Cover to A Nationalized Lakeshore: The Creation and Administration of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Cover Page


Table of Contents


Chapter One,
"National Parks Are Where You Find Them:" The Origins of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Chapter Two,
"We're Going For The Right Thing:" The Legislative Struggle to Create Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, 1971- 1977

Chapter Three,
Changes on the Land: The Early Management of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, 1977-1983

Chapter Four
Plans, Programs and Controversy: The Reassessment of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, 1977-1983

Chapter Five,
"A Local and National Treasure:" Managing the Sleeping Bear Dunes Park, 1984- 1995

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore At Twenty-Five

Appendix One,
Budgetary Progress of Sleeping Bear Dunes N.L.

Appendix Two,
Selected Past and Present Employees of Sleeping Bear N.L.

Appendix Three,
Selected Visitation Statistics

Appendix Four,
Public Law 91-479

Chapter 1 Notes

Chapter 2 Notes

Chapter 3 Notes

Chapter 4 Notes

Chapter 5 Notes

Conclusion Notes




A Nationalized Lakeshore:
The Creation and Administration of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Chapter One

A Sleeping Bear State Park

†††† In 1941, residents of Benzie County were interested in protecting their own recreational opportunities from the increasing privatization of lake shore lands as well as attracting a larger share of the automobile camper trade. They prevailed upon the Department of Conservation to survey their area for a potential new state park. There was a very popular, but very small, 180-acre state facility, Benzie State Park, near the mouth of the Platte River. The park had been created in 1923 through donations and exchanges between the State and J.W. Dye. Frankfort lobbied for that park to be expanded or for a second park to be created in the dune country between Point Betsie and the west end of Crystal Lake. At the same time Leelanau County, just to the north, also coveted a state park. Three members of that county's board pitched their area to the director of the agency. Diplomatically he agreed to extend the Conservation Department's survey of potential parklands to the entire Lake Michigan shoreline between Frankfort and Leland. [18]

†††† John Rogers, the Assistant Chief of the Division of Parks and Recreation, headed the survey and evaluation of the region. He was dismayed by the crowded and inadequate size of Benzie State Park, but was skeptical of the possibility of expanding the park to ease congestion there. Rogers' evaluation was strongly influenced by his interpretation of the mission of state parks as scenes of active recreation. The attractiveness and safety of the beaches, the suitability of back areas for campgrounds, the type of activities which could be promoted to visitors, were all critical considerations that inclined him to discount the Benzie County sites. Rather it was the Glen Lake area which he felt offered the "greatest attraction."

†††† The first recommendation I would make is that if the state was to have only one state park in the Leelanau Peninsula (Benzie and Leelanau Counties) that it be located in the vicinity of Glen Lake and the Sleeping Bear Dunes...this possible the writers opinion, is the outstanding area in the lower peninsula. We have here in Michigan our Tahquamenon Falls, our Huron and Porcupine Mountains, our Copper Country, etc. which we proclaim to the vacationer that he should see because of their grandeur. In the writer's opinion this possible park area at Glen Lake is the equal of any of those places and is entirely different. Michigan would have a park that very few states in the nation could boast an equal.

†††† The area Rogers recommended for park status was composed of the Sleeping Bear Dunes, the D.H. Day Forest Estates, and a small portion (1,000 feet) of the north shore of Glen Lake, a total of 5,800 acres. Rogers recognized that the Sleeping Bear Dunes had the grand scale that could attract visitors from around the Midwest, while Glen Lake offered protected water recreation, and the Day Forest Estates provided the vistas to appreciate each. The uniting of the dunes, backlands, and interior lakes into a single park plan made objective sense to a veteran recreation planner like Rogers, yet it laid the seed for the controversy in which the National Park Service was embroiled almost a generation later. [19]

†††† Rogers' report was received enthusiastically in Lansing. Unfortunately, the Department of Conservation would face years of frustration before his recommendations could be acted upon. World War II was the first roadblock. As most public resources were focused on winning the war no action was taken on state park expansion during the conflict. Five years later, in May of 1946, Rogers revisited the area and found that save for some commercial logging within the Day forest, the proposed park area was little changed. In short order the Conservation Commission voted to approve the Sleeping Bear Park Project. This action set the boundaries for the future state park but did not provide the land acquisition money to make the project a reality. The Conservation Department opened negotiations with the Grand Rapids Trust Company, which took over supervision of the failed Day Forest Estates project, and negotiated an option to purchase a large portion of the trust lands for $100,000. There the project stalled. The independent Conservation Commission refused to approve further land acquisitions until the legislature agreed to approve larger regular appropriations for site development and maintenance at the existing state parks. The Sleeping BearóGlen Lake park plan was caught in the middle and the option lapsed. [20]

