arrived in Washington shortly after noon on September 22 and went directly to the House floor to talk with Senator McCormack. The speaker told Blatnik that he, "Couldn't ask Aspinall to approve a park which he obviously felt didn't qualify for national park status." [413] Blatnik beckoned Representative John Saylor, the ranking minority member of the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee and told Saylor, in the presence of McCormack, what Aspinall had said to the speaker. Saylor said such a claim was simply not true and proceeded to recount the positive hearing testimony and the widespread public support for the park.

McCormack then set up a meeting in his office with Blatnik, Saylor, Taylor and Aspinall. After a relatively short meeting that resulted in Aspinall backing off his earlier threat to discharge his committee, he agreed to Blatnik's request to have Taylor mark up the Voyageurs bill the next day if he could get a quorum for the session. [414] Blatnick would later deny that he took advantage of the fact that he would be chairing the Public Works Committee in the next Congress. Aspinall needed no coaching on that subject. He knew well the power of a committee chairman after twelve terms in Congress serving as chairman himself. Aspinall also knew that his large district was very dependent on federally financed projects that had to be approved by the Public Works Committee. Nor was the episode lost on other House members. They knew the power of the seniority system and the clout that goes with the chairmanship of any committee in the House.

The events just cited were still well fixed in the memory of former Congressman Blatnik when interviewed fifteen years later. [415] As he described some of the details of his encounter with Aspinall, anger crept into his voice, especially when he told of the obstinate behavior of the representative from Colorado. Although he didn't use the word, one got the impression that he took Aspinall's condescending manner as an insult, not just to himself, but to his home district in Minnesota. Blatnik said he spent some of his happier days as a young man working in and enjoying the border lakes region, which he regarded as some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. Aspinall hit the "wrong note" when he said this area in Blatnik's district was not qualified for designation as a national park.

As soon as Representative Taylor received the signal to move ahead with the mark-up of the bill, he called together his staff, NPS personnel, Jim Oberstar, and Lee McElvain to complete the assignment as soon as possible. A number of resource people were on hand to assist in the rewrite of the Blatnik bill so that it meshed with NPS requirements and also the requests of the two "clients"—Blatnik and Aspinall. Elmer Andersen and Wayne Olson from the VNPA flew to Washington to assist in the work and Joe Penfold from the Izaak Walton League and Doug Scott and Stewart Brandenburg from the Wilderness Society joined them. [416]

Representative Aspinall had attached some conditions to his consent to hold off adjournment as was soon discovered during the mark-up of the bill. He insisted that the legislation use precise language to clear up any confusion over the transfer of the 25,000 acres of state trust fund lands. He didn't like what he interpreted as ambiguities contained in Governor Levander's letter of September 5. Aspinall wanted the bill to say that the park would not be designated until the state lands were donated to the Department of the Interior. He also demanded that the legislation be clear on the prohibition of hunting in the park.

For his part, Blatnik continued to insist on the inclusion of the Crane Lake Recreation Area in the final version of the bill. (This was the major difference between the official NPS position on Voyageurs and the Blatnik bill.) As soon as the mark-up was completed, Taylor called his subcommittee together and all but one member showed up (seventeen) for the voice vote approving the legislation. Blatnik had contacted every member of the committee and asked them to be present at the subcommittee session. Senior members could not recall ever seeing so many members at a subcommittee session!

On the following day, September 24, the full Interior and Insular Affairs Committee met to review the product of the previous day's work. After making a few changes including a reduction from $52 million to $45.2 million for land acquisition and development costs over a five-year period, the bill received unanimous approval. The dollar reduction was made so that the NPS would have to come back to the committee with detailed development plans for the Crane Lake area before the full amount was restored. (The original NPS master plan for Voyageurs did not include the Crane Lake Recreation Area addition.) [417]

Blatnik and others close to the Voyageurs issue were elated at the quick action by the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. On Monday, September 21, the bill seemed doomed for that session of Congress. But by Thursday it had cleared the committee. Prospects now looked brighter for passage before the close of the Ninety-first Congress. Passage of this bill in a new Congress was highly problematic given the uncertainties of the mood of a new Congress following the fall elections.

