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 Three

Land Acquisition

     For the majority of the new national parks created in the 1960s and 1970s the process of land acquisition was a bitter, often protracted, prelude to the agency’s normal job of presenting and protecting natural and cultural resources to the public.  Historically Americans have loved their national parks.  The National Park Service, as the protectors and presenters of the parks historically enjoyed public esteem.  But unlike the western parks carved out of the public domain during the early years of the century, condemnation of private property was necessary to create all of the national lakeshores.  It was the land acquisition officer, not a friendly ranger in a “Smokey the Bear” hat that provided many local people with their first exposure to the personnel of the National Park Service. At Sleeping Bear the inevitable sense of loss experienced by people moved out of the park area was unfortunately underscored with a feeling of resentment based on the perception that they had not been dealt with fairly.  The reasons for the lingering atmosphere of resentment, which is still palpable a generation after the creation of the lakeshore, are a combination of procedure, personality, and circumstance.

     Land Acquisition Officers came into an unenviable situation in 1971.  Ten years of opposition to the concept of a national park had resulted in the demonization of federal employees.  New federal procedures for land acquisition restricted the freedom of action of federal employees in real estate negotiations.  The Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 was designed to ensure uniform and fair treatment of people forced to leave their homes due to federal projects.  On the positive side it provided for moving costs and replacement housing.  It also mandated that the government would not pay less than the fair market value of a property, as determined by an independent appraisal.  The effect of the law was to remove flexibility and discretion from the acquisition officer and make the independent appraisal all-important.  Because of the law sellers found government buyers almost totally unwilling to negotiate and they felt they were left with “like it or lump it offers” for their property. This accentuated the personal dynamics of the acquisition program.  None of the land acquisition staff had long experience with the National Park Service and most were not committed to living in the project area. The tone set by James E. Williamson; the chief Land Acquisition Officer was unsympathetic, unsmiling, and unrelenting. [6]

     Williamson was a large, gruff, bear of a man.  He dominated a room by his physical presence and his aggressively blunt manner.  He came to the National Park Service, like most of the men involved in the Sleeping Bear Dunes land acquisition program, from the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Immediately before coming to Frankfort he had been stationed at the Apostle Islands. Land acquisition is a difficult business under any circumstances.  As John F. Pattie, one of Williamson’s assistants, joked “I’ve been cussed at, kicked downstairs, and had dogs sicced on me, but I have never been insulted!”  Being thick-skinned was a necessary characteristic for a lands officer.  Yet the men who came to Sleeping Bear Dunes from the Corps of Engineers brought with them a tough, uncompromising style.  John Pattie recalled that Williamson and his staff were “hard riding, hard shooting kind of people.”  Williamson was particularly efficient at his job, “but he did not care about making a good impression.”  The original chief of land acquisition for the project had been Donald Campbell who bought a home in Frankfurt and settled his family in the community.  But Campbell was summarily removed from the project after less than a year because he took too deliberate an approach to the project.  Where Campbell had been open and friendly, Williamson was terse and uncommunicative, but the latter style got results.  A former bomber pilot, Williamson spoke with a slight southern drawl that marked him as an outsider in northern Michigan. He expected to be resented by people and he was.  “You can see from history,” he told a journalist, “the great lengths people will go to get land. So when you take their land you touch a sensitive nerve.”  He steeled himself to complaints with the consolation, “I’m just carrying out Congressional orders.” [7]

