Park service planners look for preservation, public use balance

Finding that perfect balance between preservation and public use is a difficult challenge and we’re seeing it firsthand here in the Upper Peninsula with Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

As the ice on Lake Superior continues to melt, the tourist season is beginning to ramp up, and soon the summer festivities will draw great numbers of visitors to our communities, shorelines and parks. Sure, there might be a little more vehicle and pedestrian traffic than what we locals have become accustomed to, but it’s certainly beneficial for the local economies here.

With miles of colorful sandstone cliffs, hiking trails, waterfalls and other natural attractions, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a wildly popular spot for out-of-town tourists and local folks alike.

Hundreds of thousands of people flock to the lakeshore to take in the views or kayak along the shoreline and through naturally formed caves, carved by years of erosion from Lake Superior’s cold waters.

In a recent Journal article, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Superintendent Dave Horne said visitation to the lakeshore has doubled over the last five years.

A 2017 report by the National Park Service, which oversees Pictured Rocks, noted that nearly 800,000 people visited there, and those visitors spent around $33.1 million in gateway regions leading to the park. That’s certainly a welcome influx of monies for the shops, restaurants, hotels and other businesses located in those communities.

But with that burgeoning tourist boom comes concerns of congestion, safety and the quality of experiences had by visitors to the area.

Sites like Sand Point, and Miners Castle and Chapel beaches are of particular concern, as they are some of the more popular tourist spots to see. In certain areas of Pictured Rocks, public use is exceeding the capacity of the existing beach parking areas and restrooms, and degrading the quality of the shoreline, trails and roadways.

Members of the National Park Service held meetings in Munising and Marquette this past week to gather information from the public and provide an update on overall goals for the future of the park.

The park service is in the process of developing a visitor use management plan to address some of these concerns, in an attempt to find, or get as close as they can, to that perfect balance between preservation and public use.

“We’ve been soliciting public input through open houses and trying to develop ideas because we don’t want the beaches and other areas overcrowded,” Horne said.

Comments can be made online until June 6 at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/PIRO_VUMplan.

Pushing upward of a million visitors a year, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is funneling a lot of people into a relatively small part of the Upper Peninsula, with limited facilities to support it.

The park service is looking at possible solutions to alleviate some concerns, including designating areas for commercial and public use, adding and managing parking, creating a park visitor center and establishing a bus route during certain times of the year from downtown Munising to areas in Pictured Rocks.

Devising a plan that can accommodate the growing number of visitors while sensibly dealing with the environment only makes sense.

Maintaining the natural wilderness Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is known for, and which likely is a reason many people visit there, must be a part of that discussion.

On the flip side, providing the necessary amenities like enough restrooms and appropriately sized parking areas, and new roadways or public transportation to mitigate traffic congestion will quell some of those inconveniences and allow visitors to more fully enjoy themselves.

There’s a balance between being staunch environmental stewards and being a good host to the tourists who keep our economies going, and we look forward to what the National Park Service comes up with.

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