The highest level of federal conservation protection is making its way to nearly 50 percent of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Barring any unforeseen snags in Washington, D.C., approximately 32,000 of the park’s 71,187 acres will be officially designated as “wilderness” this year, after the clock ran out on legislative action last week.
What exactly does this mean for the park, and its visitors? It’s as clear as Lake Michigan is blue: preservation of the park the way people enjoy it today – whether that means driving down the road to your favorite beach or deer hunting.
In actuality, most of this acreage has been managed under a “wilderness recommendation” since the early 80s, according to Dianne Flaugh, the park’s environmental protection specialist.
This action, however, sets the preservation for countless generations to come.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. nearly two years ago along with co-sponsor Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., was unanimously passed by the Senate on Dec. 30, 2012 but did not make it through the House of Representatives before the New Year and expired. That means it will have to be re-introduced to the 113th Congress.
“Senate passage makes me optimistic we can push this important legislation across the finish line in the incoming Congress,” says Sen. Levin in a statement published yesterday on his website.
Tom Ulrich, the park’s deputy superintendent, says the bill “reflects exactly” what the public came up with during the public review process of the lakeshore’s general management plan.
“It did not vary at all,” Ulrich says. “What we heard in that process is that people like the park just the way it is.” All told, the public comment period that began in early 2006 and culminated three years later, involved some 2,600 people in more than 95 informational meetings.
The 32,000 wilderness acres cover six main areas of the park: most of North Manitou Island, a portion of South Manitou Island, around Good Harbor Bay, the section from Empire Bluffs to Peterson Beach, the stretch from Platte Bay to the Old Indian Trail and the Sleeping Bear Plateau (the 4 square-mile field of perched dunes). The plateau is a new addition to the wilderness area, Ulrich says.
There is no specific expiration date on the park’s management plan, though they are intended to last 20 years or more, Ulrich adds.