A Modest Proposal: The Biggest State Park in America

When Michiganders want to point out where a specific location lies in the state, we often raise our hands and point at a spot somewhere on our palms.  Indeed, our identity is tied up in nicknames like The Mitten State.

But the legal boundaries of Michigan look nothing like a mitten or a hand. They are far broader, too.

Michigan includes over 38,000 square miles of Great Lakes surface area and underlying submerged lands.  These often-forgotten lands, when added to the Michigan land base above water, move Michigan from 22nd largest state to 11th. The 38,000 square miles of underwater land constitute more than one-third of the total area of Michigan and are larger than 11 states in the Union. Over water, Michigan borders not just Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio, but also Minnesota and Illinois.

By virtue of the public trust doctrine, both the open waters of the Great Lakes and underlying submerged lands are held in trust by the State of Michigan on behalf of the people of Michigan. The title and ownership of these waters and underlying submerged lands vested in the State of Michigan on admission to the Union on January 26, 1837, to be held in trust for the benefit of its citizens.

The public trust doctrine confers an obligation on the State of Michigan, as trustee, to protect public ownership of these open waters and submerged lands and to protect public uses of them including swimming, boating, fishing, sustenance, drinking water, sanitation, and many others.

Great Lakes submerged lands contain significant historical, ecological, biological, geological and other features–everything from suspected ancient aboriginal hunting sites established when water levels were far lower, to lake bottom sinkholes that mimic the environment of the early Earth.

Great Lakes open waters and underlying submerged lands are a unique endowment belonging to the people of Michigan, unlike that of any other state, and should be a source of pride for all Michiganders. They should be even more than that. They should be declared a state park officially open to all, for enjoyment by all.

It is not a new idea. Legislators proposed an official state park designation for Michigan’s Great Lakes waters and submerged lands in 2007 and 2008. But the legislative clock ran out.

Designating Great Lakes water and submerged lands a state park will affect their use little if at all in the short run. There won’t be an entrance fee as exists at traditional state parks. But the park concept would open the door to education and awareness among Michigan residents of the beauty beneath the waters and the need to protect it. Michiganders would benefit from that.

It’s time to revive the idea. Talk about national notoriety–a new state park larger than the entire state of Indiana.

5 comments on “A Modest Proposal: The Biggest State Park in America

  1. Marcia Thompson on

    Wow! I think this is a great idea, as future generations will benefit, immensely, from the research and discovery of plant life there! Awesome!!

  2. Sandy Bihn on

    Great idea…or..how about an national Great Lakes Park for all the surface and submerged lands?? Americans are very supportive and protective of our parks…
    Just a thought

  3. Patricia Hootman on

    I would not like to see Michigan as a state park because there would not be enough people to monitor its parks Lakes animals everything that makes Michigan very special to us michiganders. I don’t want to see any dumping in our Lakes rivers Forest nowhere in Michigan. That’s what makes Michigan a beautiful state because we all take pride in it. We want to keep our lake’s free of any debris or non-native species that should be put into are lake’s. We love our lakes and Forest we want to keep them pristine. We need to remove line five from our Lakes ,before any damage can be done to a wonderful Waterway. Upon removal of line five it has to be done with TLC so is not to damage our lakes in any way shape or form. We the people are responsible to keep watch over Michigan ,to make sure it remains as beautiful as it was given to us.

  4. leonard page on

    the great lakes obviously need more protection than they are getting now. state sovereignty over the great lakes bottomlands are currently being challenged by enbridge in federal court. enbridge has been trespassing there since 2021 claiming that only the federal government has the authority to regulate the highly dangerous vintage twin pipelines currently pumping 23 million gallons of alberta oil products to sarnia each day. state ownership of the bottomlands and its right to enforce/cancel enbridge’s written promises in the 1953 easement permitting it to be there — now mean nothing to enbridge. canada is even trying to enforce a 1977 treaty which on its face has no application to the straits situation. perhaps a park designation for the great lakes provides more protection for all that is sacred about pure michigan and its waters. enbridge is just the most pressing and imminent threat for disaster well beyond our comprehension. fresh water is now the “blue gold” for states lacking water and the life it brings. the pressure for diversion of 21% of the world’s fresh water is growing fast. whatever can be done to protect the great lakes from being harmed or destroyed is needed now–make that yesterday.


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