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




A Nationalized Lakeshore:
The Creation and Administration of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Conclusion: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore At Twenty-Five

†††† October of 1995 marked Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore's twenty-fifth anniversary. A year earlier the National Parks and Conservation Association, a private environmental advocacy group, undertook a national survey of America's parks with a view of grading each unit and the system as a whole. Sleeping Bear rated a "C," that was consistent with the national average, although hardly flattering. "I think these marks are fair considering our budget," remarked Superintendent Ivan Miller. In 1995, as an anniversary present from the property rights movement Sleeping Bear Dunes was included along with 315 other parks in a Congressional bill that proposed a commission that would be charged with reviewing and "delisting" certain units. In an effort to build support for the bill, one of its co-sponsors. Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska) wrote, he was attempting "to return one of this country's greatest assetsóits landóto local control." In the end, however, even a Congress anxious to bring about social and fiscal change rejected as too radical the idea of a "delisting" commission. The two initiatives, each emanating from opposite sides of the political spectrum, revealed two of the most persistent challenges that faced the lakeshore: budget shortfalls and private property rights. At twenty-five Sleeping Bear Dunes was at best a work-in-progress.[1]

†††† Private property rights have always been and will always be one the most important management issues at Sleeping Bear. Not only was the park created out of more than 1,600 parcels of private land, ninety tracts will likely remain in private hands in perpetuity. In 1995, the issue flared again when a large group of leasees, whose right to occupy tracts within the park was due to expire in a few years, pressed Congress for an extension. Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Menominee) and Congressman Joe Knollenberg (R-Bloomfield) agreed to sponsor a bill that would grant the 143 leaseholders and their heirs an extension of property rights for ninety-nine years. The lakeshore advisory board strongly endorsed the plan. In testimony before a House hearing on the bill the leaseholders argued for extending their rights by attacking the lakeshore's management of the properties that were already under its control. "Many other homes already vacated have not been cared for or removed by the Park Service and have become serious hazards," complained Margaret Thoms. The Stupak-Knollenberg bill proposed that those granted lease extensions make additional payments which would stay in the park to fund some of the lakeshore's $10 million deferred maintenance costs. The conspicuous failure of the National Park Service to maintain its inventory of buildings has long been a stick with which private rights advocates could hit the lakeshore.[2]

†††† Lease extension bill did not win congressional approval. One of the property owners who lost his Good Harbor Bay summer home on New Year's Day 1998 asked the question, "What does it mean when the common good takes precedence over individual existence? Can the two not exist side by side?" That dilemma has been at the heart of the twenty-five year history of the lakeshore and it is the central question the National Park Service will face in northwest Michigan during the twenty-first century. Greater cooperation between the private and public sectors could be the key to resolve the tension between the park that was envisioned by the Great Lakes Shoreline Survey in 1958 and the kind of park into which Sleeping Bear has evolved since 1970. [3]

†††† Sleeping Bear Dunes was envisioned as a lakefront recreation area and as a depository of glacial history. Yet, due to the rise in popular historical consciousness following the bicentennial of the United States and the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore evolved into a park in which historical resources play an important part in the visitor experience. "Hiking, History, and Heart-Stopping Vistas" was the headline on a 1993 Washington Post article describing a visit to Michigan's national lakeshores. Viewing abandoned farms and cottages, climbing the long spiral staircase of a lighthouse, and witnessing a Lyle gun firing at the restored Glen Haven Coast Guard Station rank high among the memories visitor's bring away from Sleeping Bear. The ghost town of Glen Haven, the Port Oneida Rural Historic District, perhaps even a handful of the recreational cottages can all contribute to a visitor's sense of traveling through time as well as nature. The lakeshore has moved deliberately towards developing a policy by which such properties can be evaluated and managed. But considering the scores of historic structures within the lakeshore and the regular maintenance required for their preservation the National Park Service will require private partnerships to help shoulder the load. The experience of the national lakeshore in its first twenty-five years demonstrates that to rely solely on public funding will be to defer to demolition by neglect. The original development plan for Glen Haven called for preservation through private leases. Local residents shouted down that plan for reasons that were both thoughtful and venal. Is it possible for private use and public purposes to coexist within the structure of a fragile natural national park?[4]

†††† The answer to that question lies, in equal parts with the National Park Service and the people of Leelanau and Benzie counties. There is reason for optimism that a climate open to experimentation can develop at Sleeping Bear. Although old wounds can still be opened unexpectedly, as in the case of the Homestead land swap, appreciation for what the national lakeshore has accomplished has grown each year and should serve as a bridge to further collaborative achievement. "In terms of living here, in many ways the park is an asset," reflected George Schilling in 1983. The former president of the Citizens' Council of the Sleeping Bear Dunes Area admitted that the park service achieved its primary goal. "It has slowed irrational development. Areas of land that were undeveloped will remain that way as part of our national resource." In 1988, when Ellsworth Esch, a cherry grower within the lakeshore, became a willing seller to the agency, he said, "It [the park] has proven to be very good for the area." Even a writer for the Leelanau Enterprise-Tribune expressed the sentiment, "I am glad they put together the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore." Although he quickly qualified the comment by adding, 'I'm not saying that the way they did it was rightóbut I'm glad it's been done." Such goodwill is critical to the future of the lakeshore because cooperation with the community is critical to solving problems within the lakeshore and essential to addressing threats from outside its boundaries. By itself the National Park Service cannot counter air and water pollution dangers such as an asphalt plant proposed for Kasson Township in 1995. By itself the lakeshore cannot mitigate the visual intrusion caused by cellular transmission towers. The people who are lucky enough to live in Leelanau and Benzie county would do well to remember Henry David Thoreau's admonishment: "A town is saved, not more by the righteous men in it than by the woods and swamps that surround it....Such a town is fitted to raise not only corn and potatoes but, poets and philosophers for the coming ages." [5]

†††† The success of the national lakeshore is best seen by looking at the fate of dune lands outside the park. The encroachment of development on Lake Michigan dune lands was so great during the 1970s and 1980s that a 1988 University of Michigan study predicted half of all privately owned dune land would be developed by 1996. That prospect led to the passage of the Critical Dunes Act by the Michigan State legislature in 1989. The law did not create dune preserves, such as Sleeping Bear, but it did at least provide for controls on dune development. In spite of this law the majestic Elberta dune, originally studied for inclusion in the national lakeshore, was slated in the late 1990s for a one hundred home residential development. The Sleeping Bear park ensured that at least a portion of northwest Michigan remained undeveloped. "They love The County as it is," a Chicago Tribune travel writer wrote of the attraction Chicagoan's feel toward Leelanau. "They love it even better as it used to be." The national lakeshore has ensured that at least 71,000 acres of the old Leelanau and Benzie Counties has survived intact.[6]

†††† The National Park Service has achieved this goal without, as was so direly predicted, destroying the local economy or crippling local government. There is no doubt that the period of the 1980s was a time of adjustment for county and township governments in the Sleeping Bear area, but as was predicted by the park service revenues from tourism and an increase in property values provided an adequate tax base to maintain roads and schools. In Glen Arbor Township the property valuation rose 311% from 1973 to 1985, for the rest of Leelanau County the increase was a robust 282% over twelve years. The Sleeping Bear area was never deluged with the 3 million tourists that the National Park Service predicted. The planners did not anticipate that population growth in the Midwest region would slow from its 1950s pace and that the boom in air travel would offer a wider range of recreational options to people in mid-America. Nonetheless, with more than 1 million annual visitors Sleeping Bear contributes substantially to the golden stream of revenues that flows annually from the "fudgies." In 1990, tourists pumped $34.4 million into the Leelanau County economy. The lakeshore has also added to Leelanau and Benzie counties its $2 million operating budget and thirty-eight full-time, and twenty-six seasonal employees. [8]

†††† A strict cost-benefit analysis is not possible for something as subjectively laden as a beautiful national park. The federal government spent $74 million to buy the lakeshore's land base. What is the value of the recreation provided by the meeting of river and lake at the mouth of the Platte? Without Senator Philip A. Hart's park families would not be able to picnic on the dunes there or float on the river's current until meeting Lake Michigan's breakers. Without the National Park Service that site would be a marina today. Would Sleeping Bear Bay still be one of the most perfect and unspoiled swimming beaches in Michigan if it were not for the national lakeshore? Of course, $80 million was not the whole cost of the lakeshore. David Hacker, a cottage owner whose twenty-five year lease expired in 1998, asked visitors to the lakeshore to "realize that this precious land may have been purchased at a huge but unseen cost." While the public will now have access to wonderful views of the Manitou Strait, the cost for Hacker was "a strip of beach and a handful of acres that once gave a family identity." The "emotional blood-bonding" that once linked his family and hundreds of other families to the Sleeping Bear was severed to make the national park. [9]

†††† The cost of Sleeping Bear was high in emotional capital, for the property owners and for the park service staff who came to northwest Michigan to make the park a reality. Many like Allen Edmunds, "Marty" Martinek, and Donald Brown were Michigan natives with an abiding love of the North Country. Others came from across the nation to try and make a park and in the process came to love the forests and dunes of the Sleeping Bear. Although often derided as bureaucrats, the personnel of the National Park Service made their own emotional investment in the land of the Sleeping Bear. In ways few visitors or local residents would ever appreciate the lakeshore drew on that account when all too frequently Congress's financial commitments fell short. The payoff for the hundreds of park service personnel who on a day to day basis worked to make the lakeshore a reality, the consolation for those who sold their homes, the anticipated return on the $80 million spent on land acquisition is a land rich in beauty and history, unspoiled and open." I silently thanked Philip Hart and Congress and everyone else involved for creating Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore," wrote journalist Matt Roush in 1985, after a weekend stay at the Platte River Campground." Whatever excesses there may have been 10 years ago, there is now mile after mile of incredible lakefront that's ours, for good. You don't have to buy a six-figure condo to use it. You don't have to spend $100 for a night in a fancy hotel. You just have to go there. . . .So go, look, and enjoy." [10]

NEXT> Appendix One: Budgetary Progress of Sleeping Bear Dunes N.L.


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

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