"If You Seek a Pleasant Peninsula, Look About You"
So says Michigan's state motto, which has appeared in Latin (Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam Circumspice) on the Great Seal of the State of Michigan since 1835.
In our final blog post of 2012, we'd like to congratulate the Michigan Sierra Club—which has perhaps done more than any other entity to keep the peninsula pleasant—on its 45th anniversary as a chapter, and the 25th anniversary of the Michigan Wilderness Act, which permanently protected ten parcels totaling 90,000 acres of national forest lands in the state's Upper Peninsula.
To commemorate its anniversary, throughout 2012 the chapter held wilderness outings, film screenings, talks, readings, panel discussions, BBQs, potlucks, and hoedowns to celebrate the chapter's accomplishments, share stories, bond over what it means to be part of the Michigan Sierra Club, and gird for the challenges that lie ahead.
The chapter's victories since its creation in 1967—protecting special places, fighting for clean air and water, cleaning up toxic pollution, stopping unnecessary oil and gas drilling, passing comprehensive water-use laws—are far too many to begin listing here. But perhaps none is more meaningful than passage of the Michigan Wilderness Act.
The Michigan Wilderness Heritage Act, as it is officially called, was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on December 8, 1987, following a bruising ten-year battle during which passage of the act was the top priority of the chapter—then known as the Mackinac (pronounced MAK-in-aw) Chapter. The Straits of Mackinac connect Lake Huron and Lake Michigan and separate the state's upper and lower peninsulas.
This year, the chapter held commemorative celebrations in three areas protected by the act—in May at the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness on Lake Michigan, in July at the lake-studded Sylvania Wilderness near the Wisconsin border, and in August at the Horseshoe Bay Wilderness, just north of the Straits of Mackinac. Each event featured hikes, camping, canoeing, good food, and remembrances by key players in the political drama to protect the wilderness, including present and former Sierra Club leaders and elected officials.
Michigan Chapter Director Anne Woiwode, at left, who opened the festivities at the Nordhouse Dunes event, honed her organizing and activist chops as a young environmentalist in the decade-long fight to pass the Michigan Wilderness Act. She recalled a recent occasion when her son Pete came back from a camping trip with college friends.
"He was reveling in the beauty of a spectacular wild area between Ludington and Manistee on Lake Michigan," Woiwode said. "My ears pricked up a bit, and when he asked if I'd ever heard of the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness I broke into a big grin. We can ask for nothing better than to have our children enjoy the fruits of our labors without even knowing the fight that went on to protect such a place."
Below, Woiwode with Senator Carl Levin at the Horseshoe Bay Wilderness celebration. (Read Woiwode's account of the fight to pass the Michigan Wilderness Heritage Act.)
The pressures being brought to bear on Lake Michigan's dunes were enormous, she said. The state legislature was battling over a law to protect the dunes from indiscriminant sand mining, and 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?" Elder acknowledged.) Meanwhile, oil and gas developers were itching to drill in the inland forests where they held mineral rights.
"And so, we rallied, organized, and traveled to Washington, D.C., dozens of times," Elder said. "And after ten years of difficult debates, setbacks, and perseverance, 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 an article she was asked to write for the Ludington Daily News as part of the 25th anniversary celebration, Elder said: "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 to pass the Michigan Wilderness Act was more than worth it. I thank the people of Michigan who knew why this was important and made it possible. Generations from now, others will thank you, too."
Read essays and reflections from Michiganders on what wilderness means to them.