EMPIRE, Mich. (AP) - The U.S. House approved a bill Tuesday designating more than 32,000 acres of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as a federal wilderness, the final legislative hurdle for a proposal that has been debated locally for more than a decade.
The measure cleared the Senate last June. It now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.
Famed for its towering sand dunes, some of which rise hundreds of feet above Lake Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes would become the first land to receive wilderness status from Congress in five years. More than 1.4 million people visited the lakeshore in 2011, pumping about $120 million into the local economy.
"Sleeping Bear Dunes is a national treasure and this legislation will ensure that it is protected for all Americans to enjoy," said Paul Spitler, director of wilderness campaigns for The Wilderness Society.
The bill preserves the area's natural features along with county roads, historical structures, access to the lake and recreation, including hunting and fishing.
"This legislation was done the right way - not by guys in Washington, but by concerned citizens in Leelanau and Benzie counties who worked together to make this possible," said U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, a Republican who sponsored the House version. His district includes the lakeshore.
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said the bill's passage "is good news for all of us who cherish the matchless beauty and the ecological importance of Sleeping Bear Dunes."
Congress established the lakeshore in 1970. It extends along 35 miles of coastline northwest of Traverse City. It includes land on Michigan's Lower Peninsula plus North and South Manitou Islands, which also will be designated as wilderness. The lakeshore features miles of sand beach, lush forests and inland lakes.
The Sleeping Bear Dunes designation comes in the year when the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act will be observed.
"Now is the time for Congress to turn its attention to the dozens of other bipartisan wilderness bills that have been awaiting action for years," Spitler said.
Sleeping Bear Dunes: http://www.nps.gov/slbe