In 1980, the Land Acquisition Office in Frankfort was closed. Out of more than 1,400 tracts the National Park Service had succeeded in purchasing all but 143. By the fall of 1980 most of those 143 were on the way to being settled, including ninety-nine that were under condemnation. The biggest block of unpurchased land lay within the Crystal Highlands corridor. With the closing of the Frankfort lands office all acquisitions for the lakeshore were assigned to the lands office of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
James Williamson, the lakeshore’s controversial land buyer, retired in 1980. Unfortunately the wounds caused by the building of the lakeshore park remained behind—open and raw. Three land acquisition questions dominated the attention of the park staff during the early 1980s: 1) The future of the canoe livery businesses within the lakeshore; 2) The future of the properties within the lakeshore that were developed after 1964; and 3) The proposed acquisition of environmentally sensitive areas within the Glen Lake Highlands scenic corridor.
Secretary Watt, however, called into question the lakeshore’s ability to deal fairly with each of these issues. On May 13, 1981 Secretary Watt announced that he was ordering an investigation into alleged improprieties in land acquisition at Sleeping Bear Dunes. According to an Associated Press account Watt wanted “to see why park boundaries have been drawn the way they have been, to see whose properties have been protected and whose have been taken.” Among the other parks under investigation were Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area, Fire Island National Seashore, and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The announcement had particularly ominous implications because only a week earlier an in-house memorandum had been leaked from the Department of the Interior to the press which listed Sleeping Bear and the above-mentioned parks for federal deauthorization. Now it appeared like Watt was looking to build a case for returning the parks to state control. The Secretary’s office denied both reports only to have Watt admit to the land acquisition investigation when a New York Times journalist produced an audiotape of an interview. The staff of the lakeshore were caught completely off-guard. Regional Director James Dunning released a statement quoting Watt that “there is no National Park hit list.” Dunning admitted, however, that the Secretary of the Interior was opposed to certain types of parks “from a philosophical point of view.” All speculation ended on May 19th when agents from the Inspector General’s Office appeared to seal the Sleeping Bear land files.
The investigation, which followed, was predicated on the fallacious assumption that gross mismanagement if not corrupt practice had been rife in the land acquisition office. But even the lakeshore’s opponents had never charged such wrongdoing. “We think the boundaries were stupidly drawn,” commented Dale Rhoades, a Grand Rapids attorney who represented aggrieved lakeshore property owners, “but I wouldn’t say there was fraud or misrepresentation.” At a Congressional subcommittee hearing on the investigation Assistant Secretary of the Interior G. Ray Arnett made clear that the probe was the result of “a large volume of complaints,” and that he was determined to find out if they were spurred by criminal irregularities or “merely imprudent” policies. The National Park Service spokesman, however, refused to back-up the official story. “It puts us in a spot somewhat,” explained John Vosburgh of the Washington, D.C. office, “but we can’t say there are complaints when there aren’t.” 
Driving the probe was the National Inholder Association. Charles Cushman, the organization’s founder, had been appointed by President Reagan to the National Park System Advisory Board. Cushman had kept in close touch with the Citizens Council of the Sleeping Bear Area and even attended its 1980 annual meeting. Cushman’s former assistant Ric Davidge was made a Special Assistant in the office of Assistant Secretary Arnett. Together they had successfully convinced Secretary Watt to freeze all land acquisition funding and place a temporary nation-wide ban on the purchase of inholdings. It was Davidge who drafted the controversial “hit list” memorandum for Watt.
Federal investigators visited the lakeshore during the summer of 1981. Although there were no charges of illegality leveled, the investigators found no shortage of critics of park service land acquisition policies to interview. In particular investigators were interested in charges of intimidation by Lands Officer James Williamson and his staff. The Inspector General’s investigators, as possible examples of favoritism, closely scrutinized two of the park’s boundaries. A notch of private land west of Little Glen Lake, near M-22 and the dune climb, seemed to have been suspiciously exempted from the park. The other tract was the site of the Homestead Resort, a choice property at the mouth of the Crystal River. This latter tract had been left out of every plan for the proposed park going back to 1961, in part because the site was part of the Leelanau Schools, a private institution that had managed the area sensitively since 1929. Only much later was the land sold and developed into a major resort complex. 
