To Promote or to Preserve?
An important factor in the development of local support for national park projects at Pictured Rocks, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and at Apostle Islands, in northern Wisconsin, was the desire of local communities to profit from the increased tourist traffic that a national park would draw to their area. The Upper Great Lakes Region (northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota) did not share in the general prosperity that swept over the United States in the early 1960s. The poverty and unemployment rates in the region rivaled those of Appalachia, although the misery of that region was more celebrated in the national media. Orville L. Freeman, a Minnesota progressive and President John F. Kennedy’s Secretary of Agriculture, was anxious to highlight the problems of the region and develop strategies to improve its economic prospects. In September 1963 he organized a regional convocation, the “Land and People: Northern Great Lakes Regional Conference,” with the aim of encouraging the people of the region to decide for themselves how to “restore and sustain a healthy regional economy.” At the same time President Kennedy was being pressured by Secretary of the Interior Udall to jump-start the latter’s plan to double the size of the National Park System by undertaking a national conservation tour. The initiatives of the two ambitious cabinet members came together with the President’s decision to visit the proposed Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and to open the “Land and People” conference. Out of the President’s speech, and through the cooperation of local and national leaders to find a way to immediately help the area emerged the contradictory conservation strategy to promote the region through its preservation.
Greeted by 50,000 enthusiastic citizens in the streets of Duluth, Minnesota, President Kennedy injected his personal blend of energy and optimism into the delegates to the “Land and People” conference. He announced that he was turning the attention of his administration to the problem of a region whose beautiful shorelines reminded him of his own beloved Cape Cod. “The economy of a region that should be prospering,” he said, “has reflected instead a series of economic setbacks as mines and mills shut down.” What was needed was the “full employment of both the natural and human resources which this area still possess in abundance.” To do that Kennedy proposed linking economic development initiatives to conservation proposals, “this Region is more and more a major recreation area within easy access of tens of millions of Americans.” Kennedy advocated new national park projects in the area and a regional approach to planning.
The Upper Great Lakes Regional Commission was eventually created to provide the latter, while new park projects sprouted in the form of the Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway, the Ice Age Trail, Voyageurs National Park, and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Each of those initiatives were at least in part supported by Wisconsin and Minnesota communities to foster a stronger tourist industry as well as to preserve treasured recreational resources. In the Upper Peninsula Kennedy’s call to promote and preserve was received like a lifeline by a drowning man. The completion of the Mackinac Bridge in November, 1957 had not caused quite the tourist renaissance hoped for by northern Michigan communities, in part because of the opening of a scenic highway along the north shore of Lake Superior by the Province of Ontario, which tended to draw tourists farther north. The towns along Michigan’s Superior shore were anxious for a potential tourist attractor like the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Lower Michigan, however, was cool to the call to preserve and promote. The result of the “Land and People” conference was to give greater impetus to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore as opposed to the stalled Sleeping Bear proposal. “I certainly didn’t feel that Pictured Rocks was in as much danger of disappearing as Sleeping Bear,” recalled Genevieve Gillette, who had been a delegate at the conference. “I presume most people in the Park Association, thought that Sleeping Bear was much more of a project and much more important to push strongly than Pictured Rocks.” That perception changed due to the conference and Pictured Rocks was seen in light of the new regional strategy. Both Gillette and Senator Hart’s staff devoted more attention to Pictured Rocks and in 1966 it was made the first national lakeshore.
The strong local opposition to Sleeping Bear, both among the summer home owners, but also among business operators in the area prevented that project from fitting into the economic development push of the Kennedy—Johnson years. A considerable liability in trying to build support for the lakeshore’s economic development potential was the economic feasibility study prepared for the park service by Michigan State University. Funded with the last of the Mellon money from the Great Lakes Shoreline Survey, the report was rushed to completion in 1961 to support the first Hart bill. The report began by noting that 20 million people lived within “an easy day’s drive of the area,” then went on to predict that within five years of the establishment of the park it would attract “an additional 1.2 million people” to the area each year. That figure would have given Sleeping Bear greater attendance than either Grand Canyon or Yosemite. The report allowed that park land purchases would take valuable land off the property tax rolls and cost the local school districts a combined $114,124, but the Institute for Community and Development Services at Michigan State, which wrote the report, blithely concluded that the increased sales tax in the area from the million plus visitors would offset these loses. From a statewide perspective that was true, but it was little consolation to the local community because sales tax revenues were distributed throughout Michigan and would not be available for the local schools. The report particularly angered fruit farmers in the area by disparaging the prospects for cherry growing, even though the county agricultural agents (also employed by Michigan State University) had been telling farmers the opposite for more than fifteen years. Predictions about how much money a Sleeping Bear lakeshore would generate were based on studies done at much larger and celebrated parks such as Grand Teton and Smokey Mountains. The hastily assembled study was less a scientific evaluation that it was a studied effort to boost the National Park Service’s plans for the area. 
“That economic feasibility study almost cost the whole park proposal all creditability,” recalled John Daugherty, a Benzie County park supporter. The Citizens’ Council hammered away at the wild predictions of the study during the Washington and Frankfort hearings. They commissioned a Chicago consulting firm to conduct an independent study and used its findings to refute the government study point-by-point. The economic feasibility study was another misstep by the park service caused by the rush to advance a wide range of park projects, in too short a time, with a limited staff to manage the effort.
