Camel's Hair and Locusts

A Tale From Our Sunset Years: What do You Do When the Old Man is Gone?

“Really don’t mind if you sit this one out.”

These opening words to Jethro Tull’s 1972 concept album, “Thick as a Brick,” seem to pop into my head every time I try to pray about who it is I should vote for in this bizarre presidential election of 2016.  The only time I find myself in real agreement with either of the questionable, and highly disagreeable, major party candidates is when one points a crooked finger at the other and pronounces him or her unfit to serve.  I know I’m not alone in this.  And it’s not like either of the unlikely third party candidates inspire any great confidence, and it’s not like I’m alone in this assessment either.  It would seem to me that if each state placed “none of the above” at the bottom of the ballot, President Above would be elected in a landslide.  And the nation would be the better for it.

What’s a citizen to do?  That’s a really tough question and it is not one to which I have any answer.  Anyone who has joined these monthly visits in print on a regular basis knows that I am pessimistic about the future of America on a good day and, because of this, it takes little to get me spinning stories “back down the years and the days of my youth.”  Such stories have come to form the basis for these monthly excursions into my advancing old age, as I have come to realize that much of the analysis of my youth was faulty and myopic anyway.  Experience has the distinct advantage of hindsight, which is always 20/20.
 
The theme of this month, leading up to the election which is now (thankfully) on the near November horizon, and, borrowing a line once more from “Thick as a Brick,” is “What do you do when the old man’s gone?”

In the 1957 docudrama movie Hellcats of the Navy, the “Old Man” is Commander Casey Abbot, portrayed by then future President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.  As the election approaches, and as a respite from it, Jean and I have taken to indulging in something of an ongoing nightly festival of Ronald Reagan movies.  I am especially enjoying such postwar fare as That Hagen Girl, costarring the ever adorable Shirley Temple as a maligned teen; Bedtime for Bonzo, the much panned, but thoroughly enjoyable, moral comedy costarring the title chimp; and Storm Warning, a taut, film noir thriller in which Reagan plays crusading prosecutor Burt Rainey, a man bent on exposing and ridding his town of the Klu Klux Klan.  We have taken to watching movies from this era in general, as I find myself much more able to identify with and understand the world I was born into than the one I find myself living in today.  And the cars were so much cooler.

During the 1980’s, when Ronald Reagan was president, I was a much younger and much less cynical man than the old coot I have become.  President Reagan was in no small part responsible for this.

In the foundering industrial economy of Michigan in the late 70s, Jean and I saw our future in central Michigan as limited, and knew our prospects for financial advancement were hampered by the encroaching economic phenomenon of the “rust belt.”  We sought relief by moving to Saginaw in 1980, only to discover that this once thriving community was well on the way to becoming the blight upon the landscape that it is today.  By 1982 we were ready to listen to my dad’s Horace Greely-esque advice to “Go south, young man, go south!”  And so we moved to San Carlos Park, Florida, just south of Fort Myers, and just down the street from my folks’ winter residence.  My dad was right that the economy was booming here, and by the spring of 1983, I was working as the night auditor at the Sundial Beach and Tennis Resort, a 450-unit condominium property on Sanibel Island.  By the time my dad passed away in 1985, I was general manager of a 50 room motor inn with a restaurant and bar, and had acquired a knowledge of accounting and administration that had me confident that I could succeed at whatever I wanted to do, at least in the hospitality business.  And by 1987, the Reagan recovery was in full swing and I now believed I could succeed even in my native Michigan.  So back we went in search of the American Dream.  And, what do you know?  We found it!

We packed up our two cars, Jean’s 1975 Mercury Marquis and my 1966 Buick Special and, along with our friend and partner, Carl Maucieri, we headed north up I-65 towards Michigan in April of 1987.  By the time we made this move, Carl had supported and furthered my hotel career as a desk clerk when I was assistant front office manager at Sundial, and as my lead auditor when I was night manager at the Marco Beach Hilton.  He rescued and rebuilt the night audit when I was controller at the Airport Ramada, and was my operations manager when I was general manager of the San Carlos Inn.  Carl was single, about 23 at the time, and up for an adventure.  It seemed logical that he would throw in with Jean and me and our four kids, and we were all excited at heading north together to seek our fortune.

