Understanding a “Comfortable Wilderness”
At National Park sites such as Sleeping Bear Dunes National
Lakeshore, can we accept cultural landscapes as part of nature?
By Frank Edgerton Martin
When Americans think of national parks, they often envision sublime
valleys, geysers, and mountain peaks. But in nearly all states and
federal territories, the National Park Service (NPS) manages and
interprets landscapes where human presence is part of the story.
Such a landscape is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on North
Manitou Island, 11 miles off Lake Michigan’s eastern shore.
Here, the harsh conditions of Great Lakes weather and lake effects
were tamed, through the century-long cultivation of orchards and
the legacy of the genteel culture of summer cottage tourism, to
create a “comfortable” wilderness.
The term “cultural landscape” was first defined in
the 1920s by geographer Carl Sauer, who saw the natural landscape
as a medium for the inevitable transformations of human settlement.
Sleeping Bear Dunes had a natural environment of soils, climate,
water, and dunes that attracted tourism, commercial fishing, and
fruit growing. This ecology of microclimates, harbors, and soils
served as a compelling lure and canvas for the human innovation
and expression that ultimately grafted a cultural dimension to the
island. North Manitou Island is unique in the richness of its combination
of scenic and cultural resources.
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