Sharing northern Michigan's sand dunes
The government used eminent domain in the 1970s to create the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. Now it needs the money to back up its promises and make homeowners whole again.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010 - 15:10
North Bar Lake in November. (Photo: Jessica Pociask)
The legacy of our U.S. National Park System (NPS) is "... to promote and regulate the use of the ... national parks ... which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."
It is a perpetual quandary that is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to making policy. Since the 1920s, tourism has been shaping the economy of northern Michigan. The U.S. government, well aware of this fact, wanted to influence that growth. In 1970, residents whose properties fell within the newly designated Sleeping Bear Dunes National lakeshore were given two options: sell now and enjoy your property for 25 more years on a lease, or enjoy a lease on the property until you expire. Either way, the land would eventually be turned over to the government for public use through eminent domain, and homeowners would be compensated.
To some this policy may seem fair, but I’m not delving into right or wrong in terms of ownership. The issue to me is that when the U.S. government drew up this legislation for national land protection, it also stated that homeowners must receive fair market value for their properties — meaning the government needed to set aside appropriate funding for such acquisitions. And if you are a homeowner or a prospective homeowner in Northern Michigan, you are well aware that home values have remained strong, despite the drop in the economy. So while the NPS was forward-thinking in creating the National Lake Shore, the agency never anticipated the extent or inflation of growth or property values.
To give you an idea of what I am referring to, visitor use jumped from just over 600,000 in 1983 to more than 1.2 million just 10 years later. From the get-go, the project for the Sleeping Bear Dunes was under-budgeted.
Today, managers of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore face a bigger dilemma — a shrinking national budget leaves them scrambling for operational funds, and homeowners who grudgingly try to maintain a lease on land they consider to be rightfully theirs, making it more tedious to convert private land for public use. Leases drawn up when the lakeshore was established continue to expire daily, creating more pressure on the ecological framework of Sleeping Bear.
People continue to flock to the region. It is obvious that there is a dire need for well thought out system for planning and resource allocation for public and private use of the area. Like the “Grand Vision” of Leelanau County states, “Growth happens. Let’s decide how.”
You might also like: