Eighty Years in the Making
A Legislative History of Voyageurs National Park
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When Congressman Blatnik submitted his Voyageurs National Park bill in July 1968, he told the House that no hearings would be held on the bill in that session, but they could expect the legislation to be reintroduced when the new Congress convened in January 1969. In the interim he anticipated public discussion on the merits of the legislation and he fully expected interested parties to make comments and even suggestions for modifications in the bill. Also, he was not surprised to see opponents and proponents use the time interval to muster public support for their respective positions.

VNPA Executive Secretary Rita Shemish wasted no time in bringing her leadership groups together to map a strategy for what she hoped would be the "final push" to get congressional approval for a park on the Kabetogama Peninsula. She began by reserving facilities on Rainy Lake for her September "workshop." Leaders from the VNPA and Citizens Committee were invited along with key members of Governor Levander's staff, including Archie Chelseth and Roger Williams—the governor's two main advisors on the park project. Shemish saw the meeting as an opportunity to develop a coordinated plan for the campaign ahead and she was not disappointed. Buoyed by beautiful fall weather and a boat trip to the historic Kettle Falls Hotel at the eastern end of the peninsula, participants were eager to exchange ideas and specifics on ways to generate more popular support for the park. They left the session with certain knowledge of the support and cooperation of the governor's office and also that the campaign was in the hands of a most capable and enthusiastic leader. It was actually the only time during the entire Voyageurs campaign that so many VNPA board members and Citizens Committee people came together for planning and motivational sessions. It would have a lasting and positive impression.

Several times during the Rainy Lake meeting the point was made that with park legislation before Congress, the VNPA should consider expanding its effort from one that concentrated its energy at the state level to one, which also recognized the need to build support nationally. This matter was given rather serious consideration at the November meeting of the VNPA board. The result was board action requesting that the steering committee, "take the necessary steps to create the proper alignment among the Citizen Committee, the state VNPA and a possible national VNPA." [282]

When Elmer Andersen learned that a national organization was under study, his reaction was one of caution against such a move. In a letter to board member Lloyd Brandt, he said, "the VNPA as now constituted is excellent from a corporate standpoint," to carry out its most important assignment. [283] Andersen's reasoning was that the association was properly positioned to carry out its primary mission, which was to build solid support for the park in Minnesota, especially in Congressman Blatnik's Eighth District. In deference to Andersen's good judgement in these matters, and because of the heavy monetary cost required to mount a national effort, the VNPA board dropped the matter. It was decided instead to seek the endorsement of nationally recognized conservationists, environmental organizations with national memberships, and prominent business, professional, and political leaders.

This strategy paid off quickly when by mid-1969, the park proposal received the endorsement of a number of prominent citizens including former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, Charles Lindbergh, and radio and television personality Arthur Godfrey. Formal endorsements also came from the Sierra Club and the Izaak Walton League. These endorsements were very encouraging to the VNPA and Citizens Committee leadership, especially because they brought national attention to the park proposal. Nevertheless, Governor Andersen contended that winning park supporters in Minnesota's Eighth District should be the central objective for pro-park organizations. In his view it was absolutely critical to the success of the campaign. This was confirmed when Blatnik challenged the VNPA to work harder in Iron Range towns like Hibbing, Virginia and Chisholm, as well as communities farther north that were closest to the proposed park. He wanted to see more support for the park in these areas to blunt the criticism he was getting for his efforts on behalf of the park. He was convinced that his relatively poor showing in some Iron Range communities in the 1968 elections was directly linked to the controversy over the park.

Archie Chelseth, the governor's closest advisor on Voyageurs, anticipating the coming 1969 session of the state legislature, became concerned that the final thrust for congressional action could be hampered by resolutions and legislation coming from that body. He advised Levander and his park coordinating committee to discourage both friendly and unfriendly moves on the part of legislators regarding what the state's position should be on the park. [284] For example, when the legislature's most ardent park supporter, Representative Willard Munger from Duluth, indicated his intent to introduce a resolution memorializing Congress to support Voyageurs, he was quickly discouraged from following through with his intentions. And shortly after Elmer Andersen was elected president of the VNPA in February, he instructed the VNPA board in much the same way.

In a letter to Rita Shemish, Andersen said that the general consensus had been to do nothing to stir up the legislature at the session and give opponents something to talk about. [285] And so the strategy followed by the state administration and the VNPA was to watch for bills deemed harmful to the park cause and, with the help of legislators friendly to the initiative, stop the progress of such legislation. As it turned out, the first serious challenge to the park proposal by state legislators didn't come in the form of a piece of legislation, but from the activities of one of the state senate standing committees.

The Senate Public Domain Committee, charged with oversight responsibilities in the management and disposition of state lands (most of them located in the northeastern part of the state) first appeared as a standing committee in the 1963 session. The committee's chairman from 1965 until its demise in 1971 was O.A. Sundet, a veteran legislator who represented several agricultural counties south of the Twin Cities. Typically, the chair of a committee will play the dominant role in setting the committee's agenda, the pace of its proceedings, and the general political philosophy of its majority. However, when Voyageurs was the subject of a hearing, it was readily apparent that this was not the case with Sundet's committee. At these sessions another committee member, Senator Ray Higgins, of Duluth, played the dominant role of conservative. Higgins left no doubt as to his opposition to the conversion of private lands into public lands, especially if these lands became federal lands managed by an agency whose philosophy and mission was preservation. His testimony at the governor's Virginia workshop sent a very clear signal that he would fight the park proposal at every opportunity. For Senator Higgins, the perfect forum for making his case was a public hearing sponsored by the Public Domain Committee.

Senator Higgins firmly believed that persistent inquiry into the ramifications of a national park for northeastern Minnesota was legitimate business for the Public Domain Committee. He maintained that the purpose of the numerous hearings on Voyageurs was to investigate the state government's responsibilities in regard to the establishment of the park. [286] However, for the officers of the VNPA and for NPS personnel, these hearings were often very painful sessions. During several of these lengthy sessions, NPS personnel were subjected to rude treatment. And leaders in the movement for the park often insisted that the hearings were simply, "set up to provide a forum for the opponents of the park." [287] Obviously some Public Domain Committee members would take exception to this assertion. But, however structured, the hearings actually did provide an opportunity for those opposed to the park to express their views and then see some record of their testimony in the public press, especially in the newspapers in northeastern Minnesota.

