Traverse Lake Rd.’s a beauty, but falls short of special protection
At first blush, the National Park Service’s opposition to a Natural Beauty Road designation appears as quite a contrast.
But the request, brought by property owners along the north shore of Little Traverse Lake, was more of an effort to preserve the peace and quiet of the road than an attempt at saving its “ natural beauty” — that is, unless the sight of walkers and bikers enjoying Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore can be called a net detraction from the beauty of the park.
We argued with park officials against that thought right along. If, indeed, the park was bought for the good of the people, why not encourage the people to enjoy it? More recently, the Park Service has widened its role as steward of public land to include promotion of its use where compatible.
And so it’s somewhat ironic that a voice has emerged from outside the Park Service seeking to prevent an expansion of park usage. Thankfully, the three- member county Road Commission on Tuesday turned down the request — barely. Commission chair Lee Bowen joined with John Popa in voting no; long- time commissioner Glen Noonan voted yes.
For years, the Lakeshore has worked with nonprofit groups and other governments toward the construction of a major trail connecting one end of federal land to the other in Leelanau County. The hardpack, 27- mile trail will provide a place for folks to walk and bicycle away from traffic, while mostly following existing rights- of- way along county roads and state highways.
One portion of the trail would detour off M- 22 and north around Little Traverse Lake, using Little Traverse Lake Road rights of way for a breather from busy traffic carried by the state highway.
Some riparian residents are up in arms over the thought. One way to fight back was to seek a Natural Beauty Road designation for Little Traverse Lake Road, which would toss some bureaucratic hurdles on the trail- building process. Only one thing. The road itself is far from pristine as defined by the state Natural Beauty Road act, which requires that roads “ have no development along them, but such development as exists at the time the road is designated should be compatible with the surroundings, and should not detract from the natural unspoiled character and visual impact of the road area.”
Little Traverse Lake Road has been “ developed” along its lake side for years. Yes, it’s a pretty drive, but with driveways every 100 feet or less in some spots. We’re thankful the Road Commission turned down the petition, and avoided setting up a precedent to establish Natural Beauty Roads in advance of development as opposed for their intrinsic values.
The National Park Service itself is given a loud voice in the process, as it owns about half of the road frontage. While its opposition to the Natural Road designation has been conveniently categorized as violating its mission, we believe otherwise.
The Park Service property north of Little Traverse Lake is being managed under the Wilderness Act; it would literally lake an act of Congress to reroute the road as being requested by some riparian owners.
However, a part of the designation is worth continuing to investigate. One suggestion for designated Natural Beauty Roads is to lower their speed limits to 25 or 35 mph. In the case of Little Traverse Lake Road, we concur — especially with an influx of trail users on the horizon. The speed limit was reduced from 55 to 40 mph in 2002; it makes sense to draw back the limit even further.
Diverting trail enthusiasts away from M- 22 where possible makes sense to us. Declaring Little Traverse Lake Road a natural beauty road does not.