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.