     After setting up the office, acquiring the necessary title information, and mapping the project area the lands program began the process of appraisal.  All appraisals were done on a contract basis by independent Michigan-based real estate specialists. The first purchases, as was legislatively mandated, were the “hardship” cases. These were owners who due to their financial or personal circumstances needed to immediately know what they were going to be offered by the government for their land.  Some of these were willing sellers, others were elderly people, or the executors of the estate of deceased individuals.  Originally the number of “hardship” cases was about fifty.  By summer of 1971 it climbed to 100 and by January 1972 over 150 tracts claimed “hardship” status.  The effect of this was to slow up the overall program and to fragment into widely dispersed tracts the land that came into park service control.  Williamson and the land acquisition staff would have preferred to have moved to acquire whole subdivisions at one time.  That way, mapping, acquisition of title evidence, and appraisal could have been done jointly for all tracts in the area.   Superintendent Martinek’s job was rendered more difficult because he became responsible for the management of non-contiguous tracts often time-consuming to locate and always difficult to protect. [8]

     Uncertainty on the part of property owners increased public anxiety over land acquisition issues.  Although all owners of property within the lakeshore boundaries were notified of the existence of the park project immediately after the passage of Public Law 91-479, they were generally at sea concerning how it would affect them.  Property owners had to come down to Frankfort and discover what classification their tracts had been assigned.  If their land was projected for public use it was rated “Category I” and it was doomed to be lost to the government. These lands included all Lake Michigan beaches and their accessways.  “Category II” lands, so-called “environmental conservation areas,” were a new category to the park service and the source of considerable confusion to everyone concerned. These lands were seen as a backdrop to the public use areas.  They had scenic values that needed to be protected but no public access to them was planned. Some of the Category II lands were earmarked for fee simple purchase, while others, less environmentally sensitive, were eligible to remain in private hands, subject to easements or use and development restrictions.  Just what those restrictions might be even Superintendent Martinek did not know for more than a year.  Owners of such property found themselves in limbo.  They were unsure whether they could build on their tracts, and they were inhibited from selling because the value of the land was uncertain. Category III lands, “private use and development area,” were more clearly destined to remain open to businesses and vacation homes, although they also were notified that they needed to obtain the National Park Service’s approval before they undertook any improvements or modifications to their property.  Finally, in November 1972 the National Park Service’s Northeast Regional Office, after a review of the lakeshore’s legislative history, determined that all Category II lands would be closed to new construction.  Owners who objected to such restrictions could sell scenic easements to the government.  Of course, once the opportunity to build a vacation house on many of those lands was removed, few tracts retained much value.  The cost of such an easement would be so near the price of full value that from a management point-of-view it made more sense to simply undertake fee acquisition.  This in turn gave the public the impression that while the park service talked about cooperation with landowners all they were really interested in was acquisition. [9]

     Another source of uncertainty was the scenic corridors.  Until the exact route of those proposed park drives were laid out several hundred land owners would not know if their land was going to be classified Category I or Category III.  Superintendent Martinek made the completion of a centerline survey of the roadway an early priority, but delays in funding dragged out the process.  Even more tenuous was the status of people who owned property developed after the December 31, 1964 cut-off date for improved properties to avoid condemnation.  Some of these people deserved little sympathy.  They had gambled that the lakeshore would never be authorized or that if it were they would be “grandfathered” in through another extension of the cut-off date.  There were, however, people who were caught unawares by the prospect of condemnation.  Some real estate agents and developers in the area sold property developed after 1964 without ever informing the buyer of the risk they might lose their new summer home.  These unfortunates joined the hundreds of other lakeshore property owners, in the words of the Grand Rapids Press, “on pins and needles waiting to see if their land will be needed, or if they can remain.”  Under the land acquisition plan such owners were offered the option of a five-year retention of use and occupancy.  The idea was to give a little time to enjoy their property and the opportunity to make “a transition to a new location.”[10]

