Door County could see a national park in their neighborhood if the Friends of the Grand Traverse Islands have their way.
The Grand Traverse Islands are a series of islands which make up the “thumb” of Wisconsin, starting at Washington Island and going north towards Michigan.
The proposal calls for 7,047 acres of the islands, and some parts of the mainland, to be made into a National Park.
John Bacon, a founding member of Friends of the Grand Traverse Islands and an experienced outdoorsman, recalls a moment which instigated his decision to create the proposal.
Bacon said, “I remember leading a boy scout troop up to Rock Island, which is close to the center of the Grand Traverse Islands. I remember being up there and thinking, ‘This is a really beautiful place. How was this never created? How was this never established as a national park?’ And I figured it must be because it’s all private property or something.”
In fact, most of the land which is now in the proposal is already owned by state, county or federal governments.
One benefit, Bacon said, of transitioning this land into a national park is that the park would all be under the environmental protection of the federal government. This however, would not be a change for most parts of the proposed park since much of it is already overseen by the US Fish and Wildlife Services, or State Park Services.
Bacon explained that the key benefit would be giving more public access to these waters and islands than what is currently allowed. This in turn, he hopes, will promote a sort of inherent protection of it.
“If you can’t go experience the place, if you can’t go connect with it, you’re not going to care about it, and that’s how the people of our organization have always felt,” Bacon said.
Additionally, the creation of a national park would allow for more public safety.
“Right now, there are not many places where you can legally land a boat,” Bacon said.
This can be a problem for recreational users who get caught in inclement weather in the summer months. The creation of a national park would establish more safe places for boaters to tuck away.
There are also several historic sites within the proposed national park lands which are currently being left to decay. This includes the first lighthouse built in Wisconsin, which would be protected by the creation of a national park.
Bacon also thinks the surrounding communities would benefit financially from a national park, since national parks tend to draw more attention and traffic than state or county parks.
“The tourism industry would benefit,” Bacon said.
The Friends of the Grand Traverse Islands feel confident that this proposal can be seen all the way through to reality.
“We’ve sat down with federal representatives. We’ve had conversations with them and we have those letters of support; we have interest from the community,” Bacon said.
However, the Friends of the Grand Traverse Islands will ultimately need congressional approval to turn the site into a National Park, and that, Bacon said, may take some time.
Environment Section Editor