In July 1981, the Senate subcommittee on Energy and National Parks held a hearing on public land acquisition issues. Inholders dominated the discussion with Sleeping Bear property owner Kathleen Stocklen playing a prominent role.
The investigation by the Department of the Interior’s Inspector General’s Office was followed by a less widely reported review of the Sleeping Bear land acquisition program by the Government Accounting Office. Neither report found gross irregularities. The Government Accounting Office report, however, was critical of the way in which the Sleeping Bear acquisition was carried out. The National Park Service was admonished for the way James Williamson’s staff threatened property owners with condemnation. The Government Accounting Office also leveled two spurious charges against the park service. First, that the land acquisition team incorrectly had the owners of Category III lands sign, for no compensation, “prohibitive agreements.” This charge referred to the agreements made between the park service and property owners in the “private use and development” zone. Contrary to the General Accounting Office, however, the Department of the Interior Office of the Solicitor ruled that these agreements did not constitute an uncompensated taking. Not only were they valid, they were positively mandated by Congress in Public Law 91-479 (the law which created the lakeshore). The second charge alleged that the National Park Service was managing the lakeshore incorrectly. Congress, the General Accounting Office report claimed, wanted the agency to “stabilize” development in the Sleeping Bear area, not return land to wilderness. This allegation conveniently ignored those provisions of the Sleeping Bear organic act that mandated a wilderness review. That review was a public process, held according to provisions of the 1964 Wilderness Act, with local stakeholders prevailing upon the National Park Service to manage more land as wilderness than the agency originally planned. More telling was the criticism that the lakeshore management had not engaged with local officials to establish a zoning regime that might limit the need for fee simple acquisition. Nonetheless, even the most committed opponents of the lakeshore found that the much-publicized investigations yielded a very thin gruel. By the end of his first full year in office Secretary Watt, and by extension Special Assistant Ric Davidge, retreated from their bold talk of “deauthorization.” Sleeping Bear was, in Watt’s words, “a great area—it should be continued.”
A more important critique of the land acquisition program emerged from the Federal District Court in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 1977, sixteen property owners challenged the valuation of their lands by the National Park Service. The case eventually landed in Judge Noel Fox’s Western District court. The property owners were successful in proving the substantially greater value of their land. A compromise settlement resulted in the National Park Service paying $2.7 million more for the property. Critics of the land acquisition program charged that the settlement clearly proved that the Sleeping Bear acquisition program had been mismanaged. Certainly the property owners had been twice victimized, once by the low government appraisals and again having to wait five years for their just payments. Congressman Vander Jagt complained the case illustrated “one of the most reprehensible aspects of the land acquisition process.” 
Among those most disappointed with the inconclusive results of the federal land acquisition probes were Kathleen and Thomas Stocklen. They were deeply involved with the National Inholders Association and sorely disenchanted with their relationship with the National Park Service. In 1969, the Stocklen’s moved from Florida to Michigan. They purchased Riverside Canoe Livery on the banks of the Platte River. Two other canoe rental operations also were in business on the river. As visitation to the Sleeping Bear area increased in the mid-1970s the number of people renting canoes soared. The Platte River became very congested with watercraft and the area where M-22 crossed the Platte River became snarled with automobiles. There were busy canoe liveries on three of the four corners of the intersection of the river and M-22, as well as unsightly boat storage buildings, cabins, a donut shop, and a miniature golf course. A commercial campground was located nearby. The park service initially regarded the canoe liveries as appropriate business activities to be located in the lakeshore, as they facilitated just the type of recreation activity Sleeping Bear was created to promote. Excessive, unregulated use, however, seemed to threaten the resource. During the General Management Plan process it was determined to consolidate through purchase all three canoe liveries and then operate a single business on the basis of a concession contract. While this plan was based on the National Park Service’s duty to manage recreational opportunities “consistent with the maximum protection of the natural environment within the area,” it was also a change in policy that was regarded by some of the Platte River businesses as a breach of trust. Condemnation proceedings were initiated on all three canoe rental companies.