We ended up in Leelanau County, that little finger of land that sticks out into Lake Michigan on the west side of Traverse City, and which by reputation, and in reality, is truly one of the most beautiful places on planet earth.  I immediately got work auditing at the Homestead Resort in Glen Arbor, and Jean and Carl went house hunting and came across just what we needed: an old 19th century farmstead that needed “TLC,” as the real estate agents call it.  The price was right, and by pooling our resources we were able to scrape up a small down payment.  We bought the home of our dreams from a man named Ken Shalda on a handshake and a land contract.  The next spring, we bought Bass Lake Cottages, a rundown little three-unit cottage resort from Ken’s brother, Dale, and did this in similar fashion with little down, another handshake, and another land contract.

The properties we purchased were located in the northern end of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, with the farmstead and its five acres, and the cottages and their two acres, like islands of private property in the sea of 70,000 acres of national parkland that surrounded us.  The barn had been painted in a patriotic mural for the Bicentennial in 1976 and was a local landmark.  The cottages sat across from picturesque and undeveloped Bass Lake, and the house on a corner with one of the crossroads ending at the pristine beach at Lake Michigan.  It was, to say the least, a beautiful, natural setting in the summertime, and in winter, with the ample snowfall we received, our home looked like a scene lifted from a Currier and Ives Christmas card.

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was established in 1970 when the federal government acquired what had previously been a much smaller state park and decided to expand it.  The establishment of the park had been preceded by 9 years of bitter controversy due to the fact that this expansion meant that much private property had to be acquired, and the 1600 local people directly affected were leery of both losing their homes, and their quality of life, due to the expected drastic increase in tourism.  The draconian way in which the National Park Service then proceeded with the federal park project proved these fears were not at all unfounded.  The resulting illegal strong arm tactics of the land acquisition officer, and the condescending attitude of other NPS personnel, greatly angered the local folks embroiled in all of this, and alienated many others who were appalled at the way their neighbors were being treated.  There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, this went on for many years, and it resulted in a successful lawsuit in federal court.  The story of all of this anguish is beyond the scope of the story I’m telling here, but anyone interested can read all about it in an excellent book on the subject titled, Sixties Sandstorm: The Fight over Establishment of a Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, 1961-1970 by Brian Kait [1].
   
Jean and Carl and I were, of course, oblivious to all of this when we purchased the farmhouse property in the spring of 1987.  Shortly after we moved in, Assistant Park Superintendent Ray Kimpel stopped by and introduced himself to Carl and me, and welcomed us to the area.  Our conversation with Mr. Kimpel was informal, warm and unpretentious, and he invited us to call him personally if we had any questions or concerns about the NPS.
 
As we got better acquainted with the local folks, we were quickly regaled with many horror stories concerning the establishment and operation of the park, and we became understandably concerned.  Our thought was to take a direct approach, so we called the park headquarters in Empire and asked Mr. Kimpel if he could stop by when he was up in our area.  When he arrived, we told him about the stories we were hearing and he was very straightforward with us: “The Park Service made a lot of mistakes and created a lot of bad feelings in the way it went about creating the National Lakeshore,” he told us.  “The goal of the Reagan Administration has been to try to mend fences and right wrongs as best we can, but the hurt runs deep and we haven’t been as successful as we would like in gaining the trust of a lot of people.”  He further explained that he would do his best to make sure we had no problems with the NPS, and what he asked in return was that we simply follow the rules and tell our neighbors that we were being treated fairly.  And for many years we were, and we didn’t hesitate to tell anyone who would listen.

When we were deciding whether or not to buy Bass Lake Cottages from Dale Shalda in the spring of 1987, we discussed the idea with Ray Kimpel and he was very supportive and encouraging as usual.  He told us we were being “good stewards” in the way we were working with the farm property and thought we were up for the bigger challenge the cottages represented.  The challenge was found in the fact that all of the buildings needed updating and repairs, but mostly it was the junkyard surrounding the cottage in which Dale lived that posed the greatest problem.

