Again in 2013, our local Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is attracting national attention. With the eyes of American on northwest Lower Michigan, we have an opportunity to enshrine this natural beauty in perpetuity. Pending before Congress’ House Committee on Natural Resources is HR 163, introduced by Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Mich., that would protect over 32,500 acres of wilderness in the park.
Fortunately, this is a bipartisan effort, with Democrat Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow sponsoring an identical bill, SB 23, while cosponsors of HR163 include Republican House members Dave Camp and Bill Huizenga. But this legislative battle needs the public to pitch in.
First, some background: More than a decade ago the National Park Service made recommendations concerning the park, crafted without public input, but which generated justifiable public opposition. The effect of that proposal would have required the closing of certain roads within the park that were of long historic standing, which would eliminate public access to the beaches of Lake Michigan. The outcry resulted in the withdrawal of that management plan and the start of a process involving local input.
Led by a Benzie-based group, Citizens for Access to the Lakeshore, or CAL, the Park Service subsequently produced a new proposal in 2009 which, if implemented, will provide primitive, natural areas remaining in their native state, per local wishes, but without cutting off public access where needed. Now, Rep. Benishek’s legislation would be a congressional designation of the area as wilderness, but pursuant to specific mapping that retains the historic, local roads.
The citizen advocacy group, CAL, which opposed the earlier proposal, has endorsed the new version enthusiastically: “The bill is a win/win for proponents of wilderness and conservation as well as proponents of public access and varied recreation usage. It is not a bill where the proponents give grudging, reluctant support … almost everyone involved has emerged quite satisfied.”