Even though approval by a House committee is generally considered the critical hurdle, Blatnik took no chances. To move the bill to the Senate as quickly as possible, he asked that the bill be placed on the House suspension calendar, which permits non-controversial issues to be taken up under a suspension of rules. This meant that Blatnik's bill would avoid going through the Rules Committee, a time-consuming process normally required as a final step to full House consideration. [418] With that accomplished, Blatnik then asked Speaker McCormack to move the bill up from its fifteenth position if any of the bills ahead of it were removed. A friend and colleague from Ohio removed his own bill so that Voyageurs became the third one to be considered by the House on October 5.

The House, on a voice vote on that date, approved the bill. It was ready to move on to the Senate where Walter Mondale would be its chief sponsor. Mondale had already asked Henry Jackson, chairman of the Senate Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, to schedule hearings on the Voyageurs bill as soon as it came over from the House.

Ever watchful that the park bill not get caught up in scheduling delays and misunderstandings about the significance of the legislation to Minnesota, Rita Shemish, on the day following House passage, sent a letter to Alan Bible, chair of the subcommittee that would hear the Voyageurs bill in the Senate. In her letter she told the senator that the park proposal met all standards of the NPS, had been endorsed by all major conservation organizations and 1,800 other civic and professional groups, and had bipartisan support at all times. She urged him to schedule hearings quickly so that the bill could gain authorization before the close of the Ninety-first Congress at the end of December. [419] Shemish encouraged VNPA supporters to write similar letters to the senator because many, like Shemish, saw this Congress as the last chance for Voyageurs.

Shemish's correspondence (the timely letter to Senator Bible, the detailed accounts of VNPA executive committee meetings, frequent letters to out-state leaders of the Citizens Committee for Voyageurs, and the many personal notes of appreciation and concern about the welfare of individuals and families involved in the campaign) and her dedication, enthusiasm and passion for this effort was overwhelming to say the least. Rita Shemish's sincerity and enthusiasm for the Voyageurs cause was contagious and had an enormous impact on the final outcome of the campaign.

One of the conditions Aspinall insisted upon in the House bill was that the state must donate its lands within the boundaries of the proposed park to the federal government and that the transfer be accomplished before the park was established. Since much of the state land was classified as school trust fund land, the state legislature would be required to pass special legislation to reimburse the trust fund for the donated lands. Moving land donation legislation through the legislature required strong leadership from both parties but especially from conservatives who were in the majority in both houses. [420]

The two legislators who would assume key leadership roles on the land donation legislation would be Stanley Holmquist, majority leader in the Senate and Thomas Newcome, chairman of the Minnesota Resources Commission (MRC) in the House. [421] Both had testified in favor of the park at the Washington, D.C. hearings in July. Even though both were strongly committed to the park, they were well aware of the strong opposition within their own caucuses. Some who strongly opposed the park were senior leaders in the conservative-controlled legislature. For a number of them, the results of the fall primaries and the November elections caught them by surprise.

The Wednesday following the November elections saw the conservative majorities in the state legislature reduced significantly by liberal victories across the state. Wendell Anderson, a Democrat who had previous experience as a state Senator, replaced Governor Levander, who chose not to run for reelection. He immediately launched a reorganization of the state administration that included the elimination of the Department of Conservation. It was replaced by the Department of Natural Resources and headed by Robert Herbst, no stranger to the capitol scene. He previously held the position of deputy commissioner to conservation under Clarence Prout in the Rolvaag administration.

Herbst returned to Minnesota from Washington where he had been the national executive director of the Izaak Walton League. He and the new governor let it be known early on that they were committed to quick approval of state land donation legislation to remove the one remaining roadblock to full establishment of the park.

In the state Senate, Stanley Holmquist won reelection and resumed his position as majority leader where the conservative margin had been reduced to only one vote over Democratic Farmer Labor liberals. The conservatives who had held control of the Senate since 1913 were able to retain control because one new Senator who had campaigned as an independent decided to caucus with conservatives. Park supporters saw this as a fortuitous event because Stanley Holmquist, highly respected in both parties, would again be leading the effort for Voyageurs in the Senate.

O.A. Sundet, chairman of the Senate Public Domain Committee and a vocal opponent of Voyageurs, was defeated in the primaries. Senator Roy Higgins of Duluth, the most vocal and determined member of the anti-park faction, was defeated in the general election. His defeat came at the hands of Ralph Doty, a young college professor who had openly campaigned for Voyageurs and made Senator Higgins' negative stance on the park a major part of his campaign. Also going down in the liberal "landslide" were the state's senior lawmaker, Senator Donald O. Wright and conservative Senator Gorden Rosenmeier, frequently called the most influential man in the state legislature.

