July 25, 2012

Michigan Wilderness Celebration Series Concludes at Horseshoe Bay Aug 18

The Michigan Wilderness Act Celebration concludes at Horseshoe Bay Wilderness on Saturday, Aug. 18, from 10 am-Noon with a program at St. Ignace Township Hall, N4298 Gorman Rd, St, Ignace, MI 49781. The event will feature reminiscences by key players in the political drama who successfully fought to protect 10 wilderness areas in Michigan in 1987 and will include a light brunch buffet.

In order to attend, please RSVP by Aug. 13. Email or call 517-484-2372, ext. 10.

Program speakers will include Chapter Director Anne Woiwode, who was a young environmentalist at the time, and Jo Reyer, USFS Hiawatha National Forest Supervisor, as well as past and current local activists involved in protecting the area.

Twenty-five years ago, a bruising 10-year battle over the wilderness designation of less than one percent of Michigan’s three million acres of national forest lands split the state’s conservation community and challenged lawmakers to take a stand on a political hot potato issue.

Despite the difficulty, in 1987 Congress passed the Michigan Wilderness Act, protecting 90,000 acres of spectacular old growth forests, lakes and dunes around the state that became these beloved wilderness areas: Big Island Lake, Delirium, Horseshoe Bay, Mackinac, McCormick, Nordhouse Dunes, Rock River Canyon, Round Island, Sturgeon River Gorge, and Sylvania.

In honor of the 25th anniversary of the Act, Sierra Club’s Michigan Chapter has been hosting several events to tell the story behind this legislation. The series kicked off at Nordhouse Dunes on May 19 and continued July 15 at Sylvania Wilderness. Congressman Dale Kildee was also honored for his leadership in getting the Act passed at a special event in Flint on June 13.

The Michigan Wilderness Act has its roots in the USFS’s Roadless Area Review and Evaluation 2 (RARE 2), a national process it started in 1977 to identify and propose qualifying areas in national forests for potential wilderness designation. In Michigan, teams of Sierra Club volunteers got involved and visited all areas under consideration, recording their observations on a comprehensive checklist used to rate them.

“In an era of typewriters and the exotic new technology of photocopiers, Jane and dozens of volunteers were the point people on organizing the information and the activists to push for passage of the areas identified,” says Woiwode. “But politics got complicated early on, and it became an enormous battle.”

By 1980, Congressman Bob Carr and Senator Donald Riegle had sponsored Michigan wilderness bills in the U.S. House and Senate respectively, but Representative Carr lost his seat in 1982, and Senator Riegle reversed his support for some areas under pressure from wilderness opponents, delaying enactment for another Congress. Fortunately, Congressman Dale Kildee took up the banner in the House and stewarded it through to passage, along with Senator Carl Levin’s able help.

“The beauty of the wilderness law is that nothing man had done has changed the lands; they are managed much as they came from the hand of God,” said Kildee. “I know not everyone is going to visit a wilderness area, but it is nice to know in today’s high-tech society, there will always be areas where people can ski, snowshoe or paddle a canoe in an absolutely motorless area.

“This is all possible because 25 years ago we had the foresight and wisdom to understand that some parts of a forest are too precious to develop.”

In Michigan, opposition to the bill was strong among UP legislators, and the Michigan United Conservation Clubs refused to support the wilderness designation. The arguments given back then sound familiar today: wilderness and old growth have no value; you can’t manage wildlife (i.e. cut timber for deer or grouse habitat) in protected areas; we need to harvest valuable timber, and we have a right to use our motorized vehicles on public land.

“These are common themes of opposition today,” says Woiwode. “It demonstrates the battle to protect Michigan’s natural heritage will never be over—we have to remain vigilant.”

“A decade-long campaign was an incredible undertaking, but none of us involved will ever question whether or not it was worth it when we look at the splendid shores and wild heart of Michigan that are this heroic effort’s living legacy,” says Jane Elder, a passionate advocate who walked the halls of Congress and hiked wilderness trails to help win the fight.

“Even though this was, at times, a divisive and emotionally charged issue, over the years we found common ground across rural and urban areas, in both parties, and in both houses of Congress,” she adds. “This momentum carried us to a presidential signature in 1987.”

To view essays and reminiscences by Elder, Woiwode and others written about Michigan wilderness and the historic act that protected it, visit

In addition to the Aug. 18, program, Sierra Club is offering a Horseshoe Bay Wilderness Camp-Out from Aug. 17-19. For details and to RSVP, email Carol Ward at For questions, contact 517-484-2372, ext. 10.



To get to St. Ignace Township Hall, take I75 north of the Mackinac Bridge and St. Ignace about 9 miles to exit M123. Exit right and drive .3 mile  until you come to a stop sign, turn left onto the Mackinac Trail.  Go 2.6 miles north until you come to Gorman Road and turn right. The township hall is about 1.8 miles down on the left at N4298 Gorman Rd. Mapquest directions are here: