Category: Politics

by Richard R. Tryon and others

Read about what happens when a liberal idea to control the use of the Sleeping Bear Dune along the shore of Lake Michigan near Empire runs into a determined owner of a small business. A couple that plowed their life savings into an enterprise only after securing all possible legal assurances found out that the federal government, when it wants something is hard to fight. They did anyway and won!
The second story tells of one of the many losers in such battles that happen all over the U.S. These two only about three miles apart.

Compassionate Conservatism and Individual property rights in America. A case study...or two...

Liberals like to appeal to environmentalists with calls to get homeowners out of areas near to government controlled land in the nation’s National Forests. So, they take tax dollars from those that can pay and buy out the properties that are subject to their purview, and then set out to make things better for the entire population.  Here are two near by stories that show how such actions don’t produce what the liberals intended.

If you stop today at the Riverside Canoe Trip location on Michigan Rt#22 at the Platte River bridge, you can ask for and receive a sheet of paper printed with the following handout...

Tom and Kathy Stocklen


Honor, Michigan

Along the Lake Michigan shore west and north of Traverse
City in the State of Michigan lies the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Sleeping Bear Dunes, managed by the National Park Service, winds more than 35 miles along the Michigan coast, from just north of Point Betsie through Empire, Glen Arbor, past Pyramid Point and nearly to Lake Leelanau. As befits a beautiful lakefront area, only four hours drive from Chicago and Detroit, Sleeping Bear Dunes is a popular resort.

However, it is hardly idyllic wilderness. People come not to disappear into wooded or mountainous isolation, but to canoe and fish and boat and swim and water ski and do all those things that are associated with people, warm weather and water. Thus it was that Riverside Canoes, Inc., located along the Platte River near the town of Honor in the southern portion of Sleeping Bear Dunes, had always done a thriving business. Each year from May 1 through mid-October, people from all over Michigan, the Upper Midwest and elsewhere came to canoe down the Platte River to Platte Lake and from Riverside down to Lake Michigan.
In 1971 Tom and Kathy Stocklen were considering the purchase of Riverside Canoes, Inc., from its longtime owner. Tom and Kathy Stocklen knew that with the passage into law of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Act in 1970 (retroactive to 1964), the National Park Service had been given virtual control over the vast area encompassed by the Act. In fact, more than 79,000 acres were included within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Tom and Kathy Stocklen learned that there were three categories of property within the boundaries of Sleeping Bear Dunes. Two of the categories, that is, those considered “environmental conservation areas” or “private use and development areas,” were subject to restrictions by the National Park Service to ensure that their use was “compatible with the purpose for which the lakeshore was established.” If the owners failed to abide by the restrictions or the National Park Service decided the land was needed for public use, the National Park Service could condemn the property.

However, the property owned by Riverside Canoes, Inc. fell into the third category, that is, “public use and development areas,” upon which no restrictions could be imposed and regarding which no condemnation was allowed, unless the National Park Service purchased it “immediately.” In addition, businesses in existence when the Sleeping Bear Dunes law was enacted were “grand fathered” that is, exempt from condemnation, so long as the “use does not impair the usefulness and attractiveness of the area designated for inclusion in the lakeshore.” Congress listed various commercial uses of property that it considered “compatible” with the purposes of the Act. The list included “marinas,” such as Riverside Canoes, Inc.
Despite the rather clear provisions of an Act of Congress, Tom and Kathy Stocklen still weren’t satisfied. They asked for and obtained, from the National Park Service, a “Certificate Prohibiting Condemnation.” Only then did Tom and Kathy Stocklen purchase Riverside Canoes, Inc.

Not more than ten years later the National Park Service was at Tom and Kathy Stocklen’s door demanding that they sign a restrictive easement that would have destroyed their business. When Tom and Kathy Stocklen refused, the National Park Service, in clear violation of federal law, initiated condemnation proceedings.
What about the “Certificate Prohibiting Condemnation” that the National Park Service signed? asked Tom and Kathy Stocklen. Responded one National Park Service official, “It’s not worth the paper it was printed on, just like the treaties we made with the Indians a hundred years ago.”
The remark reminded Tom and Kathy Stocklen of something they had read years before, attributed to the great Sioux Chief Red Cloud: “They made us many promises. More than I can remember. They only kept but one. They promised to take our land and they took it.”
Tom and Kathy Stocklen resolved to fight back, resolved not to be victims, resolved to force the U.S. Government to comply with the law, if not keep its promises. When the U.S. Government named Tom and Kathy Stocklen as defendants in a lawsuit, they were ready.
Tom and Kathy stood toe-to-toe with the National Park Service. They refused to give an inch. They had the law on their side and they had a signed document. They intended to fight and to win. In the end, Tom and Kathy Stocklen did just that. They kept their land.