As if to remove any chance that a senate committee would again be used as a forum for fighting the park, the committee structure for the 1971 session of the Minnesota Legislature no longer included a Public Domain Committee. Its duties were subsumed in a new committee—the Natural Resources and Environment Committee.

A Duluth News-Tribune editorial on the impact of the fall elections around the state, said that the legislature had been changed significantly. "The state has witnessed a quiet revolution." [422] In looking for explanations for the philosophical shift, some observers speculated that the electorate expressed its preference for new and younger faces in the legislature replacing some "pillars" of the old guard that had dominated the state legislature for many years. Others saw it as reflecting the increased public interest in environmental issues that began in the 1960s around the nation and a belief that legislative attention to these matters could best be dealt with by a new set of lawmakers. Rita Shemish had no doubts that it was the latter.

Just as soon as the election results were known, Shemish sent congratulatory letters to Ralph Doty and Wendell Anderson, both strong supporters of Voyageurs. In a letter to Senator Mondale she said, "State Senators Higgins, Sundet and Rosenmeier and others were all defeated to a large degree, by virtue of their opposition to Voyageurs." She saw the new crop of legislators as supportive of the park and could foresee "no problems at all in working out all the details on a state level if the park is authorized in the Senate session." [423] Shemish's letter gave her the opportunity to tell the senator the good news for the park cause brought about by the election results and also to remind him, in not so subtle fashion, that park advocates in Minnesota were going to rely on him to help secure Senate passage of the House-approved bill. Little did she realize at the time she wrote the letter that the Voyageurs legislation would encounter such unexpected opposition and delay in the Senate. The land donation legislation would meet with even more formidable resistance in the state legislature. In some ways the last few months of the legislative "ride" for Voyageurs National Park legislation were the roughest of the entire eight-year journey.

Senate hearings on the House-passed bill were scheduled for two half-day sessions on Friday, December 4 and Monday, December 7. Senator Alan Bible of Nevada and chair of the Subcommittee on Parks and Recreation, presided at both sessions. Many witnesses at these hearings had appeared at the earlier House hearings and filed statements with the Senate that were essentially the same as those used at the previous hearings. The positions pro and con were known to both sides but not necessarily to all Senators who participated in this hearing. [424]

Therefore, Blatnik, in his opening remarks, reviewed the history of the Voyageurs movement, the geographic setting of the proposed park and, in response to a question from Bible, his reasons for including the Crane Lake Recreation Area in his bill. As he had done in previous testimony in the House, he stressed the logic of single-agency jurisdiction over the entire park. Pointing to the map of the proposed park and particularly to the western third of Namakan Lake he said, "To arbitrarily have a bisection here just wouldn't make any sense." He said it made no sense from an administrative point of view to have two federal departments involved in the management of an area he saw as a single geographic unit. Blatnik also reassured the committee that leaders of both Houses of the Minnesota Legislature were committed to passing legislation authorizing donation of state lands in the proposed park. [425]

When Director Hartzog took his place at the witness table he was accompanied by John Kawamoto, who was clearly the most knowledgeable person in the NPS on Voyageurs. By choosing Kawamoto, the NPS hoped to avoid the embarrassing experience of the House hearings when the director was subjected to thorough grilling by Representative McClure who bore in with questions requiring details apparently not covered in the director's briefing materials. Kawamoto believed that McClure's questions had been fed in by the opposition, probably by Boise Cascade. McClure, a skillful interrogator, made the most of the opportunity to embarrass the director by asking follow-up questions that called for fairly detailed knowledge of the area and the special circumstances surrounding the proposal. The director's office anticipated that the same tough questions would be asked by Idaho Senator Len Jordan, who was actually a member of the subcommittee's parent committee on Interior and Insular Affairs.