     According to the lakeshore’s organic act owners of improved property built before the 1964 cut-off date were not required to sell their holdings during their lifetime.  Land acquisition staff, however, did approach these property-owners with the option to sell their land and retain either a twenty-five year lease or a lifetime lease on the holding.  In such cases a normal purchase price was arrived at, $50,000 for example, which would then be reduced by one percent per year of the total price for twenty-five years, ($12,500) to pay for the leaseback.  Many cottage owners leapt at these offers that gave them a large cash payment up front ($37,500 in the above example) and still left them twenty-five years to enjoy their summer homes tax-free. In the case of a lifetime lease the terms were based on an estimate of the individual’s life expectancy.  The deal, however, did not look as good in 1998 or 1999 when the leases expired.  In the 1970s waterfront property had a market value of between $250 and $300 per lakefront foot, twenty-five years later the value had climbed to between $2,500 and $3,000 per foot.  The early purchase and leaseback properties were the best buy the land acquisition program made.  That alone was reason enough for many property owners who did not want to sell in the first place to resent the program. [11]

     In a situation beset by suspicion and uncertainty the dissemination of accurate information was the best way for the park service to calm property owners and begin to build local confidence in the agency.  Superintendent Martinek tried to fulfill that role through newspaper columns, participation in public meetings, and one-on-one meetings with land owners.  His efforts were, however, undermined to some extent by the almost secretive approach to land acquisition undertaken by James C. Williamson.  The chief of land acquisition was close-mouthed about his management of the Sleeping Bear Project.  Even the lands specialists working directly under him were kept in the dark as to the overall direction of the program.  They were left having to compare notes with each other, or on more than one occasion, going through their boss’s desk after hours.  Julius Martinek was more than content to remain aloof to the unpleasant details of the land acquisition program, but he did need to have periodic updates as to how much land was nearing acquisition so as to plan site clearance and land protection.  As superintendent he needed to provide the public with accurate information on how much land remained to be bought. In May 1973, Martinek tried to improve communication between park operations and land acquisition.  After several informal attempts were rebuffed he was forced to send a formal memo to Williamson, even though they worked in offices only a few feet apart.  But Williamson was not disposed to communicate with anyone but Eugene Little, who supervised National Park Service land purchases in the Great Lakes region from a field office in Duluth.  At Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore the necessary division of authority between land buyers and management was in place, but the superintendent, Hugh Beattie and the chief of acquisition, Brooks Hamilton, liked and respected each other and worked together to avoid “checkerboard-mishmashes land acquisition.” The absence of such rapport led to occasional but bitter clashes between Williamson and Martinek.  The loser in such exchanges was the overall land protection program as well as the relationship between the agency and the landowners. [12]

     Chief Land Acquisition Officer Williamson was not on the job more than a few weeks before his tight-lipped approach and icy disposition was the subject of public controversy.  In January 1972, at his first appearance before the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Citizens Advisory Commission Williamson angered commission members by refusing to tell them the number of tracts which his staff had purchased to date.  He reported that a total of 1400 tracts were going to be bought and that he hoped to have between 600 and 700 acquired by the fall of 1973 and that he hoped to close on the remaining number by the end of 1974.  Aside from those projections, however, Williamson stonewalled virtually every question from the commission.  Some commission members took Williamson’s studied silence as an expression of thinly veiled contempt.  In reaction they resolved that at every future meeting an exact accounting of the number of tracts purchased be made public. Williamson responded by rarely ever attending another Commission meeting.  The fallout from the confrontation eventually made its way to Washington, D.C.  Senator Philip A. Hart complained directly to Secretary of the Interior Rogers B. Morton that Williamson was “non-cooperative.” “It is indeed unfortunate that this situation has to arise,” commented a commission member. “We are all living in a particularly sensitive area as far as the lakeshore is concerned and it seems to me we need every bit of cooperation, credibility and good public and personal relations we can possibly muster up.” [13]

     The distrust engendered by Williamson’s manner did nothing to inspire landowner’s confidence in the probity of the process he headed.  By contracting out all appraisals to independent, non-government real estate specialists the park service hoped to demonstrate the fairness of the process.  Yet the large number of different appraisers produced widely different evaluations of similarly situated properties.  There was an internal check on this problem.  An appraiser in the Frankfort office reviewed all independent appraisals.  If he thought an appraisal was incorrect, it was reviewed at the regional field office in Duluth.  Only if that appraiser agreed that the initial valuation was wrong would a second independent appraisal be ordered.  By the winter of 1972-1973 property owners were complaining in the press and to each other that the government was frequently undervaluing their land.  John Stanz, a Glen Arbor resident appointed as one of Leelanau County’s representatives on the advisory commission, complained that on one 2,000-foot stretch of Lake Michigan appraisals varied between $132 per foot to $158 per foot, in spite of the fact the tracts were nearly identical to one another.  Charges were also made that park service land acquisition staff were using “high pressure tactics to force quick acceptance of their appraisals.” Property owners countered that they “are entitled to a reasonable time to check comparables after you receive the government appraisal.” The fact was, however, Williamson did not care what comparables property owners came up with.  Federal law said he could not pay less than the price set by an independent appraisal, but once that official appraisal was done he did not intend to pay more than that value.  “As it is now, the park service makes an offer based on one appraiser’s opinion which may differ with the opinion of another appraiser—and won’t even discuss it,” complained John Stanz in 1973.  “That’s probably the biggest problem—the ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ attitude of the land acquisition program.” [14]   

     The inflexibility of the federal land acquisition guidelines was exasperated by the rapid rise in real estate values in the Sleeping Bear area during the early and mid 1970s.  Improved property soared in value as the “halo” of national park status raised the profile of the dune country and the prospect of the lakeshore froze development to those sites built upon by December 1964. “Some land values have gone up 300 to 400 per cent since we’ve been here,” commented Superintendent Martinek in late 1975.  There were several results of such an explosive increase in value—all of them negative for the park service.  Because the real estate market was volatile the lag between appraisal and purchase often led to disputes between the agency and landowners over the true value of the property.  Even people who were willing sellers to the agency, or hardship cases who sold early, later adopted the position that they had been cheated out of their land because of the sharp increase in land values during the 1970s.  People complained that the park service had picked up a lot of its early lands on the cheap.  In reality the agency was in the unenviable position of inflating the very market in which it conducted land acquisitions.  The farther the program advanced toward completion the dearer and dearer recreational property within the Sleeping Bear Lakeshore became.  The general inflationary condition of the United States economy in the 1970s, when the rapid rise in oil prices and deficit spending spurred by the war in Vietnam caused sharp annual increases in the overall cost-of-living, further distorted estimated land values. [15]

     Soaring land values soon outstripped the $19.8 million dollars authorized for Sleeping Bear by Congress.  By July 1974, the agency had acquired only 639 tracts of the more than 1,400 needed to complete land acquisition.  A new congressional authorization was required before the program could go forward.  Two months later Senator Philip Hart continued his strong support for the park by pushing through the Senate Interior Committee a whopping $38 million dollar increase in the Sleeping Bear land acquisition ceiling.  Unfortunately, funding efforts stalled at the authorization stage.  The receipt of actual land acquisition funds was held up in the U.S. House Appropriations Committee.  Here the vast expansion of the park service in the late 1960s and the runaway inflation of the 1970s created a log jam of new park areas all requiring more funds to continue land acquisition. At a September 1974 meeting of the Midwest Regional Advisory Committee, appointed by the Secretary of the Interior to counsel the park service in the ten state heartland, one of the members complained that the delayed land acquisition programs in the region had “severely damaged” the credibility of the agency “and ridicule is evident.” The lakeshore’s old enemies were revived by the difficulties.  “Hart’s Fiasco should have been discarded as a waste of taxpayers money years ago,” the Leelanau Enterprise editorialized.  Hope was even rekindled that the whole project might be abandoned.  Superintendent Martinek advised the regional office “many people think we are folding up.” [16]