The USFS, Timber Producer's Association, Minnesota Arrowhead Association, Northland Multiple Use Association, and Boise Cascade Corporation all took advantage of these opportunities to spell out their positions in a friendly environment. But for Higgins and other legislators opposed to the park and seriously convinced that the Minnesota legislature was being deliberately bypassed on this issue, public hearings of the type described on the floor of the legislature, provided a forum for an alternative view of the park proposal, perhaps delaying further action on the Blatnik bill in Congress.

In late April 1969, just a few days after Blatnik reintroduced his bill and with little more than a month remaining in the Minnesota legislature's session for 1969, Senator Higgins and like-minded colleagues in both houses submitted two bills that, had they passed, would have certainly stalled or perhaps even killed the chances for park approval in the Ninety-first Congress. It was precisely what Chelseth and Andersen had warned earlier in the year. One bill would have established a seven-member planning commission. A part of the bill, Section 1 of S.F. 2530, in referring to the natural resources of the area, said that the purpose of the legislation was, "to develop and coordinate the best utilization of these resources, to avoid irrevocable commitment thereof to any single use and to establish an appropriate policy of multiple resource use." That phrase alone clearly ruled out a national park for the area. A majority of the members (three) of the proposed commission (five) were to be appointed by the two county boards, leaving the governor and the Eighth District congressman with one position each. The legislation also would have required that the Land Exchange Commission, a constitutionally based commission, "could not approve any lease, sale or exchange of public lands without prior review and approval of the boundary commission." [288] This provision targeted land exchanges between the federal government, the state, and private owners. At that time, such exchanges were considered essential if the state was to secure a national park.

The second bill called for establishment of an interim commission, "to consider the state's responsibilities relating to the possible establishment of a national park." [289] This bill was quickly labeled a harassment measure by park supporters who pointed out that the legislature already had a study group—the Minnesota Resources Commission—and it had studied the Voyageurs proposal and endorsed it twice. Shortly after the two bills were introduced, VNPA president Elmer Andersen asked members to contact legislators and urge them to oppose both bills. Andersen told a group of park supporters at a meeting in Hinckley, Minnesota, that the bills were hastily drafted counter moves to Blatnik's reintroduced legislation and that Governor Levander assured him that if the bills passed in the legislature he would veto them.

Leaders in the state legislature judged the two bills as weak, and their introduction near the end of the session did not provide sufficient time for proper study and evaluation. Even Chairman Sundet of the Public Domain Committee assured Andersen that the two bills would not go anywhere in the legislature. Shortly before the 1969 session ended, an effort was made by Higgins and other park opponents in the legislature to have the Senate Rules Committee set up an interim study group, a Natural Resources Commission, to study the problems related to establishing Voyageurs and report back to the legislature at its next session. This diversionary effort also failed.

Even though anti-park legislators were unsuccessful in their efforts to move their legislation through the 1969 session, they did succeed in creating a time-consuming diversion for the VNPA. Every meeting of the VNPA board had to assess the progress of the anti-park legislation and make certain that their allies in the legislature were properly informed as to the serious consequences if such legislation passed. The last thing they wanted was the emergence of a hostile state legislature armed with legislation unfriendly to the park just as they were actively promoting park legislation with the new national administration.

Richard Nixon took advantage of a very divided Democratic Party in the 1968 fall elections to easily defeat Vice President Hubert Humphrey for the presidency. When John Blatnik first introduced his Voyageurs bill in 1968, it was in a Washington, D.C. political environment that had regularly demonstrated its support for environmental reform and innovation through the legislative process. In the first eight years of the 1960s, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and Congress supported a number of additions to the national park system. The new areas included Canyonlands, Redwood and North Cascade National Parks in the west, Indiana Dunes and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshores in the Midwest, and Cape Cod and Cape Lookout National Seashores in the east. Voyageurs supporters had hoped to add their park to that list before the end of the decade. But the results of the fall elections in 1968 raised fears in the ranks of many conservationists across the country that the Nixon administration would be less friendly to new environmental and park legislation.

Apprehensions turned to alarm when they learned that the president would be appointing Walter Hickel, the former governor of Alaska, to be the next Secretary of the Interior. Legislation for new parks had little chance of congressional passage unless endorsed by the Interior Department. Hickel brought to Washington a record that, according to many conservationists, repeatedly favored economic development over conservation and preservation. They cited as an example his request in 1967 that the Interior Department grant an application allowing exploratory drilling for oil in the Arctic Wildlife Range of Alaska. [290] And now Hickel was nominated to succeed Stewart Udall who, in administering the Interior Department, made environmental quality a major concern in matters of resource development. In contrasting the two, Time magazine said that conservationists saw Hickel as, "so depressingly different that some reacted as if Satan had been promoted to guard St. Peter's gates." [291] By the time Hickel came to the Senate for confirmation hearings, it was apparent that the concern over his nomination went far beyond the leaders and members of environmental organizations. One eastern senator received over 3,500 letters and telegrams on the Hickel controversy and most opposed his appointment. [292]

The Senate Interior Committee took four days to question Hickel before sending his nomination to the floor for confirmation. During the hearings Hickel defended his record as governor and gave assurances that he would manage the Interior Department in a manner that was sensitive to environmental quality. For his part, the president, if he wasn't prior to the hearings, became acutely aware of the fact that the quality of the nation's environment was a major concern across the country, and that failure to recognize this fact could have serious political implications for his new administration. As evidence of this awareness and to blunt criticism of his appointment of Hickel, Nixon let it be known that he would name Russell Train, then president of the Conservation Foundation, to be undersecretary of the Interior. [293]