Now Dale Shalda was one of the very best friends I ever had, and was like a big brother and father figure to me.  The first time I met him was shortly after we moved into the farmhouse, the house he had grown up in, and he stopped over to introduce himself.  I was struggling to get the used Sears garden tractor I had just bought to run right, and with a couple of quick tweaks to a screw on the carburetor, he had it running perfectly in a matter of seconds.  Looking over the glasses that hung on his crooked nose, and with a dribble of tobacco juice staining his bushy beard, he said, “I’m about to be the best friend you ever had.”  And he was true to his word right up until the day he died in September of 2001.
 
Dale and his wife Lois became family to us and we wouldn’t have made it in northern Michigan without them.  The Shaldas were one of the founding families in Leelanau County, with roots going back to the early 1860’s, and when Dale Shalda said you were alright, as he did with us, people believed him, and we were accepted and appreciated in our new community from the time we arrived until we departed.  Space doesn’t permit me to tell you a fraction of all of the things that Dale and Lois did for us or how much they meant to us.  There are so many stories.  They referred to us as “the kids,” and it wasn’t like we were family, we actually were.  This was so much the case that when people used to ask if we were related, I would tell them that we were family related by property.

Author: Jo Guldi
Dale and Lois had moved to Leelanau County in 1968 when Dale’s dad, Louis Shalda, passed away.  Louie ran the family farm and worked as a handyman, while his wife, Louise, ran Bass Lake Cottages during the summer tourist season.  They did this from the time the cottages opened in 1937 until Louie got sick with cancer and subsequently died over 30 years later.  Dale came home to look after his folks, and he and Lois moved into the biggest of the cottages.  Louise insisted that they split this parcel off of the cottage property and quit-claimed it to Dale.  Dale was a body man and mechanic by trade, and set up shop in the old garage that served as storage space for the boats, picnic tables, and other outdoor amenities of the cottages.  He then put up a pole barn next to the garage and ran this operation as Bass Lake Body Shop.
 
In need of cash in 1978, Dale sold his property to the NPS but maintained possession of it on a 25-year leaseback.  This was a common practice during the time when the park was acquiring property, and what it meant for Dale and Lois was an influx of needed cash and the ability to stay put until 2003.  Leasebacks were transferable, and when we bought the cottage property, we also bought the remaining time on Dale’s leaseback.

The bylaws of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore outline compliant and noncompliant usages for property owned by private parties within the boundaries of the park.  The owners of such properties are called “inholders,” and inholders are required to be compliant in the usage of their property, and are also bound by what the NPS calls their right to “scenic easement.” This means the appearance of the property.  Tourist cottages are a compliant usage, and scenic easement means they must be kept up to park standards.  By the time we purchased the cottages in 1988, they were in such a state that they were pushing the boundaries of scenic easement.  Dale’s body shop was not only a noncompliant usage, but the expansive junkyard of discarded auto parts surrounding it was beyond the pale when it came to scenic easement.  Needless to say, the park management wanted this situation cleaned up and badgered Dale about it constantly, yet somehow he got away with it until he sold it to us.  We bought the cottages and the leaseback for a very attractive price, and took responsibility for the cleanup.

We couldn’t do much that first season.  We cleaned the grounds up and did some minimal repairs to the two smaller buildings, which we dubbed “the Cottage” and “the Cabin” because one was a frame cottage and the other was a vertical log cabin. The bigger one sat in Dale’s junkyard and we would eventually call it “the Lodge,” but for this first summer, we simply put snow fence around the junkyard and tried to act like it wasn’t there.  The inside of the building needed extensive remodeling, so it just sat.  In the fall, I hired my cousin, Dave, a terrific and very professional landscaper, and Carl and I tackled the job of removing the junkyard.  After an engine block and a couple of transmissions, we found what remained to be mostly discarded (and much lighter) body parts and miscellaneous small junk, and we had most of this Herculean task accomplished before the snow flew.
   