However, the questions Jordan might have asked, had he been able to attend the hearing, were put to Hartzog by Wyoming Senator Clifford Hansen. Kawamoto said later that Hansen "didn't quite understand the context of the questions so he asked them in such a way that they were easy to answer. So actually it was very easy. You answered the questions and that was the end of it." [426]

Director Hartzog's testimony included no new information and it reaffirmed the Interior Department's hands-off policy with respect to the Crane Lake Recreation Area. His stock answer to several questions on this subject was that the Interior Department deferred to the Agriculture Department on the issue. The Department of Agriculture chose not to send a representative to testify at the hearings but in a prepared statement sent to the committee, Secretary of Agriculture Clifford M. Hardin strongly recommended that the Senate bill be amended to exclude any area within Superior National Forest from the proposed park.

Apparently the Agriculture Department felt their official position was well known and that any additional support for their stance on this matter would be made by other witnesses including the National Wildlife Federation, American Forestry Association, the Wildlife Management Institute, St. Louis County Commissioners, Crane Lake Commercial Club, and private citizens in the affected area.

The subcommittee also heard several witnesses claim that national recreation area designation would be more appropriate for Voyageurs. One witness, Alvin Hall, a member of the St. Louis County Board, spoke in favor of a "commission system" of management for the park that would rely on local and state representation, thereby keeping the federal government out of the area entirely. A variation of this type of management was cited earlier as a product of the Charles Aguar study and the Allagash Wilderness Waterway model in Maine. Minnesotans would learn more about the proposed commission when park opponents pushed hard for approval of such an agency in the 1971 session of the state legislature.

The Washington Senate hearings attracted a new "entrant" to the Voyageurs controversy. William Essling, a former assistant U.S. Attorney who worked with enforcement issues in the "Superior Roadless Primitive Area," now the BWCA, during the Truman administration. He appeared at the hearings as a landowner in the Crane Lake Recreation Area. Testifying without a formal written statement, Essling said that until the field hearings in International Falls in August 1969, the general public assumed that hunting and other uses more compatible with a national recreation area would be permitted in the proposed park. He also said that land acquisition costs could run as high as $150 million and questioned the NPS's lack of information on property values. It is interesting that once the park was established, Essling was successful in securing clients among the inholders and gaining generous awards for a number of these individuals. Such awards resulted in more rapid depletion of allocated funds for land acquisition in Voyageurs.

Also appearing at the hearings was Dr. A.T. Banen, a dentist and the mayor of International Falls. A week before the hearings, several members of the city council learned that the mayor was intending to fly to Washington to testify in favor of the park. They reminded Mayor Banen that in July 1970 they had passed a resolution opposing the park by a six-to-one vote. His was the lone vote in opposition to the resolution. In his response Banen said, "The Council doesn't represent the city in the matter by simply passing a resolution." [427] He added that he had been invited to testify by the VNPA to represent the city and that he intended to do just that and would be paying his own way. Mayor Banen also informed the council that he stood by statements he had made at previous meetings that council members who worked for Boise Cascade didn't always think for themselves. During the course of the Senate hearings, Banen referred to the resolution opposing the park and noted that all six of those voting against the park were employees of Boise Cascade. He said he felt confident that sentiment for the park was shared by a majority of residents in International Falls and as evidence of this view, he openly supported the park in his campaign for mayor and won by a two-to-one margin. [428]

Mayor Banen's contention that a majority of International Falls residents supported the park was shared by others who filed statements with the subcommittee. After the hearings on the first day, Senator Bible said that the many expressions favoring the park (at the hearings and from letters he had received), "makes the green light for the park look pretty green." [429] But that was on December 4. By Thursday, December 10 the signal was on caution and shading toward red. Just when the park legislation needed a barrier-free path with less than four weeks before the close of the Ninety-first Congress, obstructions began to appear along the right-of-way.

The result of another Senate vote had a negative effect on the park deliberations. One day before the subcommittee hearings, the Senate voted 52 to 41 against any new government spending on the supersonic transport (SST) program. Two of the senators voting with the majority to restrict funding were Minnesota senators, Mondale and McCarthy. One of the chief sponsors of this legislation was Senator Henry Jackson from Washington State where the health of the aircraft industry was always an important political issue. Jackson, who was chairman of the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee which had to approve the Voyageurs bill in order to get Senate passage, was not at all happy with the lack of support for SST from his colleagues in Minnesota. People close to Mondale said that Jackson had called him before the crucial vote, but Mondale stood firm in his opposition to further funding.

