A bipartisan effort has been launched in Congress to set aside nearly half of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as official wilderness, an effort its backers believe takes a "balanced approach to conservation, recreation, and historic preservation..."
Spanning 71,199 acres (some of which are on North and South Manitou islands) in Michigan, of which 65 miles run along the Lake Michigan shoreline, the lakeshore preserves a wonderful mix of towering sand dunes along the beaches and northern hardwood forest coursed in places by rivers and streams.
Congress in 1982 directed the National Park Service to inventory its lands and manage those that meet wilderness description as de facto wilderness until otherwise noted. The legislation now working its way through both Senate and House of Representatives is designed to deal with that limbo by officially designating 32,557 acres in the lakeshore as official wilderness.
"This bill is not only about conservation, but about access, recreation, and historic preservation," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan said earlier this month in presenting the legislation, co-sponsored with Debbie Stabenow, to the Senate National Parks Subcommittee. "The lakeshore is meant to be enjoyed by the public, and yet because of a requirement included in a 1982 law directing the National Park Service to manage areas included in a 1981 'Wilderness Recommendation' as wilderness, the public cannot access some roadways and historic areas.
"This restriction is due to the fact that the 1981 wilderness recommendation included county roads and other areas the local community did not believe should be managed as wilderness," continued the senator. "Our legislation excludes these features from the wilderness designation to ensure that access, recreation, and historic preservation are provided at the Lakeshore, reflecting community input. The 1982 law specified that its directive apply 'until Congress determines otherwise.' This bill provides the congressional direction the 1982 law envisioned."
According to the senator, if the wilderness designation is extended, it would protect the lakeshore's "significant and valuable natural characteristics" yet also provide for continued recreational uses such as boat launchings, hunting, fishing, and the beaching of motor boats on areas adjacent to wilderness.
Companion legislation has been introduced in the House by Reps. Bill Huizenga and Dave Camp, both Republicans.