Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Thursday

March 6, 2014

Sleeping Bear bill passes House

TRAVERSE CITY — Favored trails, views and hunting spots in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore are one step closer to being preserved for good.

“It’s a guarantee for the future that the park people are enjoying today and enjoyed for the last several years will be the park they enjoy in the future,” said park deputy superintendent Tom Ulrich. “It really locks that in through law instead of just policy.”

The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act on Tuesday. The bill designates 32,557 acres of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as wilderness.

U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-1st District, who introduced the bill on Jan. 4, 2013, expects President Obama to sign it this week.

“I’m really happy,” Benishek said. “We worked hard. These folks have been working on it for 12 years.”

The new designation won’t usher changes, Ulrich said. That’s the point. Now that large swaths of land likely will be official wilderness rather than just managed as wilderness, no new buildings, roads or mechanized equipment will sprout.

The bill removes historic structures at Port Oneida Rural Historic District, and the Treat Farm and Cottage Row on North Manitou Island from wilderness areas. Susan Pocklington, director of Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear, said that will make preserving those structures easier.

“We’ll have easier and more frequent access to get in and maintain those structures, and fewer restrictions on using mechanized tools, resulting in quicker and less labor-intensive efforts,” she said.

The bill also guarantees that roads in wilderness areas would stay open even if Leelanau or Benzie Counties choose to abandon a county road inside that area.

The park operates under a 1982 law that requires the National Park Service to maintain Sleeping Bear under its wilderness management plan, but doesn’t officially designate the park as wilderness until the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act is signed.

Soon, Ulrich said that wilderness will be solidified.

“The intent of wilderness is to provide those places for people to make sure the nation doesn’t get so developed people can’t find that opportunity any longer,” Ulrich said. “That’s the idea: from wherever quarter that development could come from, private, public, whatever, that won’t happen in those areas Congress is designating as wilderness.”

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