Rumors began to circulate in Washington that Jackson planned to hold up the park bill as retribution for Mondale and McCarthy's lack of support on the aerospace legislation. Holding it up even a few days could have been lethal to the Voyageurs cause. What Blatnik needed was a Senate bill that was very close to the House version, i.e. a Senate bill without substantive amendments. Such a bill would not require House-Senate conference committee action and could go directly to the House floor for final action.

Getting a relatively "clean" bill out of the Senate in time to meet the deadlines for passage in the House would not be easy, as Blatnik's staff learned on December 10. On that day, Jackson's office notified Blatnik that the senator had a number of unanswered questions about his park bill. Along with his request for clarification on certain provisions in the bill came Jackson's assurance that he would not hold up the bill because of the SST issue. (Jackson always denied that it was ever his intention to use that issue to withhold his support for Voyageurs.)

Senator Jackson had three major concerns about the House bill: One, the use of snowmobiles in the park; two, state constitutional problems associated with the donation of state trust fund lands; and three, the inclusion of the Crane Lake Recreation Area. Jackson had been getting pressure from some conservation organizations as well as forestry industry representatives to remove these objectionable provisions from the bill. Blatnik immediately realized that if Jackson moved to satisfy these concerns, it would require substantive changes in the legislation and necessitate a conference committee to resolve differences.

The time remaining on the congressional calendar was insufficient to accommodate a conference committee process. The bill would be lost for the session and probably for good. If Blatnik were to save the Voyageurs bill he would have to enlist the support of staff, colleagues in the House, and park advocates in a Herculean effort. And this effort had to be compressed in a time period that included the Christmas holiday recess.

Blatnik began by calling for assistance from Elmer Andersen, Sigurd Olson and other park supporters in Minnesota, and leaders of major conservation organizations to help him mount a "last-ditch" effort to move the Voyageurs legislation to final passage. If he failed, he and everyone else connected with the campaign over the previous six to eight years, knew that it would be impossible to win approval in the new Congress. Voyageurs National Park would be a dead issue, a casualty of political wrangling, in fighting, and indifference.

Congressman Blatnik asked Sigurd Olson and Elmer Anderson to come to Washington as soon as possible to lobby for the bill. Before leaving for Washington, Olson, then president of the Wilderness Society, sent a telegram approved by the VNPA and eight conservation organizations with national memberships, to Senator Jackson pleading for final Senate approval of the Voyageurs legislation. "We beg you and beseech you, please place the Voyageurs National Park bill on the floor of the Senate for passage before the session adjourns. We joined together sending this desperate plea for Voyageurs. Citizens all over the U.S. and the generations to follow will praise your wisdom forever." [430]

The rescue effort began in earnest on Monday morning, December 14. Blatnik contacted Jackson and Bible by telephone to tell them that he was confident that he and others outside the Congress who were familiar with the issues and the legislation, could work out language and provisions in the bill that would satisfy the concerns of committee members. He believed he could do this and still come up with legislation close enough to the House version so that time-consuming conference committee proceedings would not be required. With members of his own staff, NPS personnel and Senate Interior and Insular Affairs Committee staff working together to shape the legislation so that it would merit approval by the full committee, Blatnik turned to another part of his strategy to make the rescue effort a success.

After more than six years on the receiving end of relentless pressure from both sides of the Voyageurs issue, Blatnik decided to use the tactic on Jackson and his committee. He called on Senator-elect Hubert Humphrey and Senator Mondale to contact Jackson to stress the significance of the park bill to Minnesota and to note the legislation's broad support among the leading conservation organizations across the country. To make certain that these organizations were totally committed to the park bill as written and passed by the House, he called in representatives from six major conservation groups including the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society to set aside their differences and let Jackson know they were behind the legislation 100 percent. [431]

Figure 7: Voyageurs National Park boundary, 1975. (click on image for a PDF version)

While all of this was taking place, Elmer Andersen and Sigurd Olson were making the rounds once again to drum up support for Voyageurs. Former Governor Andersen, in an interview some years later, pointed out that normally national park bills are carried by the Congress member in whose district the park will be located, and the Senate will go along with the legislation as it comes over from the House. But, he said, in this case some western senators, including Jackson, were getting pressure from park opponents including Boise Cascade and others in the forest industry. Also, Andersen felt that Minnesota's senators were not as helpful as they should have been. [432]

