National Parks Conservation Association Exposes Threats to Great Lakes Parks

Date:   October 9, 2007
Contact:   Lynn McClure, Midwest Regional Director, NPCA, O: 312.263.0111, C: 312.343.7216,

National Parks Conservation Association Exposes Threats to Great Lakes Parks

New Report Details Effects of Pollution, Invasive Species on Six National Parks

CHICAGO, IL – The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) today released a report that highlights threats to the natural features and cultural sites in six national parks along the Great Lakes—Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin; Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana; Isle Royale National Park, Michigan; Keweenaw National Historical Park, Michigan; Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan; and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan.

“The Great Lakes are a priceless resource for our nation and these parks were created to protect the natural wonders and preserve the facets of our nation’s history that the region has to offer,” said Lynn McClure, NPCA Midwest regional director. “The parks support a variety of wildlife, provide abundant recreational opportunities, and help support regional economies, so it is crucial that we ensure they are well protected and get the funding that they need and deserve.”

According to NPCA’s Center for State of the Parks report, the Great Lakes parks face threats from air and water pollution, non-native species that are seriously damaging ecosystems, adjacent development, and funding shortfalls that are threatening every aspect of the parks.

Some highlights of the report include: 

  • At Apostle Islands, there are only two permanent environmental staff responsible for protecting 21 islands spread over 265,000 acres; sandscapes and beach grasses are at risk from trampling and invasive plant species. Rare plant communities are threatened by rapidly increasing white tailed deer populations. Historic buildings at six historic lighthouses, some of which are major visitor attractions, need new roofs, painting, and other maintenance that is beyond the park staff’s ability to keep pace with.  
  • At Indiana Dunes, pollution from ozone, sulphur dioxide, sulfate, and mercury from surrounding industrial facilities significantly harms the air quality of the park. Contamination from runoff, industrial pollution, and sewage systems degrades park waters, including Lake Michigan. The park’s namesake dunes are retreating due to adjacent shoreline development that prevents the natural deposit of sand that replenishes the dunes. 
  • At Isle Royale, airborne mercury and sulphur dioxide that are deposited in park waters and on park lands are of grave concern to park managers; non-native species found in Lake Superior, such as the spiny water flea and sea lamprey, are threatening native fish species in park waters.
  • At Keweenaw, development on private lands within and adjacent to the park, and an incomplete knowledge of those resources not owned by the park, threatens historic structures and archaeological sites. The park also lacks a visitor center, which would make information on the park available year-round and provide a place to display museum objects that are currently in storage.
  • At Pictured Rocks, non-native species competing for resources with native plants and animals have contributed to a decline in species including fresh water clams and native coaster brook trout. Sensitive dune habitats are threatened by inappropriate visitor use and some critical historic structures such as Coast Guard stations and lighthouses are in poor condition. The park’s museum collection, which features artifacts from shipwrecks, local logging and maritime history, and American Indian life, is not maintained at a professional level due to lack of staff and appropriate storage facilities.
  • At Sleeping Bear Dunes, the invasion of species that were not originally part of the local ecosystem, including the Baby’s Breath plant in the park’s namesake dunes, is threatening biodiversity. Because of the high level of visitation to the dunes, vegetation has been removed and erosion is occurring in high traffic areas. Water quality and the ecological integrity of Lake Michigan is in dire condition due to invasive species such as quagga and zebra mussels, which have taken over most of the lakebed. The mussels’ feeding habits lead to other problems such as shorebird deaths from Botulism, which has killed hundreds of loons. Farms, villages, lifesaving stations and lighthouses, and prehistoric archaeological sites are all in need of maintenance.

The report details park-by-park funding and staffing needs, park planning efforts, educational opportunities, and the important external support provided by volunteers and partner organizations.

“National parks contain and preserve our nation’s most significant resources for future generations. They are treasured places where people can reconnect with nature and learn about facets of our history,” said McClure. “Park visitors expect to find healthy ecosystems, clean air, and well-maintained historic sites, but this is not always the case. Each of the Great Lakes national parks assessed in this report faces threats on those fronts. NPCA hopes that this report will inspire people to take action to protect and preserve those parks for present and future generations.”

NPCA launched the landmark State of the Parks program in 2000 to assess the health of national parks across the country. To view a copy of the full report, visit:


Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice of the American people in protecting and enhancing our National Park System. NPCA, its 325,000 members, and partners work together to protect the park system and preserve our nation's natural, historical, and cultural heritage for generations to come.



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