TRAVERSE CITY — Legislation to protect northern Michigan’s biggest tourism driver, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, is moving forward in the U.S. House of Representatives.
U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-1st District, said Thursday the House Committee on Natural Resources will take up the legislation in January.
“This has been going on for 12 years, so this is movement,” Benishek said in a phone interview. “We want to make sure (protections) are actually written into law.”
Legislation introduced by Benishek would designate about 32,500 acres of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as wilderness area. A nearly identical piece of legislation passed the Senate this summer.
Tom Ulrich, deputy superintendent at the park, said the Department of Interior provided testimony on previous versions of the bill in strong support. Kerry Kelly, chairman of the board of the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes, said the nonprofit also supports the legislation.
“A wilderness area designation does not allow you to take wheeled vehicles or any motorized instrument like a chainsaw, bulldozer (or) anything like that into that area,” Kelly said. “It really tries to maintain the natural environment so people can get out of a developed area and purely into nature.”
The park’s local economic impact is estimated to be $132 million annually, helping sustain about 2,300 jobs in the region.