     The shortage of land acquisition funds definitely hurt the lakeshore, but far from “folding up” there was serious consideration in late 1973 and early 1974 of expanding the Sleeping Bear park.  In June 1973, Lynn Dillin the sole private landowner on South Fox Island was killed while attempting to land a plane on that island.  At the time Dillin was involved in discussions with Congressman Vander Jagt and the State of Michigan regarding the sale of his island.  South Fox Island is located twenty miles north of North Manitou Island and was never considered for inclusion in the lakeshore by Allen Edmunds’ Great Lakes Shoreline Survey.  Yet the island possessed the same combination of wild dunes and isolated beaches that made the Manitous a recreation asset.  Sleeping Bear Advisory Board members Louis Twardzik and Mrs. Peter Williams proposed that the Nature Conservancy be enlisted to buy the island from Dillin’s estate.  Following an amendment of the Sleeping Bear organic act, the National Park Service could then repurchase the island for the lakeshore. From a long-term environmental perspective the plan was highly desirable.  The problem, however, was the short-run problem that the National Park Service did not have money enough to buy lands within the existing park.  Bold leadership within the agency might have seen an opportunity, not an obstacle in that the lakeshore would have to go to Congress to have its acquisition ceiling increased.  But bold thinking was lacking.  Superintendent Martinek was cool to the idea due to the potential management problems of operating another island.  The Northeast Region Office recommended that the South Fox Island proposal not be encouraged by the park service because of the existing shortage of acquisition funds throughout the agency. [17]

      The first hope of ending the budget impasse came in the spring of 1975,when President Gerald Ford included a $5.4 million dollar appropriation request in his 1976 budget.  That plus some supplemental monies jump-started the stalled land acquisition program late in 1975.  By that time frustration was running very high among landowners in the lakeshore area.  Particularly disgusted were people who owned undeveloped property in portions of the park designated for public use.  Many had purchased their tracts to build vacation or retirement homes.  The creation of the lakeshore foreclosed that possibility.  But their assets, in some cases life savings, were frozen in the unusable property until the park service could buy the land.  They were locked in a position of paying increasingly high taxes on land they could neither use nor sell. In desperation, thirty-one property owners launched a class action suit to win a refund on their property taxes.  Five years after the lakeshore had been created over their strenuous objections the worst fears of many landowners had been realized. [18]

     The shortcomings of the lands program directly affected the land that was destined to become part of the lakeshore.  People upset about the park service’s non-negotiable offers or the delays in actual acquisition often reacted by opening their lands to logging.  For some it was an economic necessity, for others a final gesture of defiance.  Superintendent Martinek warned the public that clear-cut tracts would be purchased at a lower price than forested holdings.  In June of 1972 the Advisory Commission debated the subject and requested supporting information from land acquisition so that Martinek could dissuade people from denuding their holdings.  Not until a year later did Williamson bother to inform the superintendent that because of the small second growth timber on Benzie and Leelanau tracts, real estate in the lakeshore area had too little timber value to effect the final sale price. Of course, this determination undermined Martinek’s public creditability.  It was also another example of how the federal government’s no negotiation acquisition policy worked to the long-term detriment of the lakeshore by actually encouraging people to have their lands clear-cut for pulpwood before accepting a park service offer.  Local residents concerned with the beauty of the Sleeping Bear landscape could justly complain that park service policies were having a negative impact.  Many denuded tracts came under lakeshore control littered with the slashings of a hasty logging job, devoid of aesthetic value and real fire hazards. [19]

