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

The Great Lakes Shoreline Survey

     The problems experienced by Michigan in attempting to meet the expanding public demand for recreational lands were by no means unique. The number of Americans engaged in camping, fishing, hiking, and boating grew every year during the 1950s. Annually the Department of Conservation brought new recreational lands under state management—state park acreage actually doubled between 1948 and 1972, but the rate of growth was too slow to stay ahead of the demand curve. "Never before in the history of recreation and wildlife conservation," observed a federal report, "have the Great Lakes been faced with the magnitude of recreational uses that has roared into the parks, game areas, fishing sites." Those diverse uses created a competition among users for the vital commodity demanded by all outdoor enthusiasts—water recreation sites. In 1945, Michigan Conservation Magazine predicted the boom:

     "When the war's over I'll trade this foxhole for a boat livery on some lake back home"—"We're saving our bonds for a cottage on a lake."—When there're tires and gas again we're going to find a little home on a lake and enjoy life."—Today's dreams, tomorrows realities."

     The silence following the final burst of gunfire in this terrible conflict will be counterbalanced by a swelling sound a hemisphere away as once again the hum of wild-ward bound traffic resumes over now deserted highways. War weary soldiers and work-weary stayers will respond alike to the call of nature's tranquility, and Michigan's outdoor playground will be visited by increasing thousands—some to return and stay.

     Summer homes, already common in Michigan before World War II, spread at an even more rapid rate in the 1950s. On popular southern Michigan lakes such as Paw Paw Lake cottages were planted on increasingly smaller lots, giving portions of the lakeshore an urban-like appearance of density. Although there are 8,000 named lakes in Michigan, those lakes accessible to Chicago, Toledo, and the cities of southern Michigan bore the brunt of this deluge. Savvy buyers looked farther north where less money bought more frontage. A Michigan Conservation Magazine writer encouraged this strategy: "great improvements in travel facilities is probable in the near postwar future and mileage distances may represent shorter and shorter travel time. Scores of beautiful lakes in the state have not been developed simply because of their remoteness." The Department of Conservation's aborted plans to expand Benzie and D.H. Day state parks were part of a conscious effort to get ahead of the rising tide of recreational use and secure public access to the most favorable locations. [27]

     Michigan actually did a better job than many other state's both anticipating and adjusting to the postwar recreation boom, but in the end the national trend required a national response. While little was done to expand the size of federal recreational holdings during the 1950s, the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower did lay the foundation for more aggressive action later through its strong support for upgrading current facilities and planning for future growth. Mission 66, a ten-year program begun in 1956 to improve visitor facilities at all national parks, was an example of the former. The establishment of the National Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission in 1958 made expanding recreational opportunities a high priority for the Department of Agriculture, the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife, even the Army Corps of Engineers. A new federal agency, the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, was eventually created to spearhead the development of new recreation areas. But before that agency was in place the National Park Service accomplished the most important recreational planning initiative of the postwar period, the national shoreline survey. [28]

     During the New Deal era, the National Park Service, supported by relief funds and inspired by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration's fascination with regional planning, undertook a study of seashore conservation. Survey teams were sent along the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts. Out of this fieldwork came the recommendation that fifteen select coastal areas be added to the national park system. One of these sites. Cape Hatteras National Seashore, was actually pushed through Congress and became a reality. The outbreak of World War II brought war to America's shores and the momentum that had been built to create additional seaside units was lost. Conrad Wirth, the National Park Service director in 1956, had worked on the 1930s shoreline survey and felt it was "one of the most interesting and worthwhile of the New Deal conservation programs." Even before "Mission 66" was adopted Wirth made sure that shoreline conservation was an agency priority. In 1954, Wirth ordered the a second set of shoreline surveys, as the New Deal era data was nearly twenty years old. The park service director had an "angel" who shared his commitment to the nation's seashores, Paul Mellon. Along with his sister, Alisa Bruce, Paul Mellon was the heir to the Mellon bank fortune. Over the years the Mellon heirs used their wealth and influence to support conservation programs. Over time they would fund the establishment of the White House Rose Garden, the landscaping of Lafayette Park, and the purchase of Cumberland Island, Georgia. Their most important contribution to the American landscape, however, was the decision to recommend that their Old Dominion Foundation and Avalon Foundation fund the second shoreline survey. [29]