Undaunted by all the talk and maneuvering in Washington, former Governor Andersen, the newly elected president of the VNPA (February 19, 1969), was determined to move the Voyageurs cause forward both in the Congress and inside the new Republican administration. In a press release on the day he was elected VNPA president, he cited the enormous support for the park in Minnesota. He also stressed the strong bipartisan support as evidenced by the park's endorsement by the entire Minnesota congressional delegation. He firmly believed that the opportunity to finally secure a national park for the state had arrived. "We have our foot in the door and this is the do or die year." [294]

During the annual meeting of the VNPA he announced a ten-point plan to advance the park proposal. Included among the points was a Washington kick off which meant a VNPA delegation going to Washington, D.C. to meet with Minnesota congressmen and national conservation leaders to acquaint them with the park proposal. This effort, scheduled for the second week of March, also included separate meetings between Andersen and individuals who could make the difference for Voyageurs: Blatnik, Hickel, Wayne Aspinall (chairman of the House Interior Committee), and NPS Director Hartzog. There can be no doubt about Andersen's motive in scheduling the Washington kick-off. He wanted to build a fire under Blatnik and prod him into reintroducing his park bill so that the legislative process could begin in earnest. He was impatient for action.

The day Andersen was to begin his talks with Blatnik and others on his list, the St. Paul, Duluth, International Falls, and Iron Range newspapers carried a story by Albert Eisele of the Knight-Ridder newspaper's Washington bureau, which revealed that all was not sweetness and light in the Voyageurs camp. The two principals in the park movement, Governor Andersen and Congressman John Blatnik, were often at odds as to the proper course of action and the tempo of the effort. It also showed that Blatnik had a very thin skin when it came to any semblance of interference with his management of legislative matters for which he was responsible. According to Eisele, Blatnik's reaction to the Andersen visit was, "We need this like we need a hole in the head. His coming here isn't going to accomplish anything except stir up a lot of trouble. If he wants to help us get a park he should stay back there and build up some support for it. All he is going to do now is wake up a sleeping tiger and stir up more opposition to the park." When Andersen read this article he probably thought that the sleeping tiger was actually Blatnik and it was he who needed waking up. Blatnik still harbored some resentment over a newspaper article in late February in which Andersen was quoted as predicting that Blatnik would be introducing a new park bill in a "few days." Blatnik told Eisele, "Andersen doesn't have any business announcing for us when we'll have it ready. If there's any announcing to be done, I'll do it." [295] Blatnik also criticized Governor Levander for not working out an agreement with Boise Cascade over land exchanges on the Kabetogama Peninsula.

John Blatnik, completely embarrassed by the Eisele article, left an urgent message for Andersen to call him as soon as he arrived in Washington so that he could explain the situation surrounding the Eisele story. He later explained to Andersen that Eisele had betrayed his confidence by printing the content of his conversation with Eisele. In reporting on his Washington meeting at the VNPA board meeting later in the week, Andersen said, regarding the Blatnik episode, "He didn't make an issue about it and I could only accept John's apology and sincerity." [296] Andersen also told the committee that Blatnik was still sensitive to the park issue against him. Blatnik told Andersen that, "the young Turks are out to unseat him in his district." [297] Blatnik again urged the VNPA to be more aggressive on the Iron Range in getting groups and clubs to issue statements on behalf of the park.

In retrospect, Andersen's Washington visit, although beginning on an unpleasant note, actually achieved its objective, which was to get some assurances that the park proposal would begin to move forward again. (Congressman Blatnik, after adding a hunting provision primarily at the request of Governor Levander, reintroduced the bill the next month following his meeting with Elmer Andersen.) [298]

A lesser person would have found it difficult to accept an apology for an affront that quickly became public knowledge throughout most of the state. But true to his generous and unselfish nature, the former governor accepted an apology from a long-time political adversary who may have had much to do with his defeat for reelection as governor in 1962. Andersen wrote to Blatnik a few weeks later after explanatory articles regarding the episode were published. In his letter Andersen said, "The subsequent publicity removed the ill effects of that first unfortunate story and I think we needn't be further concerned about it." [299] In a biographical sketch commemorating Andersen's eightieth birthday in 1989, the author said, "One of the abiding characteristics of Andersen's life is his tendency to look toward the future rather than dwell upon the past." [300] In 1969 Andersen saw as a part of the future for the people of Minnesota a national park in the border lakes region, and he wasn't going to allow a few offending remarks to interfere with achieving that goal.

The reintroduction of the Voyageurs bill was greeted with predictable heavy doses of criticism and praise in northern Minnesota. The public was becoming accustomed to opposition views from the Minnesota Timber Products Association, Boise Cascade, the Crane Lake Commercial Club, and some segments of the resort communities on Rainy and Kabetogama Lakes. The public also heard from some state legislators who had opposed the park from the beginning and who were especially frustrated because of their inability to get a proper review of the park proposal in the state legislature. The proponents, of course, were delighted with Blatnik's action and were expansive in their praise of his dedication and loyalty not only to the people of his district but to the state as well. One VNPA board member from Duluth said that such loyalty, "is, of course, typical of John Blatnik, a congressman of many achievements that have boosted the economy of northern Minnesota." [301] In a letter sent to all VNPA board and committee members, Rita Shemish urged them to send letters to Blatnik commending him for his leadership and pledging continued backing and support for his action. She closed her letter with a special call-to-action message. "Your own personal efforts can make the VNP dream come true! Let's all make this the final push!" [302] Ever the optimist, Shemish hoped that the "final push" would result in a park by the close of the first session of the Ninety-first Congress in late 1969. But she, like most others on either side of the controversy, could not imagine in April of 1969, the many twists and turns the legislative process would take before final passage in December 1970.

The Hickel appointment, as we have seen, was the first overt evidence that, on conservation issues at least, a philosophical shift was underway in the executive branch of the national administration. Directly and indirectly, this shift had its impact on Voyageurs and it produced interminable delays in the legislative process.