†††† The close-knit Glen Lake community supported the state park proposal, which only included 1,000 feet of frontage on Glen Lake. They took deep pride in the scenic lake and for years they boasted that National Geographic Magazine had declared it was "among the five most beautiful lakes in the world." When a genuine National Geographic representative visited the area in 1934 he disputed the validity of the statement, but did agree "I have never seen a lake more beautiful." Christopher G. Parnall, a shoreline property owner from Ann Arbor, had boosted state park status for a portion of the lake as early as 1924. When the state let its option lapse Parnall attempted to rally Glen Lake property owners to purchase the land themselves. Parnall was deeply concerned that an outside private owner intent on aggressive development might purchase the Day Estates. On May 8,1949 about fifty interested people gathered in Glen Arbor and pledged subscriptions to a fund for the purchase of the Day Forest Estate. An escrow account was established. For every $1,000 subscribed toward the purchase of the whole property each contributor would be entitled to one hundred feet of frontage on Glen Lake or Lake Michigan and a pro rata share of the remaining back lands. Parnall's effort, however, fell short. Although more than $70,000 was initially pledged; only $50,000 was actually placed in the escrow account. An attempt to pool the funds of the Glen Lake owners and the Department of Conservation also failed and the plan had to be abandoned. The effort was another manifestation of the Glen Lake owners desire to control conditions around their beloved lake and indication of the financial resources at then-disposal. [21]

†††† Lacking acquisition funds the Department of Conservation was forced into a patient, catch-as-catch-can development approach. Existing state lands in the area, which included most of the Sleeping Bear Dunes, were consolidated under state park administration and over the years small additions to the park project were made by gift and purchase using fish and game funds or modest appropriations. Nonetheless, considerable lands within the boundary of the park remained in private hands. By 1963, the state owned only 2,044 acres of the proposed 5,800-acre park. Realization of the dream of a Sleeping Bear DunesóGlen Lake park had to wait until the creation of the national lakeshore.

†††† The failure of the Conservation Department to realize its vision for a Sleeping Bear state park was not unique. The famed Pictured Rocks region of the Upper Peninsula was similarly created as a state park project in 1953, only to falter for lack of acquisition and development funds. The Grand Sable Dunes on Lake Superior bad been declared a state park in 1931, but a generation latter the park consisted of little more than an inaccessible and unmanaged collection of tax delinquent lands. The fact was that Michigan's state parks were in a state of crisis in the wake of a boom in outdoor recreation following the end of World War II. By 1948 attendance at Michigan state parks was approximately twice that of the population of the entire state. With that heavy use came the demand for modem conveniences such as flush toilets and paved roads. But flat budgets meant that the agency was barely able to maintain Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration era improvements, which were beginning to suffer deterioration, let alone sponsor extensive new development. In 1953, when the existing system was swamped with more than 14 million visitors, the legislature appropriated little more than ten cents per visitor to pay not only for maintenance but to fund new facilities as well. The state tried to solve the revenue crisis in recreation by instituting an annual two dollar state park automobile admission sticker. The millions brought in from this source, however, proved only a temporary solution as ever-increasing usage increased the demand for expensive new developments. The funding crisis was part of a general cash shortfall that effected the entire state government and resulted in a $100 million dollar budget deficit by 1959. Democratic Governor G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams rather unrealistically proposed a corporate profits tax as a way to reinvigorate state agencies. The Michigan Republican party, not to mention the giant automotive manufacturers in the state, did not take kindly to this solution, and countered with a proposal to increase the sales tax. The dispute that followed paralyzed Michigan and left it in such financial shambles that people bitterly joked that the favorite drink in the state capital of Lansing was "Michigan on the rocks."

