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Half of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore would be wilderness area

On Wednesday, the United States Senate unanimously passed a bill that brings Congress one step closer to declare a portion of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, some 32,557 acres,  as a "wilderness area."

Though the Sleeping Bear Dunes is already protected, it hasn't been declared a wilderness area yet.

Congress can designates wilderness areas under the Wilderness Act:

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

Wilderness areas try erase any trace of human activity. These designations can be controversial when some believe human history in the area should be preserved. The National Park Service has faced situations like this in the past.

The bill was sponsored by Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin, and will affect almost half of the 35 miles of National Lakeshore.

Melissa Anders of MLive,wrotethat the bill is "the result of 13 years of planning and discussions to update the park's general management plan."

The U.S. National Park Service supports the plan, which it said will not limit public access. Roads, highways, boat launches and other structures were excluded from the wilderness designation. Park visitors will continue to be able to hunt, fish, hike and camp in designated areas.

According to thepress releasethat Senator Stabenow posted on her website, the protected area will remain undeveloped in order to maintain its natural beauty. Motor boats would still be allowed offshore of the dunes, and would be able to pull up to the beach in areas next to the potentially protected wilderness area.

"Every year, the park attracts 1.2 million visitors from around the world who want to enjoy the splendor of the Dunes and the Great Lakes," Stabenow said. "With the designation of this wilderness land, we are preserving the sights, sounds and beauty of the lakeshore while promoting one of our state's top tourist attractions."

-- Lucy Perkins, Michigan Radio Newsroom