The first indication that the Nixon administration would move more slowly on new parks came in March 1969, when it declined to support legislation on Apostle Islands National Lakeshore because of the uncertainty of funding for land purchases. After that decision, the administration asked that Congress the appropriations from the Land and Water Conservation Fund for federal land purchase from the $154 million requested by the outgoing Johnson administration, to $124 million. [303] Blatnik's office said the administration's action wouldn't effect the Voyageurs bill because it was legislation requesting authorization—the funding could come later. But Wayne Aspinall, chairman of the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, which had to approve the legislation for final floor action, saw the cuts as, "maybe ruling out serious consideration of any new parks in 1969." [304]

It appeared in early summer that Aspinall wouldn't even schedule field hearings on Voyageurs because of a feud between him and the administration for cutting back on acquisition funds. However, after appeals by Blatnik and many letters requesting a hearing on the park in Minnesota, Aspinall cleared the way for a field hearing on August 21 in International Falls, conducted by Subcommittee on Parks and Recreation Chairman Roy Taylor. Almost four months had passed since the Voyageurs bill was reintroduced. In the absence of formal clearance on Voyageurs by the Department of the Interior, the uncertainty of fiscal support for new parks, the painfully slow response by Representative Aspinall to move on the bill, and the limited time available in the first session of the Ninety-first Congress to see the bill through to conclusion, Shemish's dream of her "final push" ending in victory in 1969 was shattered.

Before the House field hearings in late August, Elmer Andersen met with the St. Louis County Board to try to win their support for a national park. He reasoned that endorsement by the governing body in the county where the park would be located would demonstrate the kind of local support Aspinall always looked for when his committee considered a new park proposal. However, consistent with its position throughout the campaign for Voyageurs, the county board chose to take no action after politely listening to Andersen. The county board's inaction, in light of earlier behavior, was really an expression of opposition and was in harmony with opposition also expressed by the Duluth Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Arrowhead Association and several area newspapers including the Duluth News-Tribune and the Mesabi Daily News. All of this revealed that opposition to the park remained strong in the region with government officials, the media and some commercial enterprises, even though a majority of citizens in northeastern Minnesota consistently favored the park.

Public hearings like the August 1969 hearing on Voyageurs, have been standard congressional procedure for new park proposals because all national parks are created by an act of Congress. This was true even for the earliest parks established in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However units like Yellowstone, Crater Lake, Sequoia and Glacier were created out of public lands in the sparsely settled western half of the United States, thus making for a less complicated process in preparing and approving legislation for new park units. Park creation became more complicated, particularly after World War II when more and more new proposals came from the eastern half of the United States where population densities were much higher and settlement patterns more firmly established. Local resistance from property owners within the boundaries of proposed parks and from residents on the periphery, made new park formation and approval far more complicated. The NPS now holds hearings in Washington and in the area closest to the proposed park. The latter, called field hearings, are usually well attended, sometimes acrimonious. They give members of the opposing sides their first opportunity to explain their positions and concerns before congressional representatives who must ultimately make the final decision on a new park proposal. [305]

At the August 1969 field hearing for Voyageurs, Chairman Taylor's Subcommittee on Parks and Recreation was greeted by approximately two hundred people. A local newspaper estimated that about two-thirds were year round residents or summer residents who owned property in the proposed park area or nearby. The balance was made up of individuals who favored the park and had been active in the campaign for its authorization. Most in the latter group were from outside the area such as the Twin Cities region, Duluth and the Iron Range. Those appearing as participants spoke to their concerns, often in a spirited manner. These concerns were familiar to the committee members who had attended field hearings in the past where a new park was being proposed.

Before Voyageurs finally won approval in Congress, three hearings were held including an International Falls field hearing, a House subcommittee hearing in Washington in July 1970, and a Senate hearing in Washington in December 1970. Of the three, the International Falls hearing was the only one that really reflected the grass roots feelings regarding expansion and management of public lands. The most frequently mentioned concern by those opposed to the park centered on opposition to enlarging federal holdings in the border lakes region. After the hearing, an analysis of comments made during the hearing by those opposed to the park showed that the two most frequently mentioned issues were outright opposition to anything federal and recommendations that the proposed park be shifted from the largely private lands on the Kabetogama Peninsula to existing federal lands in the Lac La Croix area of the BWCA. Only one person mentioned a national recreation area, with its less rigid management requirements as an alternative to the proposed national park.

The third most commonly voiced concern was "people pressure." The field hearings were held at a time when media reports were describing startling increases in national park visitation with attendant negative impacts on resources. Fears of losing the quiet and solitude of the sparsely populated Crane to Rainy Lake area were genuine and expressed with sincerity by a number of those who testified or sent letters for the hearing record.

Concerns that national park status would place restrictions on traditional use patterns, particularly hunting, were also expressed. [306] Others were fearful that boating accidents would become a problem as visitors with limited boating experience showed up to enjoy the "wonders" which were best seen from the water. Surprisingly there were some that thought the Kabetogama Peninsula and surrounding lakes lacked the scenic qualities required for national park status. Referring to the committee's "tour" of the park made from an airplane, one witness said, "This may have given our airborne visitors an impressive view of 'lovely shimmering lakes,' but a closer, low-flying mission would have uncovered stagnant, murky-green waters, bogs and marshes." [307]

Also mentioned, but with surprisingly less frequency, were concerns about future timber supply for the area's wood products industry, loss of property tax revenue as lands were shifted to park status, and the Crane Lake addition. On the subject of timber supply, Boise's representative was asked what percentage of the company's timber supply over the next twenty-five years would actually come from their lands in the proposed park. His response was an estimated four-percent. But he quickly added that his company's real concern and that of the industry nationally was the thousands of acres of woodlands being taken out of timber production across the country just to satisfy the growing appetite for wilderness for people who did understand the supply situation in his industry. [308] Boise Cascade realized that a more narrow claim that a park on the Kabetogama Peninsula would result in damaging timber shortages for their nearby mills, would be challenged immediately with data from an economic study completed by the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 1964. This study, The Economics of the Proposed Voyageurs National Park, demonstrated conclusively that timber supplies for the local wood products industries were then in surplus and that the annual property tax losses from proposed park lands would be less than $25,000. The Sielaff study, considered thorough and conservative by many, effectively eliminated timber and tax losses as compelling reasons for opposing the establishment of the park. [309]

