At the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the beach and towering bluffs go on for miles and miles along Lake Michigan. And Congress has just designated 32,500 acres of the sweeping lakeshore as wilderness—the first wilderness area created in five years.
Since the Wilderness Act went into effect in 1964, Congress has typically designated at least one wilderness area each session of Congress. But for the past few years there’s been a deadlock on the issue. The last time Congress created wilderness areas was in 2009, when Congress protected 2 million acres of land all across the country.
According to the National Park Service, the Wilderness Act defines these places as:
“an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The Act further defined wilderness as "an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions . . . ."
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Wilderness Act. A wilderness area, unlike many national parks, typically doesn’t have permanent roads, and bans permanent structures and motor vehicles of any sort. This new one covers 50 square miles, or about half of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which draws visitors to hike, fish, swim and explore the ice caves each year.