Heidi Swanson, who had been our night PBX operator at the Marco Beach Hilton, called early on in the summer and wanted to know if she could visit.  She’d been in a bad relationship and needed to get away.  We had lots of room and said, “Sure.”  She and Carl quickly became a couple, and they ended up moving into the Lodge that winter.  They were married in the spring, and so we bought out Carl’s interest in the properties and they moved out on their own.  Jean and I were able to borrow money from her family trust for this and to put into the cottages, but times were very tough and money was tight for us.  Jean worked at the Bluebird, a legendary local restaurant and bar in Leland, and made good money.  I worked as a night auditor at the Days Inn in Traverse City, and spent my days managing and running Bass Lake Cottages.

Our most trying time started in the late fall, during deer season, when a faulty gas line burned the Cottage beyond repair.  We already had a pretty challenging spring mapped out.  The junk yard was cleaned up, but the landscaping of the grounds hadn’t started yet.  Cousin Dave was going to help me do that in the spring – or rather I was going to help him.  We had to figure out something for décor for the interior of the Lodge and make numerous small repairs.  Now we had to remove the ruins of the cottage and build a new one.

Bass Lake Cottages was a forlorn sight when the insurance adjuster came to look at the burned out cottage.  One building in ruins, the others needing work, and the grounds covered in a light dusting of snow that didn’t begin to hide their deficiencies.  “Did this thing make money?” The insurance adjuster asked.  I knew what he was thinking.  “Yes,” I said.  “I know that doesn’t seem possible right now, but it did.”  I explained our business plan and told him I couldn’t recover if I couldn’t replace this building.  He looked me in the eye, said, “Okay,” and began taking photographs and measurements.  In a couple of weeks, we had a check sufficient for a new cottage.

The Park Service was aware of our situation and sympathetic.  I called Ray Kimpel to tell him we were going to be able to rebuild the cottage in the spring, and also informed him that we had the junkyard removed and were also going to redo the landscaping.
 
We hired a local contractor named Jim Patterson, who would become our close friend, and he laid out a plan for the replacement cottage that would actually be a big improvement over the original.  We had reservations booked for Memorial Day weekend, which meant, given the long, northern Michigan winter, we had about seven weeks to accomplish all that we needed to get done.

On April 1, the ruins of the cottage were removed, and the excavation was done for the foundation within the first week.  Jim Patterson worked on the new cottage every day and the building took shape quickly.  He came up with the idea of rough cut hemlock boards as a rustic paneling for the Lodge, and he and I would work on this at night along with making other repairs and improvements. Cousin Dave discovered that Dale’s junkyard actually went nearly a foot down into the sandy soil, and so he removed twelve inches of dirt and replaced it with clean sand and topsoil.  He made a volleyball court with 10 yards of fine quality beach sand we had hauled in, and we laid out flower beds bordered by some old creosote soaked logs that Dale had left behind.  We planted them with shady mix grass seed.  The grass looked so nice I never did put in the flowers we originally planned.  The rest of the yard was seeded and watered, and within a few weeks, we had a lush and pretty lawn that concealed the fact that a junkyard had ever been there.  We surrounded all three buildings with woodchips, and this not only looked spectacular, it had the added benefit of controlling the sand tracked in on the new carpeting.

It was near the end of this process in May when Ray Kimpel stopped by to see how we were doing.  Needless to say, he was impressed and even more so when Cousin Dave explained how thorough his cleanup had been.  “We went twelve inches down and caught a couple of environmental issues before they became bigger problems,” he told Mr. Kimpel.  Ray assured him that the Park Service was just as delighted about that as we were.

As I was walking Ray back to his truck, he noticed the woodchips being laid down in such a way as to reincorporate the Lodge back into the cottage grounds.  He stopped in front of his truck and turned and asked me if I was planning on using the Lodge as a transient tourist rental cottage like the other two.  I said, “Of course,” and my heart sank when he said, “You know, you can’t do that.”  I told him I was under the impression that returning the Lodge to its original usage was compliant and compatible with park goals.  He said, “It is if you own the building, but you don’t – the NPS does.  The contract you purchased from Dale is binding on you.  Single-family residential use only.”

