United States National Lakeshore

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Indiana Dunes Bathouse and Pavilion in Chesterton, Indiana

A United States National Lakeshore is an area of lakeshore that has been designated a protected area with the purpose of preserving environmental, cultural, scenic, recreational, natural or habitat resources. They are administered, maintained, and protected by the National Park Service.

In 2008 there were four National Lakeshore areas in the United States, all of them on Lakes Michigan and Superior in the states of Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin. The combined area of the four protected areas is 145,641 acres (589.3 km²) and includes Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

The National Lakeshore system is an extension of the National Seashores system which was established in the 1930s to preserve the nation's Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coastlines. The Lakeshore system is centered around the Great Lakes. Lobbying for the Lakes' protected areas began in the 1950s and continued into the 1960s as the areas of public shores were dwindling due to purchase by individuals and industries. The first two designated National Lakeshores were authorized in late 1966. Two other areas were added in 1970. These designations have protected the lakes' shores from over-development, as well as preserved important scenic and historic resources.


In the 1930s a seashore conservation system was established as a part of the New Deal of President Franklin Roosevelt's administration. The system was established in order to preserve the country's dwindling patches of publicly-owned coastline on the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Prior to this time much of America's coastlines had been purchased by private owners and industries.

What began as the National Seashore system, administered by the U.S. National Park Service, eventually spawned the National Lakeshore system. Often referred to unofficially as the U.S.' "fourth coastline," the program of lakeshore conservation focused its attention on the Great Lakes and their disappearing public shores. This was prompted by several factors, including the expansion of northern Indiana's steel industry and the forthcoming opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The opening of the seaway promised the expansion of industry in the Midwest as these formerly landlocked ports would gain access to international trade via the Atlantic.

During 1957-1958, the National Park Service conducted a study designed to catalog the Great Lakes' remaining natural shoreline. The results determined that 66 sites qualified for preservation as scenic, natural, or recreational areas. Of these, five sites were submitted to Congress in the spring of 1959.

Of all the sites studied, the one with the most immediate concern was the Indiana Dunes on the shores of Lake Michigan. Industrial development was taking place, especially in the steel mills of Gary, and jobs were being created. While this was good for Indiana's economy, conservationists and politicians of nearby Chicago argued passionately for preservation. The Indiana Dunes were a popular recreation spot for people from around Lake Michigan, whose remaining shoreline was nearly completely developed. The Dunes, containing grasslands, mixed deciduous forests, and ponds, also provided needed habitat for animals and migratory birds.

Following seven years of deliberation, Pictured Rocks became America's first National Lakeshore, authorized on October 15, 1966. Indiana Dunes was also designated a national lakeshore before the year ended. In 1970 two additional sites were added, Sleeping Bear and Apostle Island. All preserve important natural, scenic, and historic treasures. United States National Lakeshores include:

  • Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore; near Munising, Michigan on Lake Superior. Authorized in 1966, Pictured Rocks was the first National Lakeshore and is largest by area.
  • Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore; in northwest Indiana, near Michigan City on Lake Michigan. It was authorized in 1966, soon after Pictured Rocks. By most estimates, this park is the most popular National Lakeshore, probably due to its proximity to Chicago and other large Midwestern cities.
  • Apostle Islands National Lakeshore; in northern Wisconsin on Lake Superior. It was authorized in September 1970.
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore; in Leelanau County Michigan on Lake Michigan. It was authorized in October 1970.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Bridalveil Falls emptying into Lake Superior
Miners' Castle
Munising Falls

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a U.S. National Lakeshore on the shore of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It extends for 42 miles (67 km) along the shore and covers 73,236 acres (114 sq mi/296 km2). The park offers spectacular scenery of the hilly shoreline between Munising, Michigan and Grand Marais, Michigan, with natural archways, waterfalls, and sand dunes. Pictured Rocks was the first officially-designated National Lakeshore in the United States, authorized on October 15, 1966. It receives approximately half a million visitors per year.

Pictured Rocks derives its name from the 15 miles (24 km) of colorful sandstone cliffs northeast of Munising. The cliffs are up to 200 feet (60 m) above lake level. They have been naturally sculptured into shallow caves, arches, formations that resemble castle turrets, and human profiles, among others. Near Munising visitors also can view Grand Island, most of which is included in the Grand Island National Recreation Area and is preserved separately.

The Grand Sable Dunes, at the eastern end of the Lakeshore, are a perched dune formation. Sand washed ashore by wave action was then blown upslope by northerly prevailing winds until it came to rest atop a glacial moraine. The Grand Sable Dunes today form a sand slope that rises from Lake Superior at a 35° angle. The summits of the tallest dunes are as high as 275 feet (85 m) above lake level.


Although the Pictured Rocks lie adjacent to sections of Lake Superior that are rich in fish, the sandstone cliffs are dangerous to canoes and other open boats skirting the coastline. Pierre Esprit Radisson, the fur trader, made this risky passage in 1658 and noted that his Native American companions offered some tobacco to the local spirit of the cliffs.