The Crane Lake Commercial Club opposed the Crane Lake addition in emphatic fashion. Though not mentioned frequently at the International Falls hearing, the issue would generate considerable interest at the Washington, D.C. hearings when the USFS made its case. [310]

Analysis of testimony given by proponents at the International Falls hearing reveals a more focused approach to the hearing process than those speaking in opposition. This was due primarily to the pre-hearing efforts of Rita Shemish to coordinate testimony given by supporters. From the beginning of the organized campaign for Voyageurs in 1965, emphasis was always on two objectives: to preserve and protect the natural and cultural resources of the Kabetogama area; and to promote the tax and economic benefits of national park status to the state and especially to the economy of northeastern Minnesota. Witnesses were encouraged by the VNPA leadership to prepare statements that emphasized these objectives. Advocacy of national park status to protect and preserve the natural amenities of the peninsula lakeshore and interior lakes was a popular and compelling goal for many park supporters across the state. In their statements to the subcommittee, many writers expressed alarm at the poorly regulated lakeshore development already underway on many lakes around the state, and they envisioned the same fate for Kabetogama. One witness summed up his growing concern this way. "Voyageur [sic] National Park should be established as soon as possible, before critical land and shoreline on the Kabetogama Peninsula is lost to commercial development. A national park will provide much needed balance and diversity in the recreational potential of the Minnesota border lakes area of the nation."

Proponents for the tax and other economic benefits that would result from establishment of a national park expressed even greater emphasis. Repeated references were made to the increased tourism to be expected with national park designation. Judge Edwin P. Chapman, VNPA's first president, after noting the scenic and historic values of the park area, summed up the economic advantages by saying, "the communities surrounding the park would enjoy not only increased valuation of their properties but the influx of new investment money to provide the facilities for the traveling public and the travel dollars which tourists bring into the region. This combination of both economic and recreational opportunities is hard to beat." [312] Judge Chapman's statement was representative of many others made at all of the hearings and in VNPA promotional literature. These claims of economic benefit to the region were predicted on the firm and sincere belief that the beauty of Voyageurs, like some of the great western parks, would attract substantial numbers of visitors each year. Indeed, economic benefits for northeastern Minnesota, and the state generally, were principal reasons motivating the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce to take a leading role in promoting the establishment of the park. [313]

Not everyone testifying on behalf of the proposed park stressed factors. Some rather eloquent statements extolled the natural and cultural values of the park area as well. The aesthetic and spiritual values to be discovered in this region were proclaimed in eloquent fashion by several speakers including Dr. Arnold Bolz, a physician practicing in northern Minnesota and a widely acclaimed nature photographer. He spoke of the inborn need for human "contact and immersion in the natural scene" and our need to experience the "spiritual benefit from this encounter." He saw the rocks, water, and trees of the area worthy of protection for those who wish to have this experience. [314]

Sigurd Olson, nationally recognized nature writer and crusader for wilderness status of the BWCA, saw Voyageurs as the last step in providing protection of the entire voyageurs highway between Lake Superior and International Falls. "This last section must be given the same protection for it is as beautiful and significant as the rest. Failure to accomplish this would mean the ancient highway of exploration and trade would be incomplete." [315]

The executive committee of the VNPA met the week after the International Falls hearing to review the events of the daylong session. The consensus was that the hearing went well for park proponents. [316] Their case for a national park on Kabetogama was well stated and was now a part of the official record with Congress. The committee also concluded that although a number of individuals representing organizations opposing the park appeared to testify, none represented groups, which had statewide memberships. However, closer examination of the official hearing record and some of the press accounts show at least three issues would prove very troublesome for park advocates in the months to come. These included public hunting, land acquisition, and the Crane Lake addition.

Public Hunting. Blatnik's 1969 legislation included a provision permitting hunting and trapping that was absent in the original bill in 1968. This hunting section was written into the new legislation primarily at the request of Governor Levander who hoped to satisfy some staff people in his Conservation Department and to dampen criticism from Eighth District Republicans who never endorsed the proposal for a national park on Kabetogama. The governor included the hunting provision in his official position statement that was sent to the subcommittee before the hearings. In that statement, he also advocated continued waterfowl hunting in the Black Bay area of the proposed park. [317] (Congress later removed Black Bay from the park in 1983.)

Commenting on the inclusion of hunting in the Blatnik bill, Representative Taylor said that hunting wasn't allowed in any other national park, and he doubted that the precedent should be set with Voyageurs. "If it's going to be a national park, you give up hunting." [318] Taylor said that hunting may be okay in a recreation area, but with a national park you give up timber harvesting, mining, hunting, and other multiple-use activities. The emphasis is on recreation and conservation. Taylor's committee had encountered the same issue just a year earlier during the hearings on the proposed North Cascades National Park. On that occasion, NPS Director Hartzog in his testimony said that a special committee addressed the whole issue of wildlife management in parks in 1962. They found the long-standing congressional policy prohibiting hunting to be solid and should be continued. He said that the NPS was not prepared to recommend any change in that policy. [319]

When it was the National Audubon Society's turn to testify, its representatives said that the society adhered to the hunting prohibition enunciated repeatedly by the NPS. He said the Audubon Society was also troubled by the Voyageurs proposal because it permitted houseboats, seaplanes, and cabin cruisers. He suggested a change in title from national park to "Voyageurs National Recreation Area." [320]

The prohibition of public hunting in national parks was well known to Congressman Blatnik and Governor Levander and certainly to their staff assigned to the project. For example, a year before the field hearings, the NPS provided answers to forty-seven questions commonly asked by public officials, organizations and individuals regarding the management policies of the NPS and other questions more specific to the Voyageurs proposal. [321] Question eleven asked if public hunting and trapping would be allowed. The NPS said, no, and then proceeded to explain why. "The object is to conserve, perpetuate and display as a composite whole the native fauna, flora and scenic landscape." The NPS held that public hunting and trapping were incompatible with policies designed to achieve these objectives. Still, some members of the hunting community put pressure on the governor and Blatnik to oppose such a ban in the proposed park. Their strongest ally within the Levander administration was Conservation Commissioner Leirfallom and his Deputy Commissioner Clarence Buckman. This was made quite evident when, just two weeks after the field hearings in International Falls, Mr. Buckman appeared before a Minnesota Senate Public Domain Committee hearing and testified that it is absolutely essential from a wildlife management standpoint that hunting be allowed in the proposed park. He maintained that with few predators in the park area, public hunting became an essential tool in a wildlife management plan. Governor Levander may or may not have agreed with Buckman on the scientific merits of his wildlife management argument but he was acutely aware of the pressures of the pro-hunting groups. For Blatnik and Levander therefore, the strategy apparently was to include the hunting provision in the bill and let Congress take it out. In this way they would protect their standing with the sport hunters in the region around the park.

