BY MICHAEL J. GILLMAN
---- — 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.”
But now the bill languishes in the House Committee on Natural Resources. Congressman Benishek and his bipartisan cosponsors need support from the public, preferably the local public, to convince the Committee to conduct hearings and send the bill on to the full U.S. House of Representatives. Here is where we in northwest Lower Michigan can help. Form letters and cards are unimpressive, but if you could drop a personal note to Rep. Dan Benishek and ask him to enter it into the public record in support of wilderness designation for the Sleeping Bear, he could use these letters as leverage to move a bill that would be great for northwest Michigan. Pull out your writing material. Contact Rep. Benishek via e-mail and regular mail — ttps://benishek.house.gov/contact-me/email-me or Rep. Benishek, 514 Cannon HOB, Washington, DC 20515.
About the author: Michael J. Gillman is a Traverse City Commissioner and past vice chair of Michigan Republicans for Environmental Protection. He is a member of the Wilderness Society, a supporter of Benishek’s proposed legislation.
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