National Park Service
This view of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan shows a neighboring power plant. The National Parks Conservation Association says such development is threatening Great Lakes national parks.
updated 10/10/2007 11:37:56 AM ET 2007-10-10T15:37:56

Shrinking dunes. Crumbling lighthouses. Decimated populations of native trout and clams. These are among a long list of threats to national parks and lakeshores in the Great Lakes region, a nonprofit advocacy group said Tuesday.

The National Parks Conservation Association said the Great Lakes parks are suffering from regionwide environmental problems such as air and water pollution. But some also have unique challenges, including decay of archaeological resources.

Like all national parks, they also need more staff and bigger budgets, the group said.

"Park visitors expect to find healthy ecosystems, clean air and well-maintained historic sites, but this is not always the case," said Lynn McClure, the association's Midwest regional director.

Advocates have long complained the National Park Service is underfunded. President Bush last year proposed up to $3 billion in public and private spending to upgrade the system in preparation for its 100th anniversary in 2016.

The 325,000-member conservation association has issued a series of reports since 2000 on how individual units are doing.

The newly issued Great Lakes version deals with Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on Lake Superior in Wisconsin and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan, plus four parks in Michigan: Isle Royale National Park and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, both on Lake Superior; Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan; and Keweenaw National Historical Park near Lake Superior.

Each report uses data supplied by park managers and is supplemented by findings of researchers with the conservation association, McClure said.

Non-native invaders
Invasive species, which are damaging the entire Great Lakes ecosystem, are showing up at most of the parks, the group said.

At Indiana Dunes, they include the black locust tree and reed canary grass. Zebra mussels, found in shallow waters across most of the lakes, are believed largely responsible for rampant algae growth and waterfowl kills at Sleeping Bear Dunes.

The prized coaster brook trout and freshwater clam populations have slumped in the Pictured Rocks area, partly because of competition from foreign trout, salmon and mussels. Knapwood and white sweet clover threaten to overwhelm native dune plant communities there.

Phyllis Green, superintendent of Isle Royale, last month ordered boaters and commercial shippers not to empty ballast tanks within the park's Lake Superior waters, hoping to ward off an alien virus killing fish in the other lakes.

Mercury, sulfur dioxide and other contaminants pollute the air at Indiana Dunes and the waters around Isle Royale. The dunes for which the Indiana park is named are retreating because development of the adjacent shoreline prevents natural sand deposits from replenishing them.

Development also threatens historic buildings and archaeological sites at the Keweenaw park, which celebrates the mining era in Michigan's western Upper Peninsula, the report said.

Maintenance backlog
Many of the parks have cultural sites in dire need of fix-ups or restoration, the report said. The cost of their delayed repair projects exceeds $30 million.

National Park Service
Isle Royale National Park on Lake Superior has seen maintenance issues like a collapsed boathouse and a tree growing in a steam engine smokestack.
"The parks have had so many challenges with so little money, they can't attend to things like routine maintenance at some of the historic structures," McClure said. "Some have been closed off to visitors."

At Isle Royale, a steam engine dating to the 19th century mining era has been so neglected that a tree is poking its way through the smokestack, Green said. A boathouse from the early 20th century collapsed a couple of years ago.

"We are a wilderness area, and there are some aging structures that we're comfortable with allowing to revert back to nature," she said. "But it should be our choice, not because of the budget."

Sleeping Bear Dunes has 366 historic structures "from lighthouses to outhouses," the report said. Its deferred maintenance costs total $11.2 million. Meanwhile, six historic lighthouses at Apostle Islands need new roofs and painting.

The National Parks Conservation Association report is online at

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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