Land Acquisition. The Blatnik legislation generally followed NPS boilerplate language and policy with regard to land acquisition by identifying the several methods whereby it could acquire property for the proposed park. However, Governor Levander's position on state land transfer was at odds with the policy of the federal government. The government did not appear at the hearing, but he filed his official position statement on Voyageurs with the committee several days prior to the hearing. In his statement he noted that of the 28,400 acres of state lands within the proposed park, approximately 25,000 acres were trust fund lands. Because of the special status of these lands and the legal requirements of the trust, Levander and his staff recommended a procedure that would meet these conditions. Then the lands could be passed over to the NPS. He said that the most direct method for acquiring state-owned lands would be condemnation and, with the state's consent, purchase by the NPS. Condemnation would satisfy the strict legal requirements for sale of trust fund lands and the money received by the state would be used to reimburse the permanent trust fund. [322] This procedure may have been satisfactory to the state but not the NPS. This matter did not come up during the hearing, but Representative Taylor told reporters after the hearing that Levander's procedure had never been used before. He doubted whether the federal government had such power to condemn. States have always been expected to donate lands for national parks. Taylor declared that if Minnesota, "is not willing to cooperate in establishing the park then we are on the wrong basis." [323]

Again, as in the case of public hunting, it is hard to believe that the Levander administration was not aware of the precedent-shattering proposal they were making with respect to federal acquisition of state lands. It appears that Levander was now listening more to his top officials in the Conservation Department for direction on Voyageurs policy than to his own administrative staff and the interdepartmental coordinating committee for the proposed park. This drift apparently began after Archie Chelseth left his position in the governor's office in January 1969 to work in the private sector. While on the governors staff, Chelseth made the Voyageurs project one of his top priorities, keeping the governor well informed on the subject and maintaining close communication with the NPS. There were few ambiguities in the state's position on Voyageurs as long as Chelseth held his administrative position in the governor's office. As with hunting, the state's position on land acquisition was at variance with federal practice and would have to be resolved during the last few months of the legislative process on Voyageurs.

Crane Lake Addition. The challenge from the USFS over Crane Lake would continue and the Crane Lake Commercial Club intensified its campaign against the park. The VNPA had already decided to remain neutral on the Crane Lake issue since it applied to an interagency dispute beyond their capacity to influence. But the Crane Lake Commercial Club had decided not only to oppose the addition but to oppose the park proposal on Kabetogama as well. The VNPA regarded this as serious and their hope was to continue a dialogue with the people at Crane Lake and hope to keep the issue "localized." What park advocates hadn't anticipated, however, were bureaucratic roadblocks originating with the new Nixon administration and a stubborn Interior and Insular Affairs Committee chair—Representative Wayne Aspinall in Colorado.

The VNPA emerged from the International Falls hearings with its organizational structure and membership loyalties fully tested. This was its first formal encounter in the national legislative arena and its executive committee labeled it a success and began planning for the next set of hearings in Washington, sometime in 1970. The frustrations of the previous three-plus years would be equaled—some say exceeded—by those encountered during the final fourteen months leading to passage of the Voyageurs legislation. Some of the battles would carry forward as before.

Stewart Udall, secretary of the Interior in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, gave the department's blessing to Voyageurs early in the movement for the park. He continued to support it as an honorary advisor to the VNPA after he left office in 1969. The apprehensions expressed by environmentalists when Nixon appointed Walter Hickel to replace Udall have already been noted. Now park supporters would have to convince the Interior Department's new chief and top administrators that Voyageurs was worthy of their endorsement as well. Shortly after Hickel was confirmed by the Senate, Governor Levander and VNPA president Elmer Andersen invited the new secretary to visit Voyageurs. Hickel accepted the invitation and kept his word with a visit in mid-September 1969, a month after the congressional field hearings.

The Hickel visit hosted by Governor Levander turned out to be more pleasing to park opponents than to proponents. The secretary felt compelled on several occasions during his visit, to suggest that perhaps a national recreation area would be a more appropriate designation for the Kabetogama area than a national park. He said that his comments were not based on the lack of scenic quality of the area, but rather on the insistence of Blatnik and Levander that hunting be a permitted activity in the park. He told reporters that powerful congressmen have vowed that, "we will never allow hunting in a national park." [324] This comment was a very clear and unmistakable signal that he would never recommend a Voyageurs park proposal that included hunting and trapping. After thinking about Hickel's firm declaration, Levander must have felt himself in a "no win" situation. Since no matter how he moved he would offend one group or another. Park supporters continued to be upset with Levander's persistence on public hunting. Many wrote to the governor and a few counseled him in person, stressing the fact that a park with no hunting had been endorsed by hundreds of organizations across the state. Every poll taken showed overwhelming support for a park which met the standards of the NPS. And his persistence in this matter always played out in the public press as a major "controversy" just when advocates were trying to emphasize the positive qualities of the park proposal.

As he thought about this dilemma, Levander was certainly mindful of the fact that many prominent Republicans, Elmer Andersen included, had provided personal and financial support which enabled him to reach the governor's office. But he remained loyal to his Conservation Department staff, Commissioner Leirfallom and to his own convictions in this matter. His political instincts told him to seek a compromise and after he heard Hickel's repeated reference to a national recreation area as an alternative, he began to think that this could be a way out of his predicament.