During the Romantic Era of the 1800s, a series of American writers described their feelings upon sight of the Pictured Rocks. Henry Rowe Schoolcraft paid a tribute in 1820 to "some of the most sublime and commanding views in nature." As long ago as 1850 developers platted a tourist resort, Grand Island City, adjacent to the Pictured Rocks near the current site of Munising.

After the lumbering era ended around 1910, many of the parcels of land making up the current Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore reverted to the state of Michigan for unpaid property taxes. Eager for federal help and recognition, the state cooperated with the federal government in the region's redevelopment.

On October 15 1966, Congress passed a bill (Public Law 89-668) authorizing the establishment of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, "in order to preserve for the benefit, inspiration, education, recreational use, and enjoyment of the public, a significant portion of the diminishing shoreline of the United States and its related geographic and scientific features."[1]

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Photo Gallery

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Richard Lieber (front right) with National Park Service Stephen Mather at what would become Indiana Dunes State Park in 1916.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is a national lakeshore located in northwest Indiana. It runs for 15 miles (40 km) along the southern shore of Lake Michigan, from Gary, Indiana, on the west to Michigan City, Indiana on the east. The park contains approximately 15,000 acres (61 km²). While the National Lakeshore has development rights over the area within its boundaries, it has not purchased the full extent of the property. Its holdings are non-contiguous and do not include the Indiana Dunes State Park (1916), a separate, 2,182 acre (9 km²) parcel of protected dune land on the lakefront near Chesterton, Indiana.

The park contains 15 miles (24 km) of beaches, as well as sand dunes, bogs, marshes, swamps, fens, prairies, rivers, oak savannas, and woodland forests. The park is also noted for its singing sands. More than 350 species of birds have been observed in the park. It has one of the most diverse plant communities of any unit in the U.S. National Park System with 1418 vascular plant species including 90 threatened or endangered ones. The Indiana Dunes area is unique in that it contains both Arctic and boreal plants (such as the bearberry) alongside desert plants (such as the prickly pear cactus).

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore contains abundant wildlife, including whitetail deer, red fox, raccoons, opossums, cottontail rabbits, Canada geese, seagulls, squirrels, hawks, turkey vultures, mallards, great blue herons, garter snakes, songbirds, and various rodents.

Lakeshore history

Mouont Baldy, Michigan City - a sand dune constantly in motion.

The Indiana Dunes area first came to prominence in 1899 when Henry Chandler Cowles did some of the pioneering work in American plant ecology there. Despite attempts to protect the area from threats such as the nearby Gary steel mills led by groups such as the Prairie Club of Chicago, the area continued to be exploited. The tallest dune in Indiana, the 200 foot (60 m) high Hoosier Slide, was hauled away and turned into glass by Pittsburgh Plate Glass and canning jars by Ball Brothers.

In 1916 there was talk of making the site the "Sand Dunes National Park." Indiana State Park's founder, Richard Lieber, toured the site with then National Park Service Director Stephen Mather on October 31, 1916 to gauge its worthiness.[2] In 1926, part of the area became the Indiana Dunes State Park. A few years later, the Indiana Dunes Bathhouse and Pavilion was erected just north of the park entrance. The bathhouse continues to be widely used today and remains in its original form.

Significant political controversy arose in the 1950s and 1960s due to conflicts between industrial expansion and recreational use of the lakefront. One event heavily protested was the removal of a sand dune to provide landfill for the expansion of Northwestern University's Evanston, Illinois campus.[3][4]. Bethlehem Steel was additionally granted permits to build a plant at Burns Harbor Indiana, displacing dunes and wildlife.

Citizens united to form the Save the Dunes Council and gained political support to protect the remaining lakeshore. In 1963, the Kennedy Compromise linked the construction of the Port of Indiana to the development of a National Lakeshore. The Lakeshore was created in 1966 and expanded in 1976, 1980, 1986 and 1992. While the original legislation designated 8,330 acres of land and water as protected area, the expansions have increased the size of the park to more than 15,000 acres.[5]

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Headquarters of the AINL, constructed of stone quarried from the Apostle Islands prior to national park designation.
Squaw Bay Sea Caves
The Outer Island Lighthouse

The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is a national lakeshore consisting of twenty two islands, known as the Apostle Islands, and shoreline encompassing 69,372 acres (281 km²) off the Bayfield Peninsula in northern Wisconsin on the shore of Lake Superior. It is known for its collection of historic lighthouses, sandstone sea caves, a few old growth remnant forests, and natural animal habitats.

The area is the meeting point of coniferous boreal forests of Canada and deciduous Midwestern forests. This has produced an unusual mixture of sugar maple, hemlock, white cedar, and black spruce forests. The islands are home to nearly 20 species of wild orchids.

The Apostle Islands are a result of the glaciers that once covered North America. "Geologically they are originally part of the main land at the edge of the great riff or fault which formed the depression to which the waters of Lake Superior collected."[6] When the glaciers melted the remnant water began to shape the islands. Over time, the waves from the waters of Lake Superior caused erosion that formed the islands. Due to the glacial shift, the islands are composed of mostly red sandstone.

