2020 $26.35 Grand Island Ice Caves – Express Mail
US #5430 – Ice caves are a popular attraction at the park.

On October 15, 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation establishing the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on the shore of Lake Superior. It was the first national lakeshore in the United States.

2020 $26.35 Grand Island Ice Caves Fleetwood First Day Cover with Digital Color Postmark
US #5430 – Fleetwood First Day Cover with Digital Color Postmark

The park is known for its 15 miles of colorful cliffs sandstone, called the “pictured rocks.” The cliffs are up to 200 feet tall and are surrounded by different rock formations such as natural archways, caves, and more. The colors in Pictured Rocks’ cliffs come from minerals in the rock. When groundwater comes out of these rocks, iron (red), manganese (black-white), limonite (yellow-brown), copper (pink-green), and other minerals come with it. As the groundwater dries, the minerals leave behind streaks of color.

2006 39¢ Lake Superior, Largest Lake
US #4047 – Lake Superior is the world’s largest freshwater lake.

Some of the first inhabitants of the Pictured Rocks area were the Ojibwe (or Chippewa) people. The Ojibwe spread out around Lake Superior (which they called gichi-gami or great sea). Their main village was established at nearby Grand Island, but the Ojibwe traveled to Pictured Rocks and Grand Sable Dunes to fish, hunt, and gather maple sugar. The Ojibwe saw the Pictured Rocks formations as alive with invisible spirits.  They paid great respect to the area, leaving offerings when traveling the dangerous coastline nearby.

2007 39¢ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
US #4124 – Some of Longfellow’s famed epic The Song of Hiawatha was set in the Pictured Rocks area, though he’d never visited himself.

The first known European to explore Pictured Rocks was fur trader Pierre-Esprit Radisson in 1658. Their Native American companions called the rocks nauitouchsinagoit, which Radisson took to mean “likeness of the devil,” and left offerings of tobacco to the spirits. Other than a few stray fur traders and missionaries, Pictured Rocks remained largely unknown and untouched until the Lewis Cass Expedition in 1820. Henry Rowe Schoolcraft’s observations of the area were later published and used by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his epic poem The Song of Hiawatha. Attention only came to the area once its copper deposits and other natural resources were discovered.

1992 29¢ Minerals: Copper
US #2701 – The discovery of copper led to greater interest in the area.

In the 1840s, the US supply of white pine from New England was depleted and a new source was needed.  Michigan’s vast forests became the next target of the logging industry. Lake Superior and the nearby rivers and creeks made transporting logs easy before railroads reached the area. White pine was the most popular tree taken because it was very buoyant and could be made into rafts and floated to market. Pine was also soft, making logging much easier than hardwoods like maple.

1987 22¢ Michigan Statehood
US #2246 – Loggers came to the area for white pine, which was made Michigan’s state tree in 1955.

The first major clear-cutting in Pictured Rocks started around 1880 by Thomas G. Sullivan. Between 1882 and 1909, over 3,000 acres of white pine trees were logged from Pictured Rocks. Once the pine was gone, companies like the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company came to cut the hardwoods between the early 1900s to 1938.  They later burned the wood into charcoal, an important product to produce iron.

1988 15¢ Transportation Series: Tugboat, 1900s
US #2260 – The area is known for treacherous reefs and violent storms, and is the resting place of 22 shipwrecks.

Michigan Senator Philip A. Hart was possibly the most important person in getting Pictured Rocks designated as a national lakeshore. Hart introduced the first federal bill to preserve Pictured Rocks on June 27, 1961. The bill proposed a 67,000-acre park on the shore of Lake Superior between Munising and Grand Marais. However, many landowners objected, and logging companies opposed it due to the loss of so much potential product. They were particularly worried that establishing one protected area in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula would inspire even more to be established, resulting in more timberlands being taken away.

2018 Pictured Rock National Lakeshore Quarter, D Mint
Item # CNPRMI25D – Pictured Rocks quarter from the Denver Mint

Despite the lack of support, Senator Hart continued to praise Pictured Rocks and promote the potential benefits of a park. One of the biggest points that began to sway people to his side was the economic benefits of a large recreation area. Nearby Mackinac Island had proved the positive effects tourism had on local economies, and Hart claimed Pictured Rocks could do the same. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson requested Hart’s help with the Civil Rights Movement, so Raymond Clevenger became the new advocate for Pictured Rocks.

2018 Pictured Rock National Lakeshore Quarter, P Mint
Item # CNPRMI25P – Pictured Rocks quarter from the Philadelphia Mint

In June 1965, Clevenger introduced a bill to the House of Representatives in support of Hart’s previous Senate bill. Clevenger hit many of the same obstacles as Hart, including the still-insistent logging industry, but was able to reach compromises where Hart couldn’t. Finally, on September 19, 1966, the House passed the bill. The Senate accepted Hart’s bill with minor revisions and passed it. On October 15, 1966, President Johnson signed Public Law 89-668 creating Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the country’s first National Lakeshore.

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  1. Seems rather odd that it took until 1966 for the U.S. to come up with its first national lakeshore, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I have been there, and it is beautiful. Thank you for the educating article.

  2. I have often quoted author Wallace Stegner in this space, “National Parks are the best idea America ever had.” That also goes for National Monuments, National Seashores, Wildlife and Bird Sanctuaries, Wilderness areas, National Historic Sites, etc. Thank you, Senator Philip Hart, Congressman Raymond Clevenger, President Johnson, and all the members of Congress who voted to preserve this beautiful area.

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