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Merit Award -- Research

Tending a "Comfortable Wilderness:" Documenting and Managing Agricultural Landscapes and Cultural Resources at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Eric MacDonald and Arnold R. Alanen, Affiliate ASLA, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Supported by: Kim Mann, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore; Marla McEnaney, Midwest Regional Office, National Park Service; Sherda Williams, Midwest Regional Office, National Park Service

Arnold Alanen
Professor & Chairperson, Dept. of Landscape Architecture
University of Wisconsin-Madison
1 Agricultural Hall
1450 Linden Drive
Madison, WI 53706
Tel: 608-263-3956
Fax: 608-265-6262

Purpose: This report, which appeared in late 2000, represents the culmination of a four-year-long effort to document the historic cultural landscapes and resources associated with agriculture at North Manitou Island (NMI), a key unit of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (SBDNL). Congressional action led to the designation of 56,000-acres of Lake Michigan shoreline as SBDNL in 1970, followed by the addition of NMI's 15,000-acres in 1984. The enabling legislation emphasized the landscape's "outstanding natural features forests, beaches, dune formations and ancient glacial phenomena"; but gave little attention to its cultural resources, even though there was a long history of human activity related to the area. Indeed, all but 27-acres of North Manitou were designated as wilderness, which meant that the island's cultural resources-including six properties deemed possibly eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places-would be allowed to deteriorate.

In 1994, following a Michigan Historic Preservation Office review of the potential impact, a proposed photoelectric facility would have on North Manitou Island, it was determined that one cultural property-an 1854 life saving station-was so significant that it merited designation as a National Historic Landmark. These actions led the Midwest Regional Office of the NPS to commission this study, Tending a "Comfortable Wilderness", to pursue the following: document the island's agricultural, homestead, settlement, and ethnic patterns and features, including orchard operations; link these features to the structures and landscapes associated with resorts, life saving, and fishing; evaluate the significance and integrity of the extant structures and landscapes; and recommend priorities for preserving the identified resources.

Community Context: Prior to its inclusion as an NPS unit, nearly all of North Manitou had been controlled by a single owner for several decades, and was terra incognita to the people who resided in the greater Traverse City region. Therefore, this project not only documented the island's resources and provided management guidelines for the NPS, but also contributed to greater public awareness of NMI. Because of the information provided in the report, and through presentations made by the investigators, public organizations were formed ("Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear") or reactivated to develop measures that would lead to the protection of the resources. The resources have subsequently received federal and partnership funding for preservation purposes because of this public awareness and activity.

Role of Landscape Architects: Assistants helped with some data-gathering, but all facets of report preparation were the entrants' responsibility.

Special Factors: As stated by SBDNL's historical architect, without the North Manitou project and report, "the cultural resources would have been doomed to the bulldozer. Park managers can no longer ignore the significance of the island's landscapes and structures."

Significance: The professional research and artistic quality of the report has contributed significantly to increased public awareness of the field of landscape architecture. Moreover, the unique literary attributes displayed by the report-a feature seldom found in documents of this type-made the publication so popular that it was subsequently reprinted and is now available for purchase in local bookstores. The director of the county historical society stated that the report "opens windows on new perspectives for North Manitou Island. The authors have woven its complexities into a coherent and sympathetic narrative that truly understands the place." The project also meets the judging criteria for research since rigorous historical methods were consistently employed, especially the extensive use of primary sources that ranged from homestead records, agricultural and census manuscript schedules, photographs, and manuscript maps, to landscape and building features and remnants.

2002 Award Winners
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