When approached by reporters regarding Hickel's alternative, Levander told them that he would continue to work for a national park but that "elasticity" in Minnesota's approach might further ideas about multiple use. Later in the day of Hickel's visit, he said designation of Voyageurs as a national recreation area most likely would arise as a compromise proposal before a congressional hearing and, "a rose would smell as sweet by any other name." [325] That and other comments by Governor Levander set park advocates back on their heels. They regarded his remarks as a serious blow to the movement. They had hoped to use the Hickel visit as an opportunity to demonstrate the unanimity of the national park supporters. They and their leaders were committed to securing a national park for Minnesota—not a national recreation area, a state park or anything else!

One proponent was moved to fire off an angry letter to the governor as soon as she learned about his remarks. She said, "A park by any other name would smell as sweet? Well I think it stinks. It smells strongly sulfuric, as if the paper mills had been working." [326] Others, who were familiar with the Minnesota political scene, saw Levander's comments as inspired by a desire to placate the Eighth District Republican leadership, which had never been supportive of the national park proposal.

Before Secretary Hickel returned to Washington, D.C., he met with about 150 residents at a Crane Lake resort. The meeting was arranged so that he could hear from opponents, a request he had made before he left Washington. What he got was more than an earful—it was an anti-park, anti-federal government, anti-Twin Cities tirade. Several speakers said the federal government should do nothing to change the present arrangement, i.e., keep the Crane Lake Recreation Area managed by the USFS. It was a plea for the status quo. And one speaker brought up the decades old claim of "outside" interference in the lives and livelihood of border lakes residents when he took a verbal swipe at the Twin Cities park advocates. "It's time for people to stop jumping to the tune played by the pied pipers of Minneapolis." [327] This energetic, high-decibel session was probably nothing new to Hickel who had heard the claim of outsider influence many times in his years as governor of Alaska. He may have even voiced some of the same concerns at that time in his public career. As for park advocates, the Interior Department reported to the VNPA leadership that the secretary's schedule did not include a meeting with park proponents.

Park supporters always realized that to advance authorizing legislation through the legislative process would require the Interior Department's blessing. Great hopes had been placed on the Hickel visit as an important step in moving closer to the department's endorsement of the park. But the reality was much different than the dream. Opponents won the day. The credit for the win actually went to the two political leaders who were supposed to provide the muscle for the crucial effort to gain timely acceptance for a national park from the executive branch and move the proposal on to final congressional hearings and passage. These key people were Representative John Blatnik and Governor Harold Levander. Blatnik's addition of hunting and trapping to his reintroduced bill for Voyageurs and Levander's seeming acceptance of the alternative caused the Hickel visit to lose its hoped-for focus. The intended center of attention was to show off the wonderful natural resources of the park area and the strong public sentiment for its inclusion as a national park.

Park campaign leaders were dismayed and discouraged at the turn of events. They were especially upset with Levander who had completely misread the wishes of the opposition. Not once during Hickel's meeting with opponents at Crane Lake was a national recreation area mentioned as an alternative or compromise solution to the controversy. They didn't want federal control via the National Park System for any of the lands and water from Crane Lake to International Falls. This was an anti-federal government demonstration. As Hickel made his way back to Washington, park proponents realized that they would have to move quickly to regain the momentum and put the campaign back on the path to congressional acceptance.

The managers of the park campaign were discouraged by the setbacks that occurred during the visit of Secretary Hickel. They realized that the hunting provision in the Blatnik bill served to divert attention away from the cultural and natural values of the park. They also learned that a national recreation area as an alternative was unpopular and wholly unacceptable to opponents and supporters alike. On the hunting issue, they felt they could deal with this matter by simply persuading Blatnik and Levander to remove the objectionable section of the bill. Unfortunately, and perhaps to the surprise of many in the VNPA, this proved impossible until the final hours of the legislative process in Dec 1970. However, another set of problems was emerging in Washington at this time that served to retard progress on the park bill for many months.

One problem, completely unforeseen earlier in the year, was with President Nixon's Bureau of the Budget. [328] This unit, which was reorganized and given a new name in 1970—the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)—was given greater authority to screen departmental and agency budgets with the express purpose of reducing federal expenditures. Its new director, Robert Mayo, said his aim was "prudent budget restraint." President Nixon had great confidence in his director and told his cabinet officers on one occasion, "When Bob Mayo speaks, I mean it." [329] Only months after assuming his new role, Mayo "spoke" in a manner that proved to have a direct bearing on the progress of Voyageurs legislation in Congress.

During the same week that Hickel was making his visit to Minnesota, Colorado Democrat Wayne Aspinall, chairman of the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, received a letter from Mayo saying that, because of a severe shortage of funds for land acquisition, Congress should not expect full funding for land acquisition in parks and recreation areas probably for some time to come. The Bureau of the Budget reduced the amount of money available to $124 million. [330] Without even discussing the matter with his committee, an angry Aspinall decided that his committee would consider no further park authorizations. [331] Some called his action transparently political. It was calculated to embarrass the Nixon administration, but it also embarrassed and angered other members of Congress who had projects in line for approval and now saw them stalled by Aspinall's unilateral action.

Aspinall, like many of his colleagues, was upset by the administration's decision to ignore 1968 congressional legislation that authorized $200 million annually for land acquisition. These monies were to come from the Land and Water Conservation Fund and were to be available through 1973 for new proposals like Voyageurs. Blatnik saw Aspinall's moratorium on authorization hearings as unnecessary since funding for land acquisition is typically delayed several years after authorization of a new park.