The lakeshore’s plan to consolidate all three business, however, was stopped in its tracks when Thomas and Kathleen Stocklen produced a “Certificate Prohibiting Condemnation.” The certificate was drafted by Stocklen’s lawyer, John Daugherty and issued in December 1971. It originated in the spring of that year when the Stocklen’s were negotiating to purchase Riverside Canoe Livery. They approached the Northeast Regional Office to determine if the Riverside property was designated for acquisition by the lakeshore. They did not want to move from North Carolina and begin a new career if the canoe livery was slated for government purchase only a few years down the line. The regional office, at that early phase of the project could not assure the Stocklens how the property would be rated: Category I, II, or III. Regional Director Henry Schmidt did clearly state that because Riverside Canoe Livery was in operation before 1964 “we cannot acquire it without the owner’s consent.” The Stocklens, however, wanted more than the regional office’s hesitant assurances. Their attorney, John Daugherty, had played a significant role in the creation of the lakeshore and was serving as an inaugural member of the Advisory Commission. Based on his intimate knowledge of Public Law 91-479 and the park service’s plans for the lakeshore Daugherty drafted the certificate and Superintendent Martinek, with the concurrence of the initial head of the land acquisition program, Donald C. Campbell, signed it. Campbell and Martinek regarded the document as a “firm commitment” and consistent with pledges they made to a couple of other anxious owners of businesses engaged in performing vital visitor services. By drafting the certificate Daugherty provided his client with a tangible assurance of the park service’s intentions toward Riverside, but the certificate was worded carefully to preserve the agency’s long-term flexibility. The certificate was subject to “termination” if Riverside Canoe ceased to be a commercial property and “at any time the Secretary of the Interior determines the use of said property would not further the purpose of said Public Law 91-479 or that such use impairs the usefulness and attractiveness of the area.” 
Because only a handful of such certificates had been granted the park service was surprised when the Stocklens presented their document. In any event, Superintendent Brown, supported by the Regional Solicitor, argued that the certificate allowed condemnation for the purposes of controlling development at a vital recreation site within the lakeshore. While the issue was in the process of being settled, Chief of Land Acquisition James Williamson began condemnation proceedings on Riverside Canoe Livery. “Williamson came in,” Kathleen Stocklen told a reporter. “I was waiting on a customer. He threw his briefcase up on the glass counter—I thought it was going to shatter—and demanded to appraise us then or he was going to condemn us. It wasn’t a request –it was a threat.” Wiliamson was an intimidating man, but he had threatened the wrong person. A former schoolteacher and a sharp businesswomen, Kathleen Stocklen refused to backdown to Williamson, Brown, or the whole National Park Service. She immediately drew the support of Congressman Guy Vander Jagt and Senator Donald W. Riegle. She also initiated legal proceedings against the lakeshore for “breach of promise” and “intimidation through lack of due process.” In response to this vigorous defense the National Park Service beat a hasty retreat. Condemnation was stopped and Superintendent Brown advised the Stocklens “Please feel confident that no condemnation action involving your property exists at this time and none is contemplated for the future.”
Rather than resolving the issue the park service’s decision to back away from condemning Riverside Canoe Livery only moved the conflict with the Stocklens to a new stage. The National Park Service next attempted to negotiate an agreement with the Stocklens that would ensure that the canoe livery would be operated in a manner “consistent with the maximum protection of the natural environment with in the area.” Such agreements were signed by a large number of lakeshore residents and were clearly mandated in the park organic act. The Stocklen’s believed the park service was operating in bad faith and charged that Superintendent Brown kept to himself for several months the information that condemnation had been dropped on their property in order to force them into signing an agreement. Consistent with the National Inholders Association position the Stocklens regarded the agreement as a taking and demanded compensation before signing anything. More than money motivated this position. They were deeply suspicious of the National Park Service and were loath to sign anything that would leave their business subject to the whims of the federal bureaucracy. 