     The survey, which began with the Atlantic Coast, was directed by a twenty-year veteran of the National Park Service, Allen T. Edmunds. The lanky former Navy Lieutenant Commander was a native of Battle Creek, Michigan, and a graduate of Michigan State University. His specialty within the park service was planning and he had considerable experience working with state and local conservation organizations. Managing the survey proved to be the greatest challenge of his career. Donor relations was a unique (for a government employee) and important part of the job. Paul Mellon had a strong personal interest in the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. He met frequently with Edmunds and occasionally accompanied him or other team members into the field. The successful completion of the survey of the east and southern shores of the nation won Mellon's confidence in the proposal to fund the survey of the Pacific and Great Lakes— areas with which he had less personal interest. In October 1956, the Mellon foundations awarded an additional $120,000 to the National Park Service. The Pacific coast study was budgeted at $60,000 and scheduled for one year, while the Great Lakes study, which was the first undertaking of its kind in the region, was budgeted at $80,000 and scheduled for two years. As Edmunds began the Great Lakes survey Director Wirth reminded him that it had taken fifteen years to get a single new national park out of the 1934-35 shoreline survey. If nothing came of the Great Lakes effort, "don't be discouraged." [30]

     The Great Lakes survey began in June of 1957 with an aerial reconnaissance of the entire American shore of the lakes. A United States Coast Guard UF-1G Albatross took Edmunds and his survey team from the St. Lawrence River, along the shores of the lakes. The flight took the better part of five days and twenty-eight hours of time in the air. On June 17th the team was over northwestern Michigan. Even at 600 feet and at 150 miles-per-hour they were struck by the "fine possibilities" offered by the region's undeveloped shore of beaches, dunes, and bluffs and it was immediately marked for closer on-the-ground evaluation. The flight made clear that the bulk of the areas of potential national significance were to be found on Lakes Superior and Michigan. Flying along the shore of Lake Erie Edmunds thought of a statement recently made by Henry T. Heald, President of Ford Motor Company. In twenty years he predicted the shores of the Great Lakes would be "unrelieved urban areas," from Milwaukee to Buffalo. The flight was followed by a series of informational meetings with state conservation officials in the states along the Great Lakes. Ownership maps were obtained and the park service team was briefed on the development plans and pressures at work in each state. Field studies began immediately afterward and in the 1957 season were limited to the Upper Great Lakes (Superior, Michigan, and Huron). Careful coordination by Allen Edmunds resulted in outstanding inter-agency cooperation. The Coast Guard provided boats and helicopters, the Wisconsin and Michigan Conservation departments gave the field team access to their planes. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan presented the greatest challenge to the survey. Large portions of its shore were inaccessible by land, yet its wild nature—ninety percent undeveloped—made much of the shore a prime candidate for close inspection. In the end the Upper Peninsula yielded what the survey team regarded as the two most outstanding natural areas on the Great Lakes—the Pictured Rocks area and the Huron Mountains. [31]

     The field team during 1957 was composed strictly of planners. E. Winton Perkins, reassigned at the last minute from the Lower Colorado River Survey, was the chief-of-the-party. Edmund B. Rogers, Assistant to the Rocky Mountain Regional director, was loaned to the survey for a portion of the summer while Howard Chapman, a recreation specialist, was a member of the peripatetic team from the beginning to the end of the project. "Since the first of June," Perkins wrote, 'I've traveled 25,000 miles by plane, train, car, bus and boat which left very little time for lounging on those Great Lakes beaches." Although the team worked hard, recreation was their principle interest. Prime undeveloped country in their view was land which, in addition to having outstanding scenic values, could be utilized for a variety of outdoor recreation pursuits. Their instructions, however, cautioned them to consider recreation "in its broad sense" and to look for areas of "scenic, scientific and historical interest as well as those chiefly valuable for active recreation." This broader emphasis to include historic and scientific values differentiated the Great Lakes survey from the narrower Atlantic and Gulf surveys. To meet this goal the survey added a historian, James Sullivan, and a biologist, Donald Humphrey, during the second season to aid in evaluation of the areas of prime interest. Early on the survey attempted to create a point classification to aid in comparative evaluation, but the effort was abandoned as too arbitrary. In the end what proved the most reliable index for comparing values was the fact that the survey covered every foot of Great Lakes shoreline on the United States side of the lake. This allowed them, in Edmunds's words, to "think in terms of genuine superlatives." The ultimate goal of the effort was to select areas "that should be properly included in a well-rounded and adequate National Park System." [32]

