Friday, June 8, 2012

Nordhouse Dunes: 25th year as a wilderness area

Nordhouse Dunes:
a wild place saved, and worth saving

Event marks 25th year as a wilderness area

Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Ludington Daily News

Saturday, May 19 is the Michigan Wilderness Celebration series kickoff, from 11 am to noon. The program celebrates Nordhouse Dunes, featuring key players in the political drama who fought to protect the wilderness areas and be followed by guided and individual hikes of Nordhouse Dunes, Lake Michigan Recreation Area next to Nordhouse Dunes between Ludington and Manistee on the Lake Michigan coast (atthe end of West Forest Trail Road).

The following was written at the request of the Ludington Daily News as part of the 25th anniversary of the establishment of Nordhouse Dunes as a wilderness area.

By Jane Elder

I first saw the Nordhouse Dunes when the Forest Service was studying areas that might qualify for federal Wilderness protection. A small shoreline area in the Manistee National Forest made the list, and in the late 1970s, a group of Sierra Club volunteers gathered there on a misty spring weekend to form our own assessment. We hiked along the dune ridge under the tall white pines, strolled along the isolated and pristine beach, and explored inland wetlands filled with choruses of frogs. Nordhouse was indeed special — a remnant of untrammeled forest and shore where the signs of human changes were minimal. You could stand on the beach, and imagine canoes paddled by the first peoples in this region passing along a shore just like this.

The pressures on dunes were enormous. The legislature was battling over a law to protect dunes from indiscriminant sand mining, while development, from condos to golf courses, was pressing in on some of the most desirable shorelines in the region — who doesn’t want a room with a view of a Lake Michigan sunset? Meanwhile, the old mineral rights under the lovely inland forest were itching in the pockets of oil and gas developers.

And so, we rallied, organized, and traveled to Washington, D.C. dozens of times. And, 10 years later, after difficult debates, setbacks, and persevering, in 1987, Congress passed the Michigan Wilderness Act. We safeguarded some of the last of Michigan’s wild gems—a mere 100,000 acres in all. The Nordhouse Dunes, and nine other areas in the Upper Peninsula, became Wilderness, protected from development so their natural ecosystems, wild character, fresh air and clean water could be enjoyed by future generations.

In 2008 I returned to Nordhouse Dunes. It was a splendid summer’s day, and I was savoring the beautiful water and the breeze dancing through the tree tops on the ridge. Warming in the sun after a bracing swim, I noticed a group of young adults gathered down the beach. As they made their way to the waters’ edge, I sawa young man in a military t-shirt remove a prosthetic leg, and his friends helped him into the breaking waves. Moments later they were laughing and shouting and enjoying this magical place. My eyes welled with tears,moved by how this wild shoreline and the embrace of Lake Michigan brought him joy and freedom.

I believe wilderness is worth saving for its own value, but the remarkable gift it gives to people is immeasurable. Whether you see it as the unspoiled beauty of creation, or the wondrous design of nature, or both, wild places speak to something in the human spirit. These places are little sanctuaries in a very complicated world — a space where nature can breathe, and where people can too. The long, hard journey topass the Michigan Wilderness Act was more than worth it. I thank the people of Michigan who knew whythis was important and made it possible. Generations from now, others will thank you, too.

Jane Elder was the Sierra Club’s first full-time chapter director in Michigan, and later served on the national staff for more than 15 years. She now directs the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters in Madison, Wisconsin.

Date published: 5-16-2012

Copyright © 2012 Ludington Daily News.