†††† During the late 1950s the Department of Conservation consolidated their holdings in the Sleeping Bear region into a unit named D.H. Day State Park but which included that portion of the Sleeping Bear-Glen Lake park which had been acquired as well as Benzie State Park. The consolidation was in many ways an admission of failure. In 1954, Charles F. Boehler a planning consultant to the Conservation Department, had recommended that the state double the size of Benzie State Park to include both banks of the Platte River, a portion of the Platte Plains, and the Empire Dunes. The Michigan Natural Areas Council, a group of scientists and conservationists who represented the Nature Conservancy in Michigan, enthusiastically seconded this plan. But the initiative at Benzie, like the development of the Sleeping Bear Park, was stymied by the state's fiscal crisis. The park superintendent at D.H. Day State Park had to sit frustrated on the sidelines while the land at the mouth of the Platte and along the shore of Glen Lake was subdivided and sold.[24]

†††† A major loss to the state park project was the purchase of the Day Forest Estate by Pierce Stocking, a Cadillac, Michigan, lumberman. On the surface Stocking was just the type of purchaser both the state and the Glen Lake summer homeowners had tried prevent from taking possession of the scenic tract. He was a small-scale independent lumberman, a by-the-seat-of-his-pants entrepreneur, leveraged to the hilt and in need of a quick turnaround on his investment. The sate guaranteed that Michigan's first private forest reservation and the land once set aside as the playground for millionaires would be immediately brought under the bite of the chainsaw. Stocking had made his first purchases in the Sleeping Bear area in the late 1940s. He also made extensive purchases on South Manitou Island. The fogging operation there nearly bankrupted him due to high transportation costs and the challenge of bringing logs across the Manitou Passage. Whatever Stocking made in his ventures he returned to extending his operations, either through equipment purchases or the acquisition of new real estate in the area. Like many a previous sojoumer to the Sleeping Bear, Stocking fell in love with the area. Against his wife's objections he built his home on the Day tract, high on a hill overlooking duned lakeshore. At his own expense he built and maintained a nearby scenic overlook and picnic area to share the dramatic vistas with others. Stockings' attempts to develop other tourist facilities on his portion of the dunes brought him into conflict with the Department of Conservation. [25]

†††† The Sleeping BearóGlen Lake park area was a patchwork of property lines with the State of Michigan, Pierce Stocking, and Louis Warnes being the largest owners. Warnes was the son-in-law of David Day and with his wife Marion, Day's youngest daughter, he inherited much of the Glen Haven property of the old lumberman. For years they operated the Day store in Glen Haven, until by chance, they discovered a way to profit from their proximity to the dunes. In 1934 and 1935 the Frankfort Glider Club used the high perched dunes at Sleeping Bear to launch their sail planes. To get the cumbersome gliders to the top of the dune one club member equipped his Ford with oversized balloon tires. The car worked so well on the sand slopes that Louis Warnes, who cooperated with the club, decided to fit-out his own vehicle the same way and offer tours of the dune country. For the next forty-three years motorized dune tours were a principal way visitors to Sleeping Bear saw the sites. Warnes was a supporter of the state park and he made several significant land sales to the Department of Conservation. The dunesmobile rides continued under a state concession license. Business was so good in 1956 that Warnes, backed by a new ten-year concession agreement, purchased ten brand-new Oldsmobile 88's. A second concession, a lunch counter at the foot of the dune climb area, was also granted to Warnes. Competitors, however, were beginning to encroach on his trade. Francis Harrigan, a Saginaw businessman, opened his own dune ride using a modified pick-up truck and following a route partially across state parklands. Warnes naturally appealed to the Department of Conservation to stop Harrigan's operation. More of a challenge was Pierce Stocking's request to use a portion of state land to operate his own dune ride and his critique that Warnes ride was both harmful to the environment and too expensive for the average citizen too enjoy. Out of what appears to have been a mixture of genuine concern and personal cussedness, Stocking tried to get the state to either allow his plans to go forward or to agree to limit further tourist development within the state park. Stocking's leverage for such a request was that the patchwork of ownership in the area was such that while he needed state permission to reach some of his lands, the state operated areas like the dune climb which gave visitors access to dune lands owned by Stocking. To complicate things further there were tracts within the park project area in which the Department of Conservation and Stocking shared an ownership interest. Throughout the 1950s the state and Pierce Stocking each continued to make land purchases in the Glen Lake area, their contentious relationship a constant reminder of Michigan's botched opportunity to develop a Sleeping Bear park. [26]

NEXT> Chapter One Part E: The Great Lakes Shoreline Survey


Last Modified: January 10, 2001 10:00:00 am PST

ParkNet Home