Once the National Park Service lost creditability in the Sleeping Bear area, the agency became the object of vilification, and the project was subjected to a scrutiny that was always close and probing, that sometimes bordered on paranoia. Most park opponents regarded the project as an example of a federal bureaucracy out of control and overstepping its legitimate mandate. In Ove Jensen’s words, it was “a fight between small people and a big government.” Others ascribed deep and dark designs to unseen forces behind the Hart bill. One story, faithfully told with seemingly genuine quotes and eyewitness verification, had Lawrence Rockefeller as the power behind the plan. Supposedly, Rockefeller’s sister, while attending a wedding on Long Lake, fell in love with Glen Lake. “I have seen all the beautiful lakes in the world, and Glen Lake is the most beautiful of them all,” she is reported to have exclaimed. Several years later Lawrence Rockefeller was reported as having personally inspected the area. The millionaire heir then promised to put up the money for the National Park Service to buy it. The story obviously conflated the Rockefeller’s well-known philanthropy at Grand Teton National Park and Virgin Islands National Park with the support of Paul Mellon for the Great Lakes Shoreline Survey. “They don’t want the Sand Dune,” charged Nan Helm, a lakeshore property owner, “what the Rockefellers want is ‘our lovely Glen Lake’.” Such stories reveal the deep attachment people had to the area and their conviction that it was a special place. They also indicate the bewilderment that people who long regarded themselves as patriotic citizens felt when they suddenly found themselves at odds with their government. “I just can’t understand why Mr. Udall wouldn’t want me to go on growing my petunias,” an elderly women asked at the time of the Senate subcommittee visit to Glen Lake. 
Inflated arguments by federal officials predicting Sleeping Bear would be a major tourist attractor only stiffened the opposition by conjuring images of hordes of tourists and lines of cars jammed in traffic. People in northwest Michigan enjoyed its seclusion and slow pace. Some local businessmen, turning the economic development argument on its head, grouchily complained that more visitors to the area would force them to hire more staff and expand their operations. The prospect of “honk-tonk strips” as were found in Gatlinburg and other communities at national park gateways was repellent to many residents. When the House of Representatives finally held its own hearing on Sleeping Bear in 1965 Congressman Griffin argued that if a national lakeshore was ever going to be established it needed to be more committed to preserving the natural beauty and character of the area, than to its promotion. Griffin went so far as to propose a buffer zone around the park to restrain ugly commercialization.
In August 1965, the Senate passed S.936, another Hart Sleeping Bear bill. This action keyed supporters of the park to lobby for congressional action. Genevieve Gillette met with Wayne Aspinall (D-Colorado) the powerful chair of the House Interior Committee and Republican attorney John Daugherty lobbied Representative Gerald Ford (R-Michigan). The passage of the Land and Water Conservation fund in 1964 had made all congressmen more receptive of park projects. The fund applied monies raised by selling leases for off-shore oil drilling to federal and state conservation projects. The bill made Sleeping Bear’s multimillion dollar price tag much more palatable to representatives concerned with the growing federal budget deficit. Another event which gave the Sleeping Bear bill momentum in the House was the removal of Congressman Robert P. Griffin. Senator Patrick V. McNamara (D-Michigan), Hart’s silent co-sponsor of the park bills, died in April of 1966. Michigan’s Republican governor, George Romney, appointed Griffin to the vacant seat in the Senate. For the remainder of 1966 northwest Michigan had no congressional representative and park supporters sought to push the bill through in the vacuum. 
The Sleeping Bear bill nearly made it out of the House that summer. Chairman Aspinall aggressively pushed the bill forward in his committee. It fell to Representative Charlotte Reid (R-Illinois) the Crystal Lake cottage owner, to try and derail the bill. On August 6, 1966, Reid took advantage of the fact that thirty-two members, including most of the bill’s supporters, were absent from the committee. She pressed for consideration of the bill and would have succeeded in killing it save for the astute maneuvering of John P. Saylor (R-Pennsylvania). A strong conservationist, Saylor pretended to oppose the bill because by voting “no” he would be permitted to have the full committee reconsider the bill at a more favorable time. That occasion came three days latter when the full committee voted to create a Sleeping Bear lakeshore. The amended bill differed from the Senate bill by its inclusion of North Manitou Island and a buffer zone along M-22. The bill now only needed to be considered by the full house to be law. But the 89th Congress was one of the most activist in American history. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s landslide victory in 1964 had sent scores of liberal Democrats to the House on his coattails and they had spent their terms advancing an avalanche of legislation. It was the discipline and organization of the House which advanced Sleeping Bear lakeshore to the brink, even without a local representative as an advocate, but then the success of the 89th Congress caught up with the lakeshore plan. There were so many bills reported out of committee that the House Rules Committee had a formidable task trying to arrange the schedule for presentation on the floor of the House. It did not help that the Chairman of the Rules Committee, Howard W. Smith (D-Virginia), was a lame-duck bitter over his recent defeat in a primary by the liberal wing of his own party. Smith resisted appeals by Democrats and Republicans to have the bill advanced to the floor of the House. But Smith favored other bills with a place on the calendar, and the Sleeping Bear compromise, on the brink of passage, expired buried in the Rules Committee when Congress adjourned in the fall of 1966.