The Senate unanimously passed legislation that would preserve more than 32,000 of Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
The legislation, authored by Sen.. Carl Levin, D-Mich and co-sponsored by Sen.. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich, would preserve the national lakeshore as wilderness, while providing important access to the lakeshore's recreational opportunities and cultural resources.
Companion legislation offered in the House by Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, could still pass before the end of the current Congress on Tuesday. If the bill is passed, it would culminate 13 years of efforts to update the lakeshore's general management plan and protect the park's unique natural habitat from development.
Most of the areas affected by the legislation have been managed as wilderness since 1982 when Congress passed a law that required the National Park Service to manage them as such.
Sen. Levin calls this legislation a "big victory."
"It is a reward for years of effort by local officials and thousands of concerned citizens whose input helped shape this balanced land management plan," Levin said. "And it ensures that these woods, waters and beaches will be unspoiled for countless generations to enjoy. I'm hopeful that even in the last days of the 112th Congress the House can act and send this bill to the president."
The legislation was the product of an extensive public engagement process to redefine the areas managed as wilderness within the 71,000-acre lakeshore.
Under the legislation, areas designated as wilderness are undeveloped and possess significant and valuable natural characteristics. Developed county roads and state highways, boat launches and many historical structures are excluded from the wilderness designation to maintain access and recreational opportunities and ensure preservation and interpretation of historical resources.
Hunting, fishing, train use and camping would continue. Motor boats would still be allowed offshore of the dunes, and allowed to beach in areas adjacent to the wilderness.
"Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one of our nation's precious natural resources and a part of our Michigan way of life," said Stabenow. "This wilderness designation will ensure visitors can continue to enjoy access to the sights, sounds and beauty of the Lakeshore and help preserve the most beautiful place in America."
Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore was ranked "The Most Beautiful Place in America" by ABC's "Good Morning America" last year.