     Typical of the frustrations sparked by the land acquisition process were the negotiations with Pierce Stocking.  The former lumberman owned one of the largest and most important tracts of private land within the lakeshore.  Unlike many small property owners Stocking was in favor of the lakeshore.  He even had made many of his purchases with the view of eventually selling to the National Park Service.  What he had not bargained on was the protracted battle to create the lakeshore.  The long legislative fight had prompted Stocking to seek alternate means to profit from his land, so in 1967 he opened his own dunes park.  Sleeping Bear Dunes Park was popular with visitors.  His scenic road offered people the only drive-up access to the dunes. Stocking had no intention of standing in the way of the lakeshore but he had made improvements on the land and wanted to be compensated for them.  He had waited since 1961 to sell to the government, now that they were willing to buy he intended to get his price—after all, they could not have a viable lakeshore without his property.  When the land acquisition staff approached Stocking with a take it, or leave it, offer of $2.8 million he was angered and dismayed.  “The government is taking advantage of every possible hardship,” the gray-haired, lumberman in his late sixties complained, “including the strain of years in order to pick up land at discount prices.” Unlike ordinary summer homeowners Stocking had the clout to arrange a personal meeting with National Park Service Director Hartzog, but the solution they arrived at, to arrange alternate appraisals, fell through. The National Park Service took the veteran lumberman into federal court where he insisted his 2,976 acres were worth $4.3 million. The case incensed many people who wanted to sell their lands to the government but who were told that acquisition funds had run out. For better part of a year the issue was in the hands of the U.S. District Court of Judge Noel Fox.  Finally, a settlement was reached in the fall of 1976.  Stocking received about $3 million for his lands, the day after the payment was delivered he died of a heart attack. [20]

     Nothing came easy at Sleeping Bear, not even the transfer of state lands to the new lakeshore.  From the beginning the Michigan Department of Natural Resources had supported the establishment of the park.  But during the legislative fight the issue of state park lands and the fears of Sleeping Bear communities about the loss of a tax base for public education had become merged.  To help break the log jam that prevented action on the lakeshore issue the Michigan state legislature broke with precedent and pledged to provide temporary payments to the effected communities, beginning when the state park lands were transferred to the park service.  While the legislature was nearly unanimous when the tax reimbursements were purely hypothetical, opposition arose in 1973 and 1974 when attempts were made to transfer state lands to the lakeshore.  Governor William G. Milliken refused to let the legislature back-out of its commitment to the dune communities and he opposed any land transfer until the tax reimbursement was granted.  Finally, in December 1974 the state Senate passed a bill providing a total payment of $2.5 million, to be portioned out over a ten-year period. But no sooner was that problem removed than another issue arose.  The original grant of land for the creation of D.H. Day State Park had contained a reversionary clause returning the lands to Day’s heirs if the State ever ceased to use them for a state park.  Fortunately a suit by the Citizens Council and Leelanau County to trigger the reversion clause was rejected by Federal District Court as well as the Court of Appeals.  A last ditch suit to permanently enjoin the State of Michigan from transferring the state park was thrown out by Leelanau County District Court in December 1974. Nonetheless, a suit by the heirs of D.H. Day remained active until 1981. Another issue that had to be settled was oil and mineral rights.  To guarantee no future offshore oil drilling the Michigan Department of Natural Resources also agreed to turn over 10,360 acres of bottomlands to the National Park Service. With that final stumbling block removed the State of Michigan, fittingly on April 1, 1975, formally deeded its dune park lands to the national lakeshore.  The acquisition brought  the size of the lakeshore to over 20,000 acres, about one third of the lands mandated by Congress. [21]   

     The slow pace of land acquisition at Sleeping Bear Dunes was shared by scores of other national park units planned or created during Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall’s expansive administration.  Udall had wanted to double the size of the National Park system during his time in office, fifteen years later there were nearly a hundred more park units than when he had taken office.  Although Udall’s tenure ended in 1968 the park expansion machinery he set in motion kept on running.  Between 1973 and 1976 alone there were twenty-three new national park units created.  Congress, however, displayed less alacrity when it came to appropriating the funds to allow the parks to actually be established.  In 1976, National Park Service Director Gary Everhardt complained that the agency suffered from a land acquisition backlog, which approached the $500 million mark.  While Sleeping Bear had been granted permission to spend an additional $38 million on lands, it received actual appropriations in annual drips of $3 million or $5 million, funds which were exhausted in three or four months.  At almost any time in the mid-1970s Jim Williamson’s land acquisition staff had more than a million dollars worth of transactions ready to go but for the actual funds to seal the deal.  When the lakeshore had been created, the National Park Service promised local stakeholders that they would be dealt with fairly and promptly.  “Well, here it is six years later,” Superintendent Martinek ruefully observed to a Herald Washington reporter, “and we’re still promising them the same things we were then.” [22]

