MUNISING — The effort to designate the 11,739 acres of the Beaver Basin as wilderness at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is making its way to Congress.
The National Park Service is working to finalize the establishment of the Beaver Basin Wilderness Area, which is one component of the park’s General Management Plan completed and approved in 2004 after five years of planning and extensive public involvement.
A formal proposal for the wilderness designation at Pictured Rocks for the Beaver Basin has been forwarded to the Legislative Council of the Department of the Interior.
Pictured Rocks Superintendent Jim Northup has also briefed Michigan’s congressional delegation on implementing this part of the park’s management plan.
Lawmakers — including Sen. Carl Levin, D-Southfield, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee — have been asked by park staff for their support of the measure.
No specific timetable has been determined for when the proposal will be acted on by congress.
“With formal wilderness designation, nothing will change about public access or how this portion of the park is currently managed,” Northup said. “Wilderness designation will simply provide permanent legal protection to this portion of the park and ensure that opportunities to enjoy quiet, solitude and unconfined recreation continue to be provided for this and future generations in one portion of the national lakeshore.”
Trails and backcountry campgrounds will continue to be maintained. Electric motors will continue to be permitted on Little Beaver and Beaver lakes. Boats traveling on Lake Superior will continue to be allowed to beach along this section of the park.
The Little Beaver Campground, campground access road and Beaver Basin Overlook lie outside the area proposed as wilderness. As such, these features will continue to be managed as they are today, Northup said.
From 1999-2004, the Park Service developed the General Management Plan, while undertaking an associated Wilderness Study for Pictured Rocks.
During the Wilderness Study, 18,063 acres within the park were identified as being potentially eligible for wilderness designation. Of that acreage, 12,843 acres were located within the Beaver Basin and 5,220 acres were identified in Chapel Basin.
All of the lands and waters in the study area were in federal ownership. After extensive public involvement, review, and comment, the preferred alternative in the final General Management Plan and Wilderness Study was approved by Midwest Regional Director Ernie Quintana in November 2004.
The overall concept of the new plan called for the Park Service to provide additional and more convenient access to significant lakeshore features on the east and west ends of the park, while preserving the central portion of the park in a primitive, relatively undisturbed state, proposing 11,739 acres in the Beaver Basin for wilderness designation.
“During the planning process, there was very strong public support for wilderness designation at Pictured Rocks,” Northup said. “But several concerns were expressed, particularly by the local community. The National Park Service worked hard to address those concerns in the final General Management Plan.”
The final version of the plan approved eliminated wilderness consideration from the Chapel Basin and from a strip of water extending from the shoreline a quarter-mile into Lake Superior along the Beaver Basin.
Since the plan was approved, the Park Service has upgraded and redesigned the parking lot at Miners Beach on the west end of the park, while creating new boat-in campsites along Grand Sable Lake on the park’s east end.
Park rangers have also been supportive of ongoing county efforts to pave Alger County Highway 58, which is the main access route to and through the park.
Since 2004, park officials took three management actions required to bring the Beaver Basin area into full compliance with managing the area under a primitive prescription.
“These included converting to the use of electric motors on Little Beaver and Beaver lakes, converting an old two-track vehicle access in the Sevenmile Creek area into a hiking trail and removing the last remaining abandoned building from the basin,” Northup said. “These things have all been done.”
Pictured Rocks attracts more than 425,000 visitors each year. According to the latest park economic study, Pictured Rocks provides nearly $20 million of annual economic benefit to the local area.
Visitation is expected to increase with the completion of the H-58 project, which is scheduled to provide a hard-surfaced road between Munising and Grand Marais by 2010.