     The second field season of the survey began with another set of comprehensive overflights, this time by helicopter. The ground team then worked their way west from the St. Lawrence. Their findings along the Erie and Ontario shores confirmed the aerial observations that the prime park prospects were in Michigan and that is where the bulk of the 1958 field season was spent, closely examining those areas that had been identified as having a high potential. The Sleeping Bear area was intensively explored in July. The dunes at Empire and Sleeping Bear drew close inspection as did the Platte River plains and Point Betsie. South Manitou Island received the most enthusiastic comments: "There is something about South Manitou Island that is very charming: in its gently sloping terrain, its mixed forests, the old settlement, the lighthouse, combined with the gull colony on the tip, giving it an other worldly quality." In view of the firestorm of grief it would later cause the park service. Glen Lake was treated in the field-notes very matter-of-factly. There was no hyperbole about it being one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, only the observation that although there was "considerable resort development all along its shore" the combination of the inland lakes and the dunes made for "an extremely well-balanced park area." The reconnaissance was made by the entire survey team, some of the time escorted by the staff of the Michigan Department of Conservation. This commitment of time and staff indicates the seriousness of the survey's interest in the area but also that, as one of the survey members confided to a supporter, "they had been a little hesitant about Sleeping Bear." [33]

     The survey teams tried to be thorough as well as discreet. Follow-up visits to promising sites always included a careful review of the land ownership pattern, including ascertaining how much land was in public hands, the scale of subdivisions or resort developments, and the per-foot cost of waterfront and backlands real estate. The results of such economic analysis were balanced with recreational and natural values in assessing the potential of an area. Discretion was important in order to get accurate information and to avoid precipitating a speculative wave in a high potential area. Genevieve E. Gillette, President of the Michigan Parks Association, later a strong supporter of the survey's recommendations, tried to hunt-up the park service team when they were working in the Sleeping Bear area. At the Park Hotel in Traverse City, however, she could not, even with the help of an obliging desk clerk, find any registered guests from Philadelphia or Washington, D.C., let alone from the Department of the Interior. Only by recognizing several Michigan conservation representatives on the hotel porch was she able to link-up with the survey team. [34]

     The survey was completed by the end of the 1958 field season and Edmunds directed his staff in the production of a final report of their findings. The report. Remaining Shoreline, was a vital step in the expansion of the National Park Service into the Great Lakes region. At the time it was released there were only three existing national park units in the region: Isle Royale National Park, Grand Portage National Monument, and Perry's Victory National Monument. In the wake of Edmunds's visionary report six major national parks were established in the Great Lakes region, thereby giving the National Park Service a much greater opportunity to directly serve the 40 million residents of the region.

     The Great Lakes Shoreline Survey made thirteen specific recommendations:

1. A minimum of fifteen percent of the shoreline of the Great Lakes should be in public ownership, around urban areas the figure should be twenty percent.

2. Marshes and swamps may not be scenic but they require protection as a wildlife area.

3. As natural areas gradually disappear, examples of outstanding biotic communities become more important for preservation and study.

4. Historic sites along the shoreline also deserve to be protected and interpreted.

5. When military or Coast Guard facilities are decommissioned they should be dedicated to public recreation.

6. Great Lakes islands need to be protected as "unspoiled settings and biotic laboratories for the future."

7. Facilities for boat dockage on the Great Lakes should be a major public concern.

8. Except for a few outstanding, outlying sites recreation resources should be concentrated near major cities such as Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland.

9. Near urban areas consideration should be given for creation of additional shoreline recreation sites via landfills.

10. Port sites should not be developed in conflict with recreational values.

11. Development of existing highways "should receive careful planning and controls to prevent unrestricted development which could adversely affect or destroy existing intrinsic values. Alignment of any future lakeshore highways should be carefully planned so as not to restrict ultimate development of existing and proposed recreation areas.

12. Water pollution threatens recreation and biotic values. Legislation and enforcement are required.

13. In view of their possible national significance, further study should be given to Pigeon Point, the Huron Mountains, the Pictured Rocks, Sleeping Bear, and Indiana Dunes to determine the best plan for their preservation.

     In retrospect these recommendations seem a mixture of the visionary and the time-bound concerns of another generation. The report recognized the importance of wetlands as a means of preserving biodiversity, but did not appreciate the role of wetlands in fighting water pollution and flooding. They acknowledged the growing problem of water pollution in the Great Lakes area, but did not foresee how it might negatively impact the demand for outdoor recreation on the lakes. Like so many planning documents, then and now, it tended to project unchanged the trends of the moment. In their view recreational demand would continue to grow unchecked, leisure time would continue to grow, and the urban populations of Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland would continue to grow. Like so many of the other government observers of the period Edmunds's team over-projected the significance of the St. Lawrence Seaway, an enlarged set of canals designed to offer larger ocean vessels access from the lakes to the oceans. Although the seaway did trigger harbor construction, which horribly scarred the Indiana Dunes, that process was not repeated elsewhere. The seaway was hamstrung by east and gulf coast congressman who only agreed to the project after it was amended to ensure that it would prove no long-term threat to their own regions. The expected maritime revival of the seaway turned out to be an economic blip, not a boom.35

     In many ways the survey report was a conservative document. The recommendation that fifteen percent of the Great Lakes shoreline should be in public ownership was not as bold as it sounded, since the park projects they recommended were in areas such as northern Michigan where up to forty percent of the shoreline was already publicly owned. Fred A. Seaton, Secretary of the Interior, had expressed the opinion that the National Park Service should recommend no more than three sites for potential park status out of the combined surveys of the Atlantic, Gulf; Pacific, and Great Lakes shorelines. This type of pressure, the experience of the long struggle to create Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and, of course, the known shortage of land acquisition funds combined to constrain the survey's conclusions. Edmunds clearly exceeded Secretary Seaton's recommendation when he recommended four areas from the Great Lakes alone as potential national parks. Left out of the report was any federal role in urban recreation, clearly one of the great needs in the region, save perhaps for the recommendation to preserve the Indiana Dunes. Only that latter site was located anywhere near the region's population centers. The other recommended sites. Sleeping Bear, Pictured Rocks, the Huron Mountains, and Pigeon Point, were all remote from the cities. Even in the thinly populated Lake Superior region the survey team moved deliberately. Conspicuously absent from the shoreline survey report is the recommendation that Wisconsin's Apostle Islands be made a national park. Local boosters had urged such an action consistently since the 1920s. A park service representative at that time decried that as a park project the cutover islands and shoreline there did not "amount to a hill of beans." The Great Lakes Shoreline Survey a generation later viewed the landscape of the Apostle Islands more positively. They urged the state of Wisconsin to preserve the beaches along Lake Superior and suggested one of the Apostle Islands might make a good state park. The Apostle Islands, today a successful national lakeshore, were not viewed by Edmunds and his team as one of the region's outstanding recreational resources. [36]

     It was the political pressure of Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson that forced the National Park Service to look again at the Apostle Islands. Clout also played a role in the demise of the Huron Mountains as a potential national park. Allen Edmunds's team were more impressed by this area than any other part of the entire Great Lakes region. Located on the shore of Lake Superior just west of Marquette, Michigan, the Huron Mountains were unknown to most residents of the Upper Peninsula, let alone most Midwestemers. After their first look at the area the survey team noted: "There is practically no development, its scenic qualities are superior and its variety of features is unequalled. Its shoreline consists of 50' - 100' red rock, sheer cliffs, granite outcroppings, and white sand beaches. There are interesting offshore islands and beautiful inland lakes." Closer inspection of the area by boat, helicopter and foot backed up these original conclusions but also presented a problem. The Huron Mountains were almost entirely privately owned, largely by the forest products company Celotex and by the elite Huron Mountain Club. Founded in 1889, the Huron Mountain Club, was a unique Midwestern expression of the same outdoor impulse that led east coast industrialists and financiers to build elaborate, rustic summer retreats in the Adirondack Mountains. Fifty families, for almost five generations controlled 22,000 acres of mountains, lakes, and canyons. Lumber and land magnet John Longyear was one of the original members, others were manufacturing or steel tycoons, attorneys and physicians. Henry Ford was left dangling on a waiting list for seven years before his membership was accepted. Some of the summer homes were beautiful log structures in the style of the Adirondack "Great Camps," others simple summer cottages, and some, in the words of the survey team, were little more than "glorified shacks." Locked gates, fences, and guards assured the members of their privacy and kept the area all but unknown. Since the club's creation the logged-over Huron Mountains had regrown its forest cover and the entire area appeared to be a splendid near-wilderness. [37]

