Starting From Scratch
“So far we have not had one cent of federal money to buy land,” Julius Martinek said one year after the creation of the national lakeshore, “and yet we have had people coming from all over the country who have heard that Congress created a new park here and expect it to be ready for use—instantly and magically, I presume.” Martinek was the first superintendent of Sleeping Bear Dunes and like the head of any new entity he had more problems than staff, higher public expectations than budget lines, as well as the added burden of a local population that was, in large part, committed to opposing the lakeshore. Nothing came easy in the early years at Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Allen T. Edmunds carefully chose Julius A. Martinek for the difficult assignment. Although Martinek had been born in Cleveland in 1922, he had grown up in Traverse City, Michigan. His family had a cottage on Long Lake and his first experiences hiking and camping were in the forests in and around the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Edmunds had attended the World Congress on Conservation with Martinek and had taken to the latter’s straitforward style. Edmunds also liked Martinek’s broad experience within the agency. The forty-nine year old had started with the park service in 1949 after military service in the Navy during World War II and college at Michigan State University. The forestry graduate put in stints as a back country ranger at Mount Rainier National Park and Sequoia National Park before moving to Washington, D.C. and working as a planner in the office of the director. Martinek was on the “fast-track” within the agency. In 1967, he headed a National Park Service team seconded to the United Republic of Tanzania to plan Mount Kilimanjaro National Park. His administrative experience included serving as Assistant Superintendent at Yellowstone National Park and, just prior to coming to Sleeping Bear, as Director of the National Capital Parks. Martinek had followed Philip Hart’s tortuous attempt to create a Sleeping Bear park and he had long desired to take on the challenge of building a new park “from scratch.”
Martinek was well suited to the inevitable challenge of trying to build a new park with few resources. He had a “hands-on” style of leadership and a flair for “do-it-yourself” solutions. When he was a ranger at Mount Rainier, he once resolved his frustration with budget cuts that removed funding for a picnic area near a backcountry trail by building the site himself, tables, outhouses and all, with little more than a chainsaw. Many times during the lakeshore’s early days Martinek would grab a shovel or hammer or saw and pitch-in to whatever job needed to be done. Conversely, Martinek could also be a good listener. This was critical for the first superintendent because there was a real need for property owners in the area to vent their frustration with the federal government in the early 1970s. A lot of people who opposed the park had never had a chance to participate in the congressional hearings and the superintendent was the one on whom they “unloaded.” A considerable portion of Martinek’s time that first year was spent at meetings to explain what was going to happen to local stakeholders. No other member of the National Park Service, save perhaps Allen Edmunds, exterted as much influence over the type of park Sleeping Bear evolved into than Julius Martinek. This was not only because he was the first superintendent but because of his particular energy and vision. Twenty years after his term as superintendent ended Martinek’s stamp was clearly visible on the lakeshore.
The first lakeshore headquarters was in Frankfort, Michigan, at the site of the former State Savings Bank, a terra cotta trimmed commercial building located on Main Street. Martinek, a former Traverse City resident, would have preferred that location as a temporary headquarters. But the park service had already committed itself to Frankfort, besides, Benzie County had a number of long-time supporters of the project and Martinek was informed they were offering space in the bank for free. The space had to be thoroughly renovated, teller cages removed and carpets put in, and ended up costing the agency $700 dollars a month in rent. Of greater assistance to the lakeshore was Ted Carland’s offer to the superintendent to publish in the Benzie County Patriot a series of columns (eventually titled “Bear Facts”) to explain park service policy and give readers an update on the development of the lakeshore. Some Leelanau County residents resented the headquarters location in Frankfort because the lakeshore “directly affects the affairs and property of far more Leelanau County residents than Benzie County residents.” Martinek was appointed in May and by early summer he was at work in the lakeshore. The bulk of the park service staff in Frankfort that first year were land acquisition specialists who did not report to the superintendent. Martinek spent the bulk of his time familiarizing himself with the park resources and developing liaison with local governments, organizations, and meeting property owners. Although he had next-to-nothing as a budget and little land to manage, the problems immediately placed before him were intimidating. The gull nesting ground on South Manitou island was reported to be suffering a sudden and severe population decline, the Coast Guard station at Sleeping Bear Bay was suffering structural damage from years of neglect, and the State of Michigan proposed to build a modern boat harbor at the mouth of the Platte River. On top of that throngs of tourists anxious to see the newly legislated park had so packed D.H. Day State Park on Memorial Day as to back-up traffic on Highway 109, and last but not least, his office was packed with landowners, some anxious to sell their land, others making it clear that the park service would have it only over their dead bodies.
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