The islands bear evidence of perhaps 12,000 years of human habitation and activity. In the 1600s, Wisconsin was inhabited by Algonquian tribes, the Menominee and others. They were joined by Siouan tribes, including the Winnebago and Iowa. Later groups included the Potawatomi and Chippewa (Ojibwa). It is believed that French explorer Etienne Brule visited the area in the early 1600s. The first non-Natives to settle the area were fur traders. It is believed that the islands were named by seventeenth-century Jesuit missionaries for the Twelve Apostles. Many historic relics from the nineteenth century remain, from loggers, miners, and sailors who left their mark. The Lakeshore preserves extensive historic navigation remains, including sunken ships, along with its scenic and recreational resources.

United States Senator Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day, fought long and hard for the protection of the area and sponsored the federal legislation that established the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. On December 8, 2004, President George W. Bush honored Nelson by approving legislation designating 80 percent of the land area of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore as federally protected wilderness - to be known as Gaylord Nelson Wilderness.[7]


One of the most popular sights within the lakeshore are the Apostle Islands Lighthouses. These are a group of six lighthouses, located in the Apostle Islands. For most of the century, these lighthouses have guided ships and boats through the rough waters of Lake Superior, and among the Apostle Islands. In 1977 they were listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Lighthouses included in the historic registry:

  • Michigan Island Lighthouse - two lighthouses located at this site
  • Raspberry Island Lighthouse
  • Outer Island Lighthouse
  • Sand Island Light
  • Devils Island Lighthouse

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a United States National Lakeshore located along the northwest coast of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan in Leelanau and Benzie Counties.

The lakeshore during winter

The park covers a 35 mile (60 km) stretch of Lake Michigan's eastern coastline, as well as North and South Manitou Islands. The park was established primarily for its outstanding natural features, including forests, beaches, dune formations, and ancient glacial phenomena. It features spectacular bluffs and active dunes, some standing hundreds of feet high along the edge of the lake. There are also sandy pine forests, arid land forbs (broad-leaved field herbs), grasses, and sedges that are rare in the rest of the Midwest.

The Lakeshore also contains many cultural features including the 1871 South Manitou Island Lighthouse, three former Life-Saving Service/Coast Guard Stations and an extensive rural historic farm district.

The park is named after a Chippewa legend of the sleeping bear. According to the legend, an enormous forest fire on the western shore of Lake Michigan drove a mother bear and her two cubs into the lake for shelter, determined to reach the opposite shore. After many miles of swimming, the two cubs lagged behind. When the mother bear reached the shore, she waited on the top of a high bluff. The exhausted cubs drowned in the lake, but the mother bear stayed and waited in hopes that her cubs would finally appear. Impressed by the mother bear's determination and faith, the Great Spirit created two islands (North and South Manitou Island) to commemorate the cubs, and the winds buried the sleeping bear under the sands of the dunes where she waits to this day. The "bear" was a small tree-covered knoll at the top edge of the bluff that, from the water, had the appearance of a sleeping bear. Wind and erosion have caused the "bear" to be greatly reduced in size over the years. Today only a small remnant remains.

Senator Philip A. Hart was instrumental in the establishment of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which was authorized on October 21, 1970.


  1. National Park Service. Pictured Rocks, an Administrative History: Chapter 3, The Creation of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Retrieved January 11, 2009.
  2. National Park Service. NPS Historic Photograph Collection Retrieved January 11, 2009.
  3. Northwestern University. Looking for space, University turned eastward to the lake Retrieved January 11, 2009.
  4. Chicago Historical Society. Statement of U.S. Senator Paul H. Douglas regarding Indiana Dunes, 1962 Retrieved January 11, 2009.
  5. J. Ronald Engel. Sacred Sands, The Struggle for Community in the Indiana Dunes. (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1983.)
  6. Hamilton N. Ross. The Apostle Islands, 2nd ed. (Batavia, NY: Batavia Herald, 1951.)
  7. National Park Service. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore - Gaylord Nelson Wilderness Retrieved January 11, 2009.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Franklin, Kay, and Norma Schaeffer. 1983. Duel for the dunes: land use conflict on the shores of Lake Michigan. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9780252010347
  • Hill, Catherine L. 1991. Our changing landscape: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. US Geological Survey circular, 1085. Washington, DC: U.S. Gov. Print. Off. OCLC 257242912
  • National Park Service. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Retrieved January 11, 2009.
  • National Park Service. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Retrieved January 11, 2009.
  • National Park Service. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Retrieved January 11, 2009.
  • National Park Service. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Retrieved January 11, 2009.
  • United States. 1988. Apostle Islands: a guide to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of the Interior. OCLC 16473846
  • United States. 1992. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. [Washington, D.C.?]: National Park Service, Dept. of the Interior. OCLC 26366804


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