     As much as the survey team was intrigued with the Huron Mountains contact with the leadership of the club seems to have inclined them to back off from recommending the area as a potential national park. A 1957 progress report concluded: "no active program or pressure for state acquisition is recommended for this area. However, continued contact with the present organization is suggested in order to be in on the ground floor should an opportunity for acquisition arise." This diffident evaluation, however, did not stand. In July 1959 National Park Service Director Conrad L. Wirth inspected for himself the highlight areas identified by the shoreline survey. He was "very much impressed" by the Huron Mountains area and ordered that it be included among the sites to be recommended for consideration as potential parks. Alarmed by this decision the Huron Mountain Club made its case for continued private ownership in the press while remaining constructively, if not fully cooperatively engaged with the park service. Requests by park planners to enter club lands were fended-off while contacts and informal visits by high level National Park Service officials were courted. An Outdoor America article posed the issue as a choice between a noisy, crowded public park and "a private wilderness for those who own it—and who have faithfully preserved it." The park service also sought high level discussions with the club, hoping to sell them on the idea that a Huron Mountain park might be developed which would include the club owners summer homes as an in-holding. For its part the club pointed out their existing policy of allowing accredited naturalists access to their lands. An April 1960 meeting between club President Kent Chandler and Conrad Wirth brought an end to the prospect of a Huron Mountain national park. At that time Chandler likely revealed his political hand to Director Wirth, for the latter immediately changed his tune. The "frontier is gone," the park service director wrote shortly afterward, and the National Park Service had a huge job trying to preserve what was left of the American environment, therefore "I am not worrying about the relatively few remaining natural areas managed like the Huron Mountain Club property, so long as they are in the hands of the present owners." The extent of the clout the club brought to bear is suggested by the fact that unlike the Pictured Rocks and Sleeping Bear Dunes, the much more promising Huron Mountains were never proposed for national park status by a single Michigan senator or congressional representative. The fifty well-heeled owners of the Huron Mountains accomplished what the hundreds of less well-connected cottage owners in the Sleeping Bear area could not do—stop a national park. [38]

     The Great Lakes Shoreline Survey, however, did succeed in bringing the National Park Service into the Great Lakes region in a major way. For years the agency had fended off requests from the residents of northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan to create a national park in their area by disparaging the region's second growth forests and its lack of monumental grandeur similar to the great parks of the mountain west. The demand for outdoor recreation that followed World War II had changed that by forcing the agency to look at the region in a new way. In the process the National Park Service found in the Pictured Rocks and Sleeping Bear Dunes sites that possessed both the water recreation areas so typical of the north woods and landscapes with scenic assets which compared favorably with the best of America's national parks.

     "National Parks are where you find them," a park planner advised a summer homeowner critical of the recommendation to federalize the dunes. What he meant was that in the late 1950s the Sleeping Bear area fit perfectly the blend of recreational, natural, and esthetic requirements required by the shoreline survey. Sleeping Bear Dunes, although it was not as close to major urban areas as the Indiana Dunes, nor as scenic as the Pictured Rocks, nor as unspoiled as the Huron Mountains, probably possessed better than any other area the blend of features sought by park planners. It was more unspoiled than Indiana Dunes, more spectacular than anything offered by the Apostle Islands, and much closer to major population centers than the Pictured Rocks. Sleeping Bear was a recreation area on the cusp of change when it was discovered by the shoreline survey. For nearly twenty years the Michigan Department of Conservation had tried with limited means and limited success to shape the development of Sleeping Bear toward public access and resource preservation. Now the National Park Service saw in the Sleeping Bear and Pictured Rocks a chance to create a new type of national park. But if from a park planner's point-of-view parks "are where you find them", from a political perspective national parks are created in the stow, imperfect give-and-take of the legislative arena. By no means would the park envisioned by Allen T. Edmunds and his planners be the park that emerged from the legislative process. The best the park service could hope was to avoid, as they could not with the Huron Mountains proposal, a complete shipwreck of their work. E. Winton Perkins, head of the Great Lakes Survey field team, understood what was at stake. "As this is being written," he concluded his report, "surveyors are subdividing some of the remaining beach areas and bulldozers are opening new access roads. Time is of the essence....." [39]

NEXT> Chapter 2 "We're Going For the Right Thing:" The Legislative Struggle to Create Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, 1971-1977


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

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