The National Park Service found itself in a quandary over the Riverside Canoe case. Actions were well advanced to acquire the other two canoe liveries on the Platte River. Once the lakeshore had to abandon its plan to purchase the Stocklen’s property, the agency had to give the competing canoe liveries a chance to back away from their decision to sell their businesses. Nonetheless, the eventual outcome of the aborted plan to acquire all three canoe businesses was to remove, within a few years, both of Riverside’s competitors and leave the Stocklen’s in a monopoly position. For Superintendent Richard Peterson, this unintended result raised the importance of having a land-use agreement in place with the Stocklens. “Our objective in the agreement,” wrote Acting Regional Director Randall R. Pope, “is to provide visitor protection and resource management safeguards which, under our original plan, would have been written into a concessions contract.” It was clear that the government’s own actions had resulted in a set of circumstances that greatly enhanced the value of Riverside Canoe. If a land use agreement was not arrived at before the last of the competitors were removed, the agency feared that its only future option in controlling traffic on the Platte would be to proceed to condemnation on the Stocklens at a time when the Riverside’s value was far in excess of its value in 1981 or 1982. 
The Stocklen property remained an unresolved issue of contention for more than a decade. In an effort to better protect her property Kathleen Stocklen made numerous and wide-ranging Freedom of Information Act requests for documents relating to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This personal investigation, along with the Government Accounting Office and Inspector General’s scrutiny meant that the Seeping Bear land acquisition program remained controversial and highly suspect.
The plan to use condemnation to remove or control commercial establishments within the lakeshore was not simply directed against the Platte River canoe liveries. In 1978, the Kalena Excavation & Building Company near School Lake, the Bass Lake Body Shop, and Bob’s Grocery near Little Traverse Lake were all acquired on the grounds they were not compatible with the purposes of the lakeshore. Closer in circumstance to the canoe liveries, which were clearly compatible with the lakeshore, if they were properly run, was the commercial ferry service between Leland and South Manitou Island. The Grosvenor family had been operating the marine link to the islands since 1918. They carried mail to the islands and to the formerly manned lighthouse in the Manitou channel. Over time the Grosvenors had acquired the land where their boats were docked, not just at the Fishtown site in Leland but also on South and North Manitou islands. At the same time the Stocklens were fighting off the condemnation of their business, the Grosvenors were locked in a similar fight to convert their business into a park service owned concession. 
Whereas the attempt to turn Riverside Canoes into a concession was based on a fear of too many people using the Platte River at any one time, the park service’s fear with the ferry business was that there would too few users to make the service cost-effective. The early 1980s were a period of transition for the Grosvenors and their Manitou Island Ferry Company. The old backbone of their business, goods and commodities for Manitou residents dropped precipitously as the old island families lost their homes to the new lakeshore. The protracted wrangle between the National Park Service and the Angell Foundation over the price of North Manitou Island left that island all but closed to the public for years, at the cost of hundreds of lost customers for the Grosvenors. The gradual phasing out of federal mail contracts was another blow. A National Park Service study described the commercial prospects of the ferry operation as marginal at best. The government’s fear was that as free enterprise operators the Grosvenors would be forced to steadily raise the cost of ferry passage to the point where ordinary citizens would not wish to make the trip to the island units of the lakeshore. Operating the ferry under a concession contract was a way to guarantee uninterrupted public access to the islands. Also, the attempt to purchase the holdings of the Manitou Island Ferry Company occurred at the very time the lakeshore was being pressured into building a new ferry harbor at great public expense. The tremendous federal expenditure anticipated in a new harbor inclined planners to public control of the ferry business.
In 1978, the government filed suit against the Manitou Island Transit Company in an attempt to condemn their docking facilities. The Grosvenors strongly objected to the park service’s valuation of their properties. Their South Manitou waterfront property was valued at $33,600 and their North Manitou lands at $14,000. These figures were based on the fair market price for frontage on Lake Michigan. The Grosvenors countered, however, that their docking sites were the basis of their ferry business and that if the lands were taken from them the family should be compensated for the full value of the ferry business. In 1984 U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Gibson reversed his own 1981 ruling and agreed that the higher valuation was appropriate. This cleared the way for the purchase of the docks. The park service then continued Grosvenor’s ferry service as a lakeshore concession. After two annually renewed commercial-use agreements, the National Park Service and the Grosvenors agreed to a ten-year concession contract in 1986. 
The lakeshore’s most important land acquisition decisions of the 1980s: the fate of the post 1964 property owners and the fate of environmentally sensitive areas within the abandoned Glen Lake Highlands corridor were both taken under consideration by the United States Congress. In 1982, a major revision of the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore organic act was approved which would have an important impact on the future of land acquisition within the park.