     The obvious solution to the crisis was for Congress to find more funds for the National Park Service.  In 1976 both the House and the Senate passed separate bills designed to increase the Land and Water Conservation Fund.  Federal off-shore oil leases, which provided the bulk of the money for the fund had burgeoned in value following the OPEC oil embargo in 1973.  Since the oil embargo had been a prime catalyst in the national fourteen percent inflation rate that was playing havoc with land acquisition planning, it made sense to many legislators to increase the amount of federal revenues dedicated to conservation.  President Gerald Ford, however, understood that runaway federal deficits were a spur to inflation and he insisted that off-shore oil revenues be directed to push the budget more in balance.  Fortunately for the National Park Service 1976 was an election year.  A compromise was reached between Ford’s Office of Management and Budget and the Congress to expand the Land and Water Conservation Fund.  The former Eagle Scout and the first President from Michigan, announced the Bicentennial Land Heritage Act in September of 1976, which proposed increasing the fund. The agreement buoyed hopes among the land acquisition staff that they would be able to complete their purchases by the end of 1978.  Like every other expression of optimism about land acquisition it was far from accurate. [23]

     North Manitou Island was a microcosm of the protracted land acquisition program.  North Manitou Island was not purchased until 1984, when it could have and probably should have been purchased a decade sooner.  The island had been somewhat reluctantly accepted as part of the lakeshore by conservationists and the park service during the highly politicized legislative process.  It was largely owned by the William R. Angell Foundation which donated revenues generated from its management of the island’s forest and game to a number of small Michigan colleges.  The management of the foundation would have been vastly simplified if their title to the remote island could have been turned into several million dollars of endowment investments.  Yet like other willing sellers the foundation directors held a much higher estimate of the value of the island than did the National Park Service’s contract appraisers.  In 1977, the land acquisition staff offered $4.5 million for the 15,000-acre island, an offer the directors termed an “insult.”  Like many other land owners the director’s assumed that since “the park service made its first offer of purchase,” it would be a “matter of negotiations” to close the deal.  But no negotiations followed and the purchase hung in abeyance until condemnation proceedings were initiated.  A three-judge federal land commission heard testimony from Angell Foundation witnesses that the island was worth as much as $20 million.  When the commission finally presented its report to Judge Noel Fox it was clear that the park service appraisers had under-valued the island. In 1979, the National Park Service agreed to an interim settlement with the Angell Foundation in which the foundation ceased their activities on the island in exchange for a $3.2 million down payment on their holdings. A final settlement was expected shortly.  Instead it was six more years before the purchase was finalized.  During that time North Manitou was managed as what one former island resident called a “no man’s land.” Most private dwellings on the island  were closed, it was off-limits to lakeshore visitors and, save for the foundation’s caretakers, devoid of human activity.  Finally in August of 1984, the Angell Foundation and the park service came to terms and the island was sold for $12.5 million. [24]

     A generation after the bulk of the land acquisition took place a blanket of bitterness still covers the Sleeping Bear area.  Stories of people being forced off their land linger in the conversations of those who continue to live, work, or vacation in the area. These stories are a very real part of the National Park Service’s legacy in northwest Michigan.  “If you do not come forward and sell us your meadows,” a land acquisition officer is reported to have said to an elderly school teacher, “we’re going to take all of your property and you’re not going to have a place to go to. And your going to take very little money for it because we’re going to take what we feel when we get you in condemnation court.” The woman in question, Leone Adair stood her ground and retained a portion of her land.  Others were intimidated by the government land buyers and accepted offers that later seemed criminally low, especially in light of the escalation of property values. [25]

