A Great Gift for Our Children and Grandchildren


Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

    Last month, some of the most beautiful land in America was designated a wilderness,  the very highest level of protection available for any public land.

     The newly protected area makes up almost half of the existing Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, an area along the northeast shore of Lake Michigan.  The 32,000 acres of newly designated wilderness includes miles of sandy beach, parts of two islands, dense forest, bluffs that tower hundreds of feet above Lake Michigan, clear inland streams and lakes, and unique flora and fauna.  Also protected will be such cultural features as a historic lighthouse, old farmsteads, and existing county roads.  This area was named “The Most Beautiful Place in America” by the TV show Good Morning America.

     The public will still be able to enjoy the protected wilderness.  Visitors can fish, hunt, and camp in designated areas.  But motorized vehicles, mining, logging, new roads, and permanent structures are all prohibited.

     This wilderness designation is the result of a rare show of bipartisan support in Congress.  Both the Senate and House passed legislation to establish the wilderness at Sleeping Bear Dunes.  And in the case of the House, approval was unanimous!  President Obama signed the bill into law on March 13.

     This is the first time since 2009 that both houses of Congress have voted to provide wilderness protection.  The five-year ‘drought’ from 2009-2014 is far from typical in such designations.  From 1964, when the Wilderness Act was created, to 2009, every Congress designated at least one national park, monument, or wilderness.

     The creation of wilderness in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore seems a fitting way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Wilderness Act, which, I believe, is a truly great piece of legislation.  That law was enacted as a way to protect our most pristine lands for future generations.  The law gives us this legal definition of wilderness:  

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

     To qualify for wilderness designation, a piece of land must be at least 5,000 acres large or a roadless island.  It must appear natural, with no noticeable human presence.  It must provide space for recreation and solitude, and it must contain features deemed ecologically, historically, or culturally significant.  

     The Wilderness Act established the National Wilderness Preservation System to protect all federally designated wilderness lands.  When the Act was passed, nine million acres were brought into protection.  Now almost 110 million acres are federally protected wilderness  About half of those acres are in Alaska, although 44 states and Puerto Rico contain wilderness land.  Protected wilderness can be found in national parks, national forests, wildlife refuges, and in the public domain.

     A word about the name ‘Sleeping Bear Dunes:’  

The name refers to the shape of the dunes and comes from a Chippewa legend.  Long ago, according to the story, an enormous fire broke out on the western shore of Lake Michigan, driving a mother bear and her two cubs into the lake.  The mother was determined to bring her cubs to safety on the opposite shore.  After miles of swimming, the little ones lagged behind.  When the mother reached the eastern shore, she climbed a high bluff, where she watched and waited for her babies.   The babies drowned, according to the legend, but the mother continued her vigil, hoping they would finally appear.  The Great Spirit was so impressed by her devotion that he brought her two drowned cubs to the water’s surface in the form of islands.  The winds buried the sleeping mother bear under the sands of the dunes, where she waits to this day. –April Moore 



3 Responses to “A Great Gift for Our Children and Grandchildren”

  1. Lee Thomas Says:

    April, this is truly good news! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Katharine Says:

    What a beautiful legend! I am so glad we have at least one new wilderness area. Plus 5 new National monuments! I hope he will slam dunk a whole bunch more toward the end of his term since Congress has not been helpful in identifying new wilderness areas.

  3. Judy Says:

    This is an especially lovely legend. I think it is special to see, not just a beautiful scene in nature, but a very touching and inspiring story to give added meaning to the miracle of its creation, and perhaps to inspire its continued care.

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