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 Two

S.2153 Senator Hart's Sleeping Bear Bill

     The politician most responsible for the eventual establishment of Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore was Philip A. Hart, Michigan’s Democratic senator from 1958 to 1976.  Hart was, in the words of a long-time activist in Michigan politics, “a genuine humanitarian.”  Naturally quiet, reserved in manner, he was anything but a typical politician.  His experience in World War II as an officer in the D-Day invasion left him severely wounded, and after a long recovery, anxious to do something positive with his life.  His marriage to a daughter of the powerful and wealthy Briggs family in Detroit gave him an entrée into Michigan politics.  He was unphotogenic, modest to the point of being apologetic about running, scrupulous about campaign contributions, and intellectual in appearance and actual behavior.  He was neither eloquent on the campaign trail or decisive in office.  “He debated every possible angle to the solution before he would tell you his decision,” recalled a former aide.  “Often, if you didn’t press him hard, he would never tell you what he decided.”  Yet as deliberate as Hart was about taking a stand he was dogged in maintaining his position, regardless of the pressure.  “Once he made up his mind,” a supporter recalled, “nothing could get him to change it.” [9]

     It was this later quality which would have a critical impact on the fate of the park service’s Sleeping Bear shoreline proposal.  Hart became the champion of the Sleeping Bear park in 1961 and he never backed down in the long fight that followed.  Hart’s commitment to the lakeshore grew-out of his belief that it was a project in the interest of the majority of his Michigan constituents and that it would serve the long-term needs of the American people.  He personally had a summer house on Mackinac Island.  He knew the popularity of the northern lakes region and the limitations of living within a publicly administered park area.  Although the creation of National Lakeshores at Pictured Rocks and Sleeping Bear are a lasting legacy of his Senate career, Hart was not an enthusiastic conservationist in the mold of his fellow Democrats Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin or Frank Church of Idaho.  The issues closest to Hart were civil rights and consumer affairs.  “He was tolerant of everyone’s right to follow his or her own conscience,” a colleague recalled.  In time he became known as the “conscience of the Senate” for his consistent support of civil rights legislation.  His greatest moment came when Lyndon Johnson hand-picked Hart to shepherd the Voting Rights Act through the teeth of a Senate southern filibuster.  While Hart was steadfast in his support for the Sleeping Bear proposal, he was seldom involved personally with the drafting or negotiations necessary to make the bill a reality.  Hart had a reputation for having brought together an efficient staff and it was to that staff that he, by-and-large, delegated the Sleeping Bear issue. [10]

     Hart’s proxies in the Sleeping Bear fight were Muriel Ferris and William Welsh.  The latter was the Senator’s Administrative Assistant and a long-time Democratic Party--Washington operator.  Welsh worked his way from positions in organized labor to Executive Secretary of the Democratic National Committee, to Hart’s staff, and eventually served on the staff of Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey.  Welsh was reputed to have “a keen political mind—and a sharp eye.”  He was very experienced with legislative matters and often represented the Senator in vital negotiations concerning the lakeshore proposals.  Muriel Ferris was the staff member most intimately engaged with the Sleeping Bear issue.  She attended meetings, organized supporters, and absorbed the flak of opponents from the beginning of the process in 1961 until the creation of the lakeshore in 1971.  More than any other member of the Senator’s staff she was interested in environmental issues.  Her close and personal association with conservation groups like the Michigan Parks Association helped to keep alive support for the lakeshore plan during the decade long struggle. [11]

     Hart’s first Sleeping Bear bill, S.2153 was introduced jointly with S.2152, the bill to create Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on June 27, 1961.  Both bills were strongly influenced by the National Park Service proposals and by the legislation, then near final passage, to create Cape Cod National Seashore.  The Cape Cod bill had broken new conservation ground through its attempt to harmonize existing private developments with long-term conservation and by its revolutionary procedure of authorizing federal funds to purchase those private lands vital to public recreation and resource protection.  Hart‘s bill had five vital provisions:

It called for a 77,000 acre recreation area in Leland and Benzie counties;                                  

i) It gave the Secretary of the Interior the power to purchase or condemn all private land within the park;
ii) Owners of residences could negotiate for 25 year leases;
iii) Owners of residences might also be able to retain ownership in the park provided local zoning was in place;
iv) Contrary to usual National Park Service Policy, hunting would be permitted.

Hart had worked closely with the National Park Service on the bill and he felt confident that the legislation would meet with the support of his constituents. [12]

     At first, there was little indication of a controversy over the bill.  When the Michigan Park Association arranged an informational meeting on the proposal in Lansing, although notices had been sent to the Traverse City and Frankfort newspapers, only two people outside of the association bothered to attend.  Such a response, however, was misleading. Around the Platte Lakes and in Glen Arbor word of Hart’s bill spread like spilt milk.  In the hot summer sun dismay soured into anger.  Through neighbor talking to neighbor, summer residents to locals, a series of community meetings were organized.  In a short time the Citizens’ Council of the Sleeping Bear was formed as an organized expression of local concern. Senator Hart’s office began to receive bundles of letters protesting his bill.  Publicly he nursed the fiction that the public response to the Sleeping Bear park had been favorable, while behind the scenes his staff scrambled to come-up with a response that would calm the rising negative response.  The solution, arrived at in conjunction with the National Park Service, was to have Conrad Wirth, the Director of the National Park Service travel to the area and calm things down. [13]  

     Senator Hart’s staff, the National Park Service, and the Michigan Parks Association were all guilty of believing their own public pronouncements. The feeling was that people in northwestern Michigan simply were operating in an information vacuum: they did not understand the bill.  What was needed was an official spokesman who could separate the facts from the misapprehensions. Conrad Wirth, who was warned by a local supporter, “its going to be rugged,” merely joked “I never get called unless there’s really fireworks.”  But the fact was neither he nor Muriel Ferris, who also had journeyed from Washington, D.C., anticipated the traumatic evening.  Wirth spent the day of the meeting getting his first close-up inspection of the park area.  “I don’t know much about this project,” he told Genevieve Gillette, but “I am sold on it.” The trouble was Gillette was just about the only person in the audience who agreed with him. [14]

      August 30, 1961, the day of Director Wirth’s appearance at the public meeting in the Glen Lake Community High School, was the day the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore proposal nearly died. It was a hot, humid evening.  The little school gymnasium, set-up like an auditorium, was packed with people.  It was the end of the summer season and 1,500 to 2,000 angry summer and year-around residents had gathered.  As Wirth and his park service staff came into the building they found the hallways leading to the gym packed with an overflow crowd.  On the stage was a Michigan highway map with all state and federal forest and park lands highlighted in green to make the point that more recreation land was not needed.  The moderator of the meeting was Ove F. Jensen, a long-time summer home owner who had retired to Glen Lake.  As chairman of the Citizens’ Council of the Sleeping Bear Dunes Area he was anything but a neutral voice.  Director Wirth began with a slide presentation on the park service plan for Sleeping Bear.  The rest of the meeting was to be devoted to questions.  Rather than rely on spontaneous questions from the floor, the Citizens’ Council had very cleverly prepared a long list of very detailed and antagonistically worded questions.  Jensen put the questions to the Director and insisted that each be answered.  Had Wirth been better informed regarding the proposal he would have made a stronger showing.  At one point he described the area around Sleeping Bear as “undeveloped.” Jensen shot back at him that the park service’s own study allowed there were more than a thousand residences in the project area. Press accounts noted that he was “at times ill-prepared to explain the proposal,” but the fact was that many of the questions were not fully answerable at that early stage of the project. [15]

    The audience, hot and uncomfortable in the packed room, was restless and rude.  Catcalls, jeers, and “humorless laughter” greeted many of Wirth’s remarks.  He emphasized that a federally approved zoning ordinance would allow most summer home owners to remain within the proposed recreation area, not realizing how hollow that sounded to his audience because all previous attempts at zoning in the area had been popularly defeated. Lamely the Director tried to emphasize the long-term beneficial aspects of the plan, such as the protection of the dunes and the increase of annual local revenues by a projected $10 million.  Exacerbated members of the audience shouted back that they had moved to Leelanau County to avoid the crowds of visitors conjured by Wirth.  The breaking point came when the Director, a second-generation park service employee and a veteran of more than thirty years of federal service, tried to defend the objectivity and competence of the team that put-together the Sleeping Bear plan.  The crowd, however, would have none of it and complaints about not wanting to turn over the fate of their homes “to the bureaucrats” were voiced.  Wirth, his dander up, proclaimed: “I’m a bureaucrat and proud of it.”  The meeting degenerated from there.  The Director alternated his responses from the terse, “I expect you will disagree, so there is little point in answering,” to the combative, as when he told Citizens’ Council representatives “You have made a good showing, but we will vote you down.”  The meeting ended with Ove Jensen again demonstrating his deft handling of the situation.  He asked all people opposed to the project to stand up. Virtually the entire room rose as one, save for four chairs in the front row where Muriel Ferris, Genevieve Gillette, and two representatives of the Michigan Conservation Commission sat.  “People around us tried to pull us up by the arms,” Gillette later recalled.  “No, not me,” shouted the feisty conservationist, “I’m Miss Genevieve Gillette, I’m President of the Michigan Parks Association, and I’m for this Park 100%.”  But it was clear that she was nearly the only person in the hall so inclined. [16]

     For supporters of the Sleeping Bear bill the evening had gone about as bad as it could have.  Senator Hart’s hope that the meeting would generate “more light than heat” was dashed.  Conrad Wirth felt that he had been ambushed.  The blame, however, had to be shared by Hart and the park service.  The latter sent the Director in without properly exploring local sentiment or fully briefing him on the plan.  Hart was guilty of deferring to Wirth a job he should have done himself, explain why he was asking the Sleeping Bear homeowners to bear a burden for the good of all of Michigan.  Not only did Hart beg-off that job but he left the planning of the meeting to the opposition Citizens’ Council.  Wirth compounded these errors by losing his composure.  He latter admitted to an Iowa congressman, “it was a real bad night, sir.” [17]