Commentary by
Richard R. Tryon
Sept. 2, 2000

If you look at the happy faces of countless patrons at the Riverside Canoe Trip store and talk to its many employees you will be pleased by the scene. The adjacent Platte River has hosted thousands of canoeists as well as tubers and kayakers who have floated down to the mouth of the great Lake Michigan. Most learn something about nature on the way and most are careful to leave it as they find it!

The owners seem to have won the battle with the giants of the Federal Dept. of the Interior and its National Lakeshore Park Service that wanted to close down this business as well as the other Canoe Livery that once stood on the other side of the road and the KOA campground next to it. These businesses stood in the way of those that wanted federal control of access to the area and the supply of campground and other related services. The Civil Servants who stood to be promoted because of the need to manage a very large consumer related business that could become a government run business worked very hard to force the Stocklens out as they successfully did to the others. They failed because thousands of friends and the Mountain States Legal Foundation from Denver, Colorado came to their aid. It took intervention by then V.P. Dan Quayle in the late 1980s to finally quell the determination of the Park Service to overcome the legal obstacles to its taking over the establishment.

A tour of the government run camp ground near by is an opportunity to see how bureaucracy helps make jobs for scores of workers needed to run a camp ground the government way. With federal funds to pay the costs, and lawyers to drive up the costs with an ever increasing load of tasks needed to insure that all is run in a proper manner, it is not surprising that the area is clean but sterile. Still many campers come and take the spaces provided at subsidized rates that the old KOA could not have matched.

What does this history show? It shows that when a liberal in government has an opportunity to build a position with a power base, the Civil Service code permits opportunity for personal growth via time in grade, cost of living adjustments, and by promotion to higher pay grades that match the need to handle larger responsibilities. It is quite likely that some liberal minded folks thought that a government run operation that included the canoe livery would somehow be better managed than can be done by professionals in the profit seeking private enterprise. All they needed was the power of eminent domain to build their solution and destroy the competition at the same time!

That they failed and that the public gained a far more efficient access to the delights of the Riverside Canoe Livery is not hard for most of the patrons to understand and quickly accept. They show their appreciation at the cash register!

The compassionate conservative has no trouble recognizing that the liberal idea of controlling the entire Sleeping Bear area offers opportunity to manage the park with absolute authority and one can agree with the concept as far as it goes. But, when the compassionate conservative looks at the relative merits of the changes that were wrought vs the human costs required to achieve it, the answer is clear- do not let the federal government try to run a local business!

Not far away from this location is another of the many small lakes that dot the shoreline. It is Otter Lake, a quiet and small lake of no more than several hundred acres. Thirty years ago it had about ten more houses around it than the five that exist today. One of them was occupied every summer by my Aunt and Uncle, and I still have pictures of the trail to the dock on the lake and the views of the lovely pine trees around the small house. Today the house, which was purchased by condemnation, is gone and the old dock and stepping stones on the walk to it are removed too. Nobody stays there now. Nobody much comes there either, except the government employees entrusted with the tasks of keeping it looking like another patch of neglected lake shore land. I still like to visit it and think of my long departed relatives who enjoyed it long before I could come to the area.

As a compassionate conservative I would have liked to have been able to challenge the authority that thought it was a good idea to buy and take out these houses. Some of those purchased were never dismantled- just left to wait for a time when funds are allocated to do it. In the meantime, some government workers are loaned the houses as a place to live where the owners used to stay! Again I think that the compassionate conservative would have been slow to approve this liberal idea aimed at improving, when in fact they only managed to keep the old houses the same, with no interest in keeping them up. Funny, their actions made for a more conservative action than that which the original owners would have provided for they would no doubt have managed to continue to maintain and improve their properties while the government can’t do anything without an act of Congress!

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