Lake Michigan Overlooks Environmental Assessment Completed
The National Park Service at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore announces the completion of the Lake Michigan Overlooks Environmental Assessment with the signing of the “Finding of No Significant Impact” (FONSI) on November 2, 2009. The FONSI identifies the selected alternative and serves as the decision-making document for the project.
This is the culmination of a public input process that began in November 2006, when letters were sent to governmental agencies, interest groups, and the public, asking for ideas on how to best address concerns at the site. A press release was also issued on November 16, 2006, requesting public input. The resultant EA, which described the “no action” alternative and three action alternatives, was placed on public review from June 1 to July 6, 2009. A press release was issued on June 1, 2009, stating that the document could be reviewed on the park’s website, and paper copies were available at village and township offices and area libraries. A public open house was held at the National Lakeshore’s Visitor Center Auditorium on June 17, 2009.
Overlooks 9 and 10 on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive provide spectacular views of Glen Lake, the Sleeping Bear Dunes, North and South Manitou Islands, and Lake Michigan. This highly-visited site attracts over 200,000 people each year and is the only location in the National Lakeshore where visitors can access these views by a short walk from their vehicles.
The perched dune at this location is roughly 450 feet above Lake Michigan. The path from the parking area to the overlooks takes visitors directly across the top of the perched dune. Despite signs discouraging visitors from descending the bluff face toward Lake Michigan, many do so. Some of these visitors are injured during the descent, due to missteps or falls, or during the ascent, from heat injuries or exhaustion. The intense foot traffic in this location has caused considerable erosion of the dune face. In addition, maintaining the current configuration of the path and overlooks is difficult and expensive because of the blowing and shifting sand.
The National Park Service would like to thank all who provided valuable comments on the EA. We reviewed all comments and carefully considered which approach to take to satisfy the objectives of the project.
The alternative ultimately selected combines elements of the four alternatives described in the EA. The selected alternative includes construction of either a raised boardwalk (as in alternative C) or a tunnel (as in alternative D), on the perched dune, to connect the existing parking area with the new overlook platform. Since the impacts from construction of a raised boardwalk or a tunnel are very similar, the National Lakeshore will select the final design on factors other than environmental, such as cost, practicality, or feasibility during the engineering and design phase of the project. A future decision memorandum will identify the selected design.
From the new overlook platform, an elevated boardwalk would cross the top of the bluff face leading to Overlook 9 (as in alternatives C and D). Overlook 9 would be reconstructed in its existing location (as in alternatives C and D). It is intended that the route to Overlook 9 would be fully accessible under the requirements of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ability to fully comply with the requirements of ADA would be further examined during final design.
The existing trail would access Overlook 10 from Overlook 9. Overlook 10 would be reconstructed in its existing location, simultaneously with the reconstruction of Overlook 9. No new trails are proposed from the existing parking area to Overlook 10.
Since construction will be completed sometime in the future, a number of activities will be initiated in the interim:
- A new sign or signs will be installed at the site to clearly describe the resource and safety concerns with climbing the bluff.
- Additional educational materials will be developed.
- The depth and width of the trough eroding down the bluff, as well as other resource damage will be monitored.
- Visitor counts of bluff climbers will be taken.
Formal closure of the bluff may occur, at any time, based on resource or safety considerations.
For more information, please contact the National Lakeshore Headquarters at 231-326-5134.