     For the opponents of S.2153 the meeting was a defining and exhilarating moment. They had stood up, toe-to-toe with the experts from Washington and carried the day. The meeting had helped to forge a group of anxious and bewildered property-owners into a defiant and assertive organization.  Many people heard and reported that Wirth threatened to take their homes.  The image of the National Park Service they took away from the meeting was one of an arrogant, elitist, out-of-control agency.  The Record-Eagle (Traverse City, Michigan) editorialized that Wirth’s performance was “an appalling and almost unbelievable demonstration of how far bureaucratic planners in Washington can go in disregarding the people’s rights.”  Donations began to flood into the Glen Arbor-based Citizens’ Council of the Sleeping Bear Dunes Area.  In little more than two weeks after the meeting they had received more than $16,000 in pledges and donations.  Similar associations were formed in the Platte Lakes and Little Traverse Lake-Good Harbor areas.  The tragedy of the Glen Lake meeting was that it had such an extreme polarizing effect on the prospect of a Sleeping Bear park.  The opposition became rigid.  The language used to describe the bill became combative.  “A federal land grab” became the mantra in Leelanau County towns. With their dander up and war chests filled, the opposition left the Glen Lake meeting ready to hire a battery of lawyers and prepared to launch a public relations offensive of their own.  The battle for the dunes had begun. [18]

     Traverse City was the next engagement in the struggle.  Senator Hart had arranged for a Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs field hearing to be held November 13, 1961.  The hearing had the benefit of bringing Hart to northwest Michigan to speak directly about the bill.  In his testimony before the subcommittee Hart argued that S.2153 was only a draft of a Sleeping Bear bill and that he fully expected to make changes.  Introducing legislation he lamely contended was, in his opinion, the best way to spark “discussion.”  In fact the hearings were a good way to find out how angry and determined people could be when a “discussion” is started with a threat to take their homes. The opposition was able to turn out an audience of 850 people and dominate the hearing with twenty-six of the thirty-five witnesses speaking out against the Hart bill.  The most important of these was Congressman Robert P. Griffin.  Practically speaking there could be no Sleeping Bear recreation area without his support.  Griffin had been among the minority of Republicans who had voted to create the Cape Cod National Seashore and like most members of the Michigan G.O.P. he was a supporter of conservation measures.  He was, however, more impressed by the sincerity and strength of the popular out-cry against the bill than by the actual legislation drafted by Hart and the park service.  Responding to the often-made charge that opponents of S.2153 simply did not understand what Hart was trying to do, Griffin testified: “I would suggest to the subcommittee that the problem you are having is because these people do understand the bill.”  That line brought down the house.  “My goodness!” exclaimed Senator Moss as he tried to have his gavel heard amid the storm of applause.  Griffin said he favored a recreation area that avoided the large inland lakes and the numerous property owners.  Hart proposed to take too much land, in the congressman’s opinion. [19] 

     Probably the most important development to come out of the hearing flowed from the testimony of Secretary of the Interior, Stewart L. Udall.  The former congressman from Arizona was the most aggressive conservationist to ever occupy that office.  Typical of his optimistic and grand vision was his statement that he intended to double the size of the National Park System in the next eight years.  Udall thought big and acted aggressively.  In keeping with that style he told the Senate subcommittee that the only thing wrong with Senator Hart’s proposal was that it did not go far enough.  Hart’s 77,000 acre recreation area was too small in Udall’s opinion.  The Secretary outlined to the subcommittee a Sleeping Bear park 92,172 acres in size.  New areas to be added included, for the first time in any proposal, North Manitou Island and Sugarloaf Mountain.  Udall’s mention of North Manitou Island had a significant impact on all subsequent Sleeping Bear proposals.  That island, which failed to impress the Great Lakes Shoreline Survey and the subsequent park service study teams, thereafter was destined to become part of the park.  At the time, however, Udall’s testimony had a strongly negative impact.  His contention that a Sleeping Bear park needed to be bigger in the face of strong public opposition made the bureaucracy seem insensitive to the popular will.  Furthermore, for the Department of the Interior to move from recommending first a 26,000 acre park, to a 77,000 acre area, to now a 92,172 area gave the impression of a capricious planning process.  For his contribution Udall had the honor of joining Philip Hart in being hung in effigy in Traverse City. [20]

     The Traverse City hearing marked an effective end to S.2153.  It was a poor bill—vague and imprecise--very poorly presented.  Neither the National Park Service nor Senator Philip Hart had done the research in Leelanau and Benzie counties necessary to anticipate the needs and concerns of the local community.  The partnership also had floundered with S.2152, their attempt to create a Pictured Rocks National Recreation Area.  There the local community was supportive of the park plan but the bill ran into the buzz saw of corporate timber interests.  Both bills were a product of haste and good intentions.  For Sleeping Bear Dunes the legacy of these mistakes was lasting divisions, bad feelings, and a decade of delay.

NEXT> New Approches, Old Problems


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

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