Michigan’s state park system is considered one of the finest in the nation. Dating back to 1917, the system includes 103 parks and recreation areas that sustain more than 25 million annual visits.
But there’s another, smaller park system, and it’s underwater.
The underwater preserve system is also on public land – the nearly 40,000 square miles of Great Lakes bottomland, all of which is held in trust for the people of Michigan by state government. The system now includes 13 preserves encompassing 7,200 square miles of lakebed.
Our bottomland preserve law was essentially enacted to protect shipwrecks and promote sport diving, and it has been a success in meeting those objectives. But the system could be broader in scope. The state law authorizing these preserves says they can be established wherever a bottomland contains “a single watercraft of significant historical value, includes 2 or more abandoned watercraft, or contains other features of archaeological, historical, recreational, geological, or environmental significance.” Designation then leads to protection.
Federal law provides for marine sanctuaries. Michigan is the only Great Lakes state containing one, the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, although there have been proposals for sanctuaries in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and New York state waters. The current administration in Washington does not support new sanctuaries. Thus, it makes even more sense for Michigan to identify, and fund protection of, its underwater resources.