     The fate of the Joanne and Everett Kittendorf’s Lake Michigan summer home is an example of the combination of motives that drove previously satisfied cottage owners to sell to the National Park Service.  “A big tall man did come to the door, with a dark suit and sunglasses,” Joanne Kittendorf remembered.  The acquisition officer threatened, “We’ll get your land one way or the other.”  That demeanor intimidated the couple.  “Then we read an article in the paper that said 300,000 people would come up here for the summer. We decided that if the park developed there…it wouldn’t be a good place to stay. So we sold to the government.”  They sold the house they had built in 1959 and 400 feet of Lake Michigan beach land for $60,000. [26]

    Fear was an important factor which drove Sleeping Bear land acquisition.  Williamson and his buyers used the threat of condemnation to “buffalo” some buyers into accepting the government’s price.  But the climate of fear in which the land sales took place was not all of Williamson’s making.  The scare tactics of those who opposed the creation of the lakeshore worked so well that hundreds of property owners convinced themselves that they did not want to stay in the area after the establishment of the park.  The protections for property owners within the lakeshore so carefully planned by Senator Philip Hart were ignored by some land owners who feared the “feds” were going to take their land one way or another.  Fear that their lands were going to be overrun by millions of tourists from Detroit griped some cottage owners.  Fear that the park would lead to a rapid escalation in property taxes drove some farmers to sell.  Most of the fear-mongers were sincere in their dire predictions for local property owners, although in any real-estate panic unscrupulous dealers can profit from hastily sold assets. One fear easily forgotten today was the fear of losing your summer home to Lake Michigan.  The period from the late 1960s to the late 1980s was one of high water levels on the Great Lakes. Scores of lakefront homes literally tumbled into the lake during the 1970s. One antidote to fear of the future was a guaranteed government check.  For elderly people or farmers in a marginal situation uncertainty about the future was a constant factor. To sell your property to the government was an alternative that walked right up to the door and made itself available. [27]

     In the popular memory of the Sleeping Bear country the park service looms large as an agent of dispossession, an alien force severing people’s roots in the land.  Yet the truth of that memory must be balanced by the fact that hundreds of property owners were willing sellers. National Park Service personnel have their own selective memory of land acquisition that requires balance.  “It seems that some of the land-acquisition people never understood the principles behind the Park Service,” a lakeshore official explained to a journalist in 1990.  The lands staff are usually described as “a breed apart” not of the “real park service,”—as if by disassociating the people who made the land purchases from the national lakeshore, the park could be spared the divisiveness of its origins.  Yet, the fuzzy and warm park service that gives fireside nature talks and protects bald eagle nestings exists because the Jim Williamsons of the agency acquired the resource. The essence of Sleeping Bear lakeshore is the happy tourists who gather to enjoy spectacular sunsets along Pierce Stocking Drive and the solitary backpackers exploring North Manitou Island’s dunes and forests.  But just as surely it is also a nationalized landscape made available to the many through the sacrifice of the sacred property rights of an unfortunate few.  Taking the land is as much a part of what the National Park Service is as is managing the land. [28]

    By the spring of 1977 lakeshore land buyers had managed to secure the bulk of the small private land holdings within the park.  Closings had been made on 27,000 acres of land.  These acquisitions and the transfer of state holdings brought the total of lakeshore lands to more than half of the 70,000 acres mandated by Congress.  This threshold marked a major turning point in the lakeshore’s history.  With half of the land base under park service administration the way was cleared for the official dedication of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in October 1977.  Jim Williamson’s name was not mentioned at the dedication ceremony, let alone were he or any of his staff formally thanked or invited to sit with the dignitaries on the stage.  No sooner was the dedication completed than the land acquisition officers went back to their tract books and appraisals, the dirty job of making a park continued .

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

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