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President Obama signs act designating Michigan acreage as wilderness

Sleeping bear Dunes protects fragile coastline on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Sleeping bear Dunes protects fragile coastline on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Nic Minetor

Every once in a while, even in this period of continuous legislative gridlock, a bill or an act finds its way through the 113th Congress and onto President Obama’s desk.

Just such an act is S. 23, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act, designating 32,557 acres of land already protected by the National Park Service as an official wilderness. President Obama signed this act into law on March 13.

Sleeping Bear Dunes can be found on the northwestern edge of Lower Michigan at the “pinkie” of Michigan’s mitten shape, on a peninsula that extends into Lake Michigan. The park follows the eastern coast of Lake Michigan from Crystal Lake north to Good Harbor Bay. Among its natural features are bluffs that rise up to 450 feet over Lake Michigan, inland lakes, forested lands, beaches, sand dunes, and an extraordinary Great Lakes viewscape.

The newly designated wilderness area includes lands on nearby islands in Benzie and Leelanau counties as well as considerable land on the mainland shore.

The power to assign additional protection to a fragile ecosystem on federal lands came to Congress in 1964 through the Wilderness Act. The act allows Congress to prohibit development in virtually any form, including permanent roads, commercial enterprises, motorized equipment, motor vehicles, mechanical transport, temporary roads, permanent structures or installations.

Visitors can engage in non-motorized recreation in wilderness areas, including hiking, fishing, camping, canoeing, kayaking, and hunting.

“President Obama and Congress have given the American people a priceless gift by ensuring that this extraordinary landscape with its towering sand dunes and bluffs will be preserved forever as wild and primitive,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in a prepared statement. “Hikers, anglers, paddlers and others who venture into this wilderness will find it just as the Ottawa and Chippewa tribes have for the past 3,000 years—a place of quiet solitude, spectacular views, and abundant wildlife.”

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act was introduced by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), and co-sponsored by Senator Debbie Stabenow, also of Michigan. Rep. Dan Benishek (R-MI) introduced the companion bill in the House of Representatives with eleven cosponsors.

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