A bill that will re-designate thousands of acres of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is moving forward.
The bill passed the House Committee on Natural Resources Tuesday and will now move on to the House for a vote. If passed, it would make sure more than 32,000 acres designated as "wilderness areas" will be preserved.
"This is a big win for Sleeping Bear Dunes and all of Northern Michigan," Congressman Benishek said. "The dunes are an amazing natural wonder and are also a cornerstone of our local economy up here. That's why it's so important that we ensure the dunes are protected for future generations to enjoy."
County roads, historical structures and access to the lake would also be protected.
The right to hunt and fish in the designated areas is also specifically protected in the bill.
"These plans for federal land are made up by people in Washington that don't have any idea of the issues in the local area," said Congressman Dan Benishek. "That's the wrong way to do it. The best way to do it is to have local citizens and interested parties who have an interest in the area drop the plan and have the conversation in Michigan."
The bill is being backed by Congressman Dan Benishek, but was developed by people from Leelanau and Benzie counties.
"This legislation will finally throw out the flawed 1981 Wilderness Study that has had our Lakeshore tied up for so long in an administrative quagmire," said Jeannette Feeheley, President of Citizens for Access to the Lakeshore, of Frankfort. "It will be replaced with the 2009 recommendation that puts the Lakeshore's county roads, beaches, fundamental historical resources, and remaining private in holdings outside of wilderness jurisdiction. At the same time, nearly half the park would be preserved as wilderness. This bill is a win/win for proponents of wilderness, public access and recreation alike. It is good for our region and our economy.
The plan has not been without controversy, though. Opponents have argued that designating it a wilderness area could limit their area and what they could do on the land.
More than 1.4 million people visited the Sleeping Bear Dunes in 2011, bringing in around $120 million and supported about 2,000 jobs in the area.
The dunes were named by Good Morning America as the most beautiful place in America.