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Book Cover
Our Fourth Shore
Great Lakes Shoreline






The Lakes and Their Areas

A Region for Recreation

Sands and Scenery

The Land and Its Life

Discovery and Development


Great Lakes Shoreline Recreation Area Survey
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sandy beach
Nature's battles: as quite as shifting sands.


Basic Facts

Because the "general" shoreline classification (used by the seacoast surveys) would eliminate the Lake ends, the connecting waters and the outlet to the sea, a "total" shoreline figure was used on the Great Lakes Survey. The United States portion of this shoreline equals 5,480 miles—1,480 of which emcompass the many off shore islands.

Guardian of the rocky shores.

Public action to preserve natural and other recreational lands along the Great Lakes shoreline has resulted in the acquisition of approximately 265,000 acres (over one-half of which is in Isle Royale National Park). However, subtracting the 197 miles of shoreline of Isle Royale and Perry's Victory National Monument (both on islands), this leaves 497 miles of shore which are devoted to recreation. This remaining public recreation ownership along the mainland shoreline is distributed thus: National Park area—1 mile, National Forests—45 miles, State Parks—180 miles, State Forests—151 miles, State Game areas—44 miles, County, Township and Municipal Parks—76 miles.

The Survey found that 4,786 miles of the over-all shoreline are in private ownership and hence not usable by the public for recreation. Of this private ownership, 426 miles were identified during the survey as possessing important remaining opportunities for recreation and other public benefits. These were divided among 66 individual areas with 40 in Michigan, 8 in New York, 7 in Wisconsin, 6 in Ohio, 2 in Minnesota, and one each in Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

The 66 individual areas include 5 with 118 miles of shoreline for possible inclusion in the National Park System, 2 major wildlife areas of possible national significance, 39 areas for state parks, 8 state forest areas, 1 state wildlife area and 11 areas of local significance.


1. The shorelines of the Great Lakes, like those of the Atlantic, Pacific and the Gulf coasts, are such a valuable segment of our national heritage, that representative sections of them should be accessible to all the people. It is recommended that an over-all precentage of 15 percent in public ownership be considered an absolute minimum. In certain places, particularly around large centers of population, this figure should be 20 percent or more.

2. In addition to those areas noteworthy for their scenic or active use potential, swamps and marshlands should have high priority for public acquisition. Although many such areas may not be directly used or even seen by humans, their usefulness as resting grounds and nesting areas for migrating birds will be appreciated everywhere.

3. As natural areas gradually disappear from the scene, examples of outstanding biotic communities become more valuable for appreciation of our natural heritage and grounds for scientific study. Unique examples, such as Mentor Marsh in Ohio and Tobico Marsh in Michigan, remaining today, should be preserved for tomorrow.

4. Representative examples of our cultural history, such as Fayette, Michigan, should be preserved so that our progress can be noted, so that past exploits can be commemorated, so that citizens of tomorrow can appreciate the pioneers of yesterday. Museums, each devoted exclusively to a particular phase of history, might be established at sites where, if possible, physical remains create a tie with the past.

5. Considerable public shoreline properties are presently devoted to maintaining safety on the waters or security of our national way of life. If and when Coast Guard installations or military reservations become surplus to existing needs, conversion to public recreation should be given first priority.

Islands and isolation — still synonymous on the Great Lakes.

6. Because of access limitations, off-shore islands will probably be the last bastions against the onslaught of intensive development. Now, while man's intrusive influences on natural values are still at a minimum, action should be taken to acquire South Manitou Island and others for their unspoiled settings and as biotic laboratories of the future.

7. One of the fastest growing recreation use demands on the Great Lakes is for additional pleasure boat mooring facilities — especially around Detroit. Although a thorough study of this problem was not possible within the time limits of this type of survey, it is recommended that provisions be made where such uses will not conflict with existing natural values.

industrial development along lakeshore
Industrial wastes — a threat to water purity.

8. Except where outstanding scenic, scientific or recreation values are involved, first consideration should be given to acquisition of potential recreation shoreline near centers of population like Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee.

9. Although the primary objective of this Survey dealt with the inventory of remaining undeveloped areas, attention was given to recreation shoreline that has already "vanished." Consultation with various metropolitan planning organizations revealed an acute awareness of the problems and sound plans for improvement. It is highly recommended that current planning for creation of additional shoreline recreation space around metropolitan areas be given every consideration.

Pigeon Point and North Shore Drive
Top: Pigeon Point, Minnesota. Bottom: Scenic North Shore Drive.

10. The advent of the St. Lawrence Seaway has increased industrial demands for Great Lakes frontage — especially for new harbor space. Responsible planning groups should carefully evaluate long range recreation needs and select port sites where a minimum effect on recreation values would occur.

11. Outstanding scenic highways such as Minnesota's North Shore Drive and U. S. Highway No. 2 along the south side of Michigan's Upper Peninsula should receive careful planning and controls to prevent unrestricted development which could adversely affect or destroy existing intrinsic values. Alignment of any future lakeshore highways should be carefully planned so as not to restrict ultimate development of existing and proposed park areas.

12. Pollution of water is a major problem in the fresh water of the Great Lakes — not only from a consumption basis but in relation to recreation and biotic values. Adequate legislation and strict enforcement are needed to control sewage and industrial waste disposal.

13. In view of their possible national significance, further study should be given to Pigeon Point, the Huron Mountains, the Pictured Rocks, Sleeping Bear and Indiana Dunes to determine the best plan for preservation.

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Last Modified: Mon, Dec 22 2003 10:00:00 pm PDT

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