EMPIRE, Mich. (AP) - A 13-year struggle to protect fragile characteristics of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was celebrated Friday, as 32,500 acres were dedicated as wilderness.
The designation was contained in legislation approved by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama in March. It guarantees protection of sand dunes, beaches, towering bluffs, forests and portions of two islands. It also provides for continued public access to recreational and cultural features, including streams, trails and historic buildings.
"Today's designation will go a long way to preserving and promoting one of our state's top tourist attractions," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat. "Sleeping Bear Dunes is one of Michigan's indispensable treasures, and should be protected for future generations to enjoy."
The bipartisan legislation was sponsored by Democratic Sen. Carl Levin and Republican Rep. Dan Benishek.
Its passage ended years of negotiations between the local community, the National Park Service and Congress to update the lakeshore's general management plan.
Areas classified as wilderness are undeveloped and have significant and valuable natural characteristics.
Developed county roads and state highways, boat launches and many historical structures are excluded from the designation. Hunting, fishing, trail use and camping will continue. Motorboats will be allowed offshore of the dunes and can beach in areas adjacent to the wilderness area.