National lakeshores are part of a system of United States coastlines administered by the National Park Service and preserved for their scenic, recreational, and habitat resources. The national lakeshore system is an extension of the national seashores system established in the 1930s to preserve the nation's dwindling patches of publicly-owned coastline on the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts. Since before 1930 the movement to preserve both seashores and lakeshores has been a conservationist response to the rapid privatization of coastlines by industrial interests and private home owners. In 1992 the United States had four designated National Lakeshores: Indiana Dunes on the southern tip of Lake Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes on Lake Michigan's eastern shore, and the Apostle Islands and Pictured Rocks, both on Lake Superior's southern shore.
Attention focused on disappearing Great Lakes shorelines, sometimes called the United States' "fourth coastline," as midwestern development pressures increased after World War II. During the 1950s lakeshore industrial sites became especially valuable with the impending opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway . The seaway, giving landlocked lake ports access to Atlantic trade from Europe and Asia, promised to boost midwestern industry considerably. Facing this threat to remaining wild lands, the National Park Service conducted a survey in 1957-58, attempting to identify and catalog the Great Lakes' remaining natural shoreline. The survey produced a list of 66 sites qualified for preservation as natural, scenic, or recreational areas. Of these, five sites were submitted to Congress in the spring of 1959.
The Indiana Dunes site was a spearhead for the movement to designate national lakeshores. Of all the proposed preserves, this one was immediately threatened in the 1950s and 1960s by northern Indiana's expanding steel industries. Residents of neighboring Gary were eager for jobs and industrial development, but conservationists and politicians of nearby Chicago argued that most of the lake was already developed and lobbied intensely for preservation. The Indiana Dunes provided a rare patch of undeveloped acreage that residents of nearby cities valued for recreation . Equally important, the dunes and their intradunal ponds, grasslands , and mixed deciduous forests provided habitat for animals and migratory birds, most of whose former range already held the industrial complexes of Gary and Chicago. In addition, the dunes harbored patches of relict boreal habitat left over from the last ice age . After years of debate, the Indiana Dunes and Great Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshores were established in 1966, with the remaining two lakeshores designated four years later.
The other three national lakeshores are less threatened by industrial development than Indiana Dunes, but they preserve important scenic and historic resources. Sleeping Bear Dunes contains some of Michigan's sandy pine forests as well as arid land forbs, grasses, and sedges that are rare in the rest of the Midwest. Two prized aspects of this national lakeshore are its spectacular bluffs and active dunes, some standing hundreds of feet high along the edge of Lake Michigan.
Wisconsin's Apostle Islands, a chain of 22 glacier-scarred, rocky islands, bear evidence of perhaps 12,000 years of human habitation and activity. However most of the historic relics date from the nineteenth century, when loggers, miners, and sailors left their mark. In this area the coniferous boreal forest of Canada meets the deciduous Midwestern forests, producing an unusual mixture of sugar maple, hemlock, white cedar, and black spruce forests. Nearly 20 species of orchids find refuge in these islands. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore preserves extensive historic navigation relics, including sunken ships, along with its scenic and recreational resources.
[Mary Ann Cunningham Ph.D. ]
Cockrell, R. A Signature of Time and Eternity: The Administrative History of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana. Omaha, NE: U.S. National Park Service, Midwest Regional Office, 1988.
Bowles, M. L., et al. "Endangered Plant Inventory and Monitoring Strategies at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore." Natural Areas Journal 6 (1986): 18–26.
Herbert, R. D., D. A. Wilcox, and N. B. Pavlovic. "Vegetation Patterns in and among Pannes (Calcerious Intradunal Ponds) at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana." American Midland Naturalist 116 (1986): 276–81.