The six Great Lakes parks mentioned in NPCA's report collectively attract more than 5 million visitors each year. Together, these parks face more than $30 million in deferred maintenance costs. And they all face these common threats:
Invasive Species Harming Parks
- At Sleeping Bear Dunes, shorebirds and waterfowl are dying by the hundreds from botulism bacteria. These birds feed on fish in Lake Michigan, which in turn feed on zebra mussels, an invasive species brought into the Great Lakes in the ballast water of large shipping vessels. The mussels filter botulism out of the water and it becomes concentrated in their systems.
- Another invasive species at Sleeping Bear Dunes is the baby’s breath plant, which is choking out native plant habitat. About 25 percent of the park’s plant life is invasive species.
- At Pictured Rocks, non-native species competing for resources with native plants and animals are contributing to the decline of fresh water clams and coaster brook trout.
- At Indiana Dunes, black locust and cheatgrass threaten the diversity of the plant community.
Lack of Staff Resources to Protect Sensitive Areas
- At Apostle Islands, sensitive landscapes and beach grasses are at risk from trampling by visitors. Although trails are marked, people invariably stray from them. There are only two permanent environmental staff responsible for protecting 21 islands and more than 42,000 acres.
- At Sleeping Bear Dunes, Indiana Dunes, and Pictured Rocks, sensitive dune habitats are at risk because of unauthorized visitor use. At Sleeping Bear, for example, there are only two rangers to patrol the entire 35 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and hundreds of thousands of acres of park.
Deteriorating Conditions of Valuable Historic Resources
- At Keewenaw, historic structures are key resources for the park to interpret the region’s mining history. At current funding levels, the park’s maintenance staff is only able to react to problems once they have been identified, rather than giving structures routine preventative care.
- At Apostle Islands, visitors enjoy photographing and taking interpretive history tours of the park’s six light stations, but funding for the maintenance of these structures has been deferred due to a chronic lack of historic structure and cultural landscape reports.
- At Indiana Dunes, museum storage facilities are not adequate to house artifact collections and some items are at risk of being damaged or destroyed.
But just as these parks face common threats, they share common solutions. We can help preserve the parks of the Great Lakes by becoming more responsible visitors, learning about the threats from invasive species, and joining park volunteers.
The Great Lakes national parks need our assistance, and that is why NPCA has opened a Midwest Regional Office. It’s our job to educate the public about all the threats our national parks face and to rally supporters around park issues. We need to make sure these parks are adequately funded so that they have the best tools available to battle these threats.