When Andersen and Olson arrived in Washington on December 13, the Voyageurs bill was in very deep trouble. Andersen learned that Jackson's staff had "looked at the Voyageurs proposal as immature and considered it dead." [433] He realized that the best course of action would be for he and Sigurd Olson to meet with Jackson and his staff as soon as possible. Andersen then called a friend of his, Senator Gordon Allott, former lieutenant governor of Colorado and ranking Republican member of Jackson's committee, and asked him to arrange a meeting with Jackson. The meeting was arranged for December 14 in Jackson's office. "We talked fast and furious for an hour describing the park. Jackson asked his staff what they thought and they replied that they had been misinformed. Jackson then said let's do it. Sig and I left the meeting elated." [434]

Andersen continued to meet with Republican members of the Senate committee and Blatnik and his team of staff people and park supporters continued to work on modifying the bill to make it acceptable to the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. On Tuesday, December 15, Blatnik learned that Jackson had scheduled a committee meeting for Thursday to consider Voyageurs and two other park proposals—the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park and Gulf Islands National Lakeshore. However, Blatnik's optimism was short-lived. By Wednesday morning Voyageurs legislation hit yet another snag. Once again it was caught up in the SST controversy.

Following the normal procedure, the Senate version of the SST bill, which included cuts the Senate imposed earlier in December, went to conference with the House. But when it returned to the Senate, SST opponents noticed that the conference committee had restored much of the money the Senate had earlier removed. Almost immediately, Senator Proxmire of Wisconsin, a leading opponent of the SST, launched a filibuster with the intent of keeping the Senate tied up until the end of the session. [435]

The Interior and Insular Affairs Committee meeting that had been scheduled to consider the three park bills was promptly canceled as Jackson was busy assessing the impact of a long filibuster on the SST legislation. Press accounts said they were told the meeting was canceled because Senator Bible was not available. This may have been the case, but certainly the fate of the SST bill had to be uppermost in Jackson's mind at the time. To ease the anxiety of supporters for all three parks, Interior Department staff felt certain that the committee meeting would be rescheduled for early the next week. True to assurances given by Jackson's office, the committee session took place on Monday, December 21, at which time the bill was approved and quickly sent to the full Senate for final action.

While these events were underway in the Senate, Blatnik met with Roy Taylor, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Parks and Recreation, to go over alterations made in the Senate on the Voyageurs bill. The changes were happily determined to be minor and Taylor agreed to the changes, including one that went beyond the House requirement that the park would not be established until all state lands were donated. The Senate had added another line that prohibited federal purchase of any privately owned land for park purposes until all state lands had been donated. [436] Upon appeal to the Secretary of the Interior and under certain extenuating circumstances, some purchases could go forward, but the intent was to firmly place the burden on the state legislature to expedite the land donation process.

With Taylor's agreement, the usual House-Senate negotiations were avoided and the legislation was ready for Senate action. The Senate, setting aside the SST issue for a brief period, passed the Voyageurs legislation on December 22. Blatnik hoped to get action on his bill before the Christmas recess, but it was late getting over from the Senate to the House side, which delayed final action until the House reconvened after the Christmas break.

On the afternoon of December 29, with only sixty members in attendance, Representative Roy Taylor asked for unanimous consent to accept the minor Senate changes in H.R. 10482. Following several questions and comments regarding game management and state land donation, the bill was passed by voice vote without opposition. In the waning hours of the Ninety-first Congress, the eight-year campaign for Voyageurs came to a close. President Nixon signed the authorizing legislation on January 8, 1971 at the "western White House" in San Clemente, California.

It all began on June 27, 1962 with a consensus statement drafted by Elmer L. Andersen on behalf of the director of the National Park Service, Minnesota Department of Conservation officials, the director of the Minnesota Historical Society, and representatives of the Minnesota and Ontario Paper Company, the largest landowner on the Kabetogama Peninsula, declaring that the beautiful Kabetogama Peninsula and surrounding lakes should be made available to a larger public, "while preserving its wilderness character for posterity. Establishing it as a national park would be an excellent way of accomplishing these objectives." [437] Only one hurdle remained before Voyageurs National Park could officially join the others in the National Park System— approval of the land donation process in the 1971 session of the Minnesota Legislature.

<<< Previous <<< Contents>>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 23-Jan-2009