Voyageurs wasn't the only park proposal affected by Aspinall's decision. In Wisconsin, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore also faced delays which prompted Senator Gaylord Nelson, its chief sponsor and one of the leaders of the environmental movement in Congress, to ask the president's Environmental Council for an immediate review of the budget office's ruling. The Bureau of the Budget's pronouncement was also challenged by Senator Henry Jackson, chairman of the Senate Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. He saw this policy as hampering land acquisition for North Cascades National Park in his state of Washington. Voyageurs was one of the earliest park proposals to be caught up in the growing power of the Bureau of the Budget, but certainly not the last. In fact, the office's influence over NPS proposals became so pervasive that one analyst was prompted to observe that the budget office could be as threatening to new area programs of the NPS as its regular adversaries, the USFS and strong private economic interests. [332]

Voyageurs Backers Begin Rescue Drive. This was the heading of a front-page story in the Duluth News-Tribune one week after the Hickel visit to Minnesota. A quick assessment of the situation made it very clear to Elmer Andersen that the best way to get Voyageurs back on the path to congressional authorization was for him to pay a personal visit to key officials in Washington, D.C. The visit would be used to emphasize the commitment of Minnesotans and conservationists around the country for Voyageurs. Secondly, it would be necessary to contact park proponents in Minnesota and continue efforts at building support for the park.

Working through Minnesota Congressman Clark MacGregor's office, Andersen scheduled a set of meetings with top Nixon aides, the secretary of the Commerce Department, budget office officials, NPS project coordinators, and all members of the Minnesota congressional delegation. In contrast to his Washington visit earlier in the year, Blatnik welcomed Andersen and the two met to discuss ways of breaking the standoff. Blatnik said that the first objective should be to gain a favorable report from the Department of the Interior and a similar affirmation from the budget office. Then and only then could they expect hearing action from Aspinall. Andersen hoped for hearings before the year was out, but that hope quickly faded with continued inaction by both agencies.

At home, Rita Shemish encouraged a vigorous letter-writing campaign to appropriate public officials, namely Nixon, Mayo, Hickel and Aspinall. Documents show that several writers, including Sigurd Olson, downplayed the hunting provision, implying that it could be removed in the final version of the bill. [333]

By late October, in the absence of a report from the Interior Department, it became obvious that hearings by the House Subcommittee on Parks and Recreation would not be held in 1969. Blatnik made it official on November 7 when he told reporters that the Interior Department hadn't completed its report on Voyageurs and the budget office wouldn't review the legislation until they received the report. Putting the best face on the dilemma, Blatnik said he was not discouraged because the park proposal that his people had worked out was a good one and had the support of the entire Minnesota delegation. He saw the bill passing the House before the end of the Ninety-first Congress. He also reminded the press that the Voyageurs proposal had been in limbo since the Nixon administration came to office. He remained optimistic that the proposal had floundered before but then moved ahead. [334]

For the opposition, the leaders of the two largest wood products companies in northeastern Minnesota reaffirmed their disapproval of the park on Kabetogama in letters written during the last few months of 1969. Both Boise Cascade and Northwest Paper Company expressed concerns about the wisdom of expanding federal control over border lakes lands to an agency that would replace multiple-use management with one focusing on preservation and recreation. In a letter to President Nixon, R.W. Hansberger, president of the Boise Cascade Corporation, repeated his company's position when he said that they favored a national park in Minnesota but not on Kabetogama. He appended a statement dated July 17, 1967, outlining Boise's position on the Voyageurs legislation that emphasized the shift of more private lands to federal control. [335]

William MacConnachie, Jr., a vice president of the Northwest Paper Company at Cloquet, Minnesota, sent letters to Governor Levander and Congressman Aspinall explaining his opposition to the park proposal. In his letter to Levander he urged state control of the proposed park lands. "Citizens in Minnesota have done, and can do a better job in forest and park management than federal agencies." [336] In his letter to Aspinall, MacConnachie decried the, "shameful pressure tactics of park proponents to circumvent the will of locally affected citizens through a well-financed 'mass propaganda' campaign." He felt that the hearings held by Taylor, Hickel and Levander went against the proponents and hoped Aspinall and his committee wouldn't be swayed by their campaign. [337] And the state Senate Public Domain Committee scheduled yet another hearing on Voyageurs. National Park Service personnel attended this meeting and were bluntly told by Senator Higgins that he and others on the committee did not believe the NPS was capable of managing either wildlife or forests. [338]

As Congress prepared for the Christmas recess, all hopes for any movement at the legislative level in 1969 vanished. Aspinall continued to insist on reports from the Interior Department and the budget office before he would hold hearings on any new proposals for parks or recreation areas. When asked about the status of the report from the Interior Department, Alan Kirk, an aide to Hickel, said some strong conflicts needed to be addressed and resolved before sending a favorable report to the Bureau of the Budget and Congress. Given the determination by Levander and Blatnik to keep the hunting clause in the bill, one can assume that at least one of the "unresolved conflicts" was tied directly to the intransigence on the part of the governor and the congressman to compromise on this issue.

Another problem for the Interior Department at this time was Levander's proposal requesting in effect, that the federal government pay the state for the trust fund lands as a condition for state transfer of the lands in the proposed park to the NPS. This proposal came to light in Levander's position statement to the Taylor subcommittee at the field hearings in International Falls. It had not received much public notice at that time but it would hang heavy over the park project during the Washington hearings in 1970. Both issues became serious impediments to legislative progress on Voyageurs in the next Congress. Had they been removed from the Blatnik bill in a timely fashion following the International Falls hearings, it is conceivable that progress on park legislation would have been faster and smoother.

Kirk offered an additional reason for the lengthy delay at the Interior Department when he cited the many demands on the department that went well beyond the funds available to meet them. He said the Interior Department was in favor of more parks but the question was when and where. When told of these comments and observations by Kirk, Blatnik said he was "puzzled" by the conflicting reports coming out of the Interior Department. "Hickel should call the Minnesota delegation together and explain to them just what the problems are." [339]

If Blatnik was puzzled, Elmer Andersen was frustrated to see the Voyageurs project bogged down in the two Washington offices. In a letter to Levander he said the intransigence of federal agencies and departments was having an eroding effect on the Republican position. "Can you suggest anything we might do? I am not one for waiting around." [340] Later that month he wrote to Roger B. Morton, chair of the Republican National Committee, asking him to find out just what the "hang-up" was in the Interior Department that was holding up the Voyageurs proposal. He told Morton that continued inaction on Voyageurs could be harmful to Republican chances in the 1970 political campaign. [341]

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Last Updated: 23-Jan-2009