“Look, Ray,” I began, “I’ve got my money, my wife’s family’s money and my blood sweat and tears tied up in this…” He stopped me.

“I’m not telling you what you should do,” he said.  “I’m just informing you of the situation.  As far as the park is concerned, we’re delighted with what you’ve done here and we agree with you that this is the best usage for the property.  In fact, it restores it to the original usage and that’s what the Master Plan calls for.  The last thing we want is a long term rental situation where somebody has cars up on blocks in the yard.  You just fixed that for us.  We don’t have enough money in our budget to keep all our vehicles on the road at the same time.  We couldn’t have done what you did.  What I am telling you is that as long as it isn’t a problem for anybody else, it isn’t a problem.”

Author: Garett Gabriel
It was never a problem and that was the last I ever heard about this.

In these early years, we operated the cottages only during the summer and closed down when deer season ended at the end of November.  Jean worked one winter as a ski lift operator at Sugar Loaf, a nearby ski resort, and I waited table at the J&S Hamburg in Traverse City.  We would scrape by this way until spring and then set up for summer and that glorious time when the tourists and their money would return.  This was a very delicate balance, and when Jean developed an issue with arrhythmia and was unable to work for the summer of 1990, it plunged us into an unforeseen crisis.
 
The solution we came up with, based upon much prayer and soul searching, was to put the farm and cottages up for sale and go back to Florida.  When I was able to rekindle my hospitality career at the Marco Beach Hilton, we put this all in God’s hands and bade our life, friends, and acquired family in Leelanau County a teary farewell.

I soon discovered that my heart was in running my own rustic little business, not in working in some big ritzy hotel.  I was homesick and miserable.  Jean was able to stay home in the nice house we had rented in Naples and take care of the kids, and this was healing and restorative for her.  She quickly regained her health. There was no interest in our property in Michigan, and so our life hung in limbo like this until one day in mid-winter, out of the blue, a deposit check arrived for the upcoming summer.  We had never thought to announce to our guests that we were selling out, and expected to pass any business we booked along to the new owners. When another check arrived the next day, and then another, the will of God became clear to us at last, and we quickly decided to go home and give it another try.  I decided that it was all or nothing, and that once we were open in the spring Bass Lake Cottages would never close again.  And it never did.

Once we were back home it seemed like things really started to fall into place for us.  Jean’s folks bought a condominium at the Homestead and asked us to manage it for them.  We easily rented out the weeks they weren’t there.  From this start we got the contract for a very nice three-bedroom house on Little Glen Lake.  Old Mike Mannick had two cottages down the road from us on the far end of Bass Lake, and when one of his renters nearly burned one of them down, and I was able to put the fire out before the fire department arrived, he almost begged us to take over the management of his place.  Suddenly, we were in the vacation rental management business.  We kept Bass Lake Cottages open all winter along with a few of our managed properties, and we soon had the warm feeling of knowing that when fall came we would still be around in the spring.

Author: Andrew McFarlane
During the summer of 1991, we had rented a room in the house to a young man Jean knew from the Bluebird named Andy McFarlane.  Andy was fresh out of college, and we traded him his room for work done around the farm and cottages.  He fancied himself “recreation director” at Bass Lake Cottages, but this never really amounted to much other than an amusement for us.  He brewed beer in our kitchen, and we found it much less amusing when he blew up a batch all over the stove.  But the kids loved Andy, and we did too.  And this was all good for all of us.
 
We didn’t at all see it coming that it would be Andy who would provide the final piece to our business puzzle when he asked to rent all three cottages for a late fall weekend.  All he told us was that he was gathering some friends for a “brainstorming” session on the “internet.”  We knew it had something to do with networking computers, but that was about it.  He came away with the idea that he was going to start a business building web sites.  We didn’t realize that he was about to start one of the earliest and, to this day, most successful web based companies in northern Michigan.  We simply decided it was easier to give him the $140 fee he wanted to develop and build a web site for us than to listen to him incessantly pitching the idea to us.  We didn’t see the significance in being the first hospitality business in Leelanau County to have a web presence at first.  When I noticed that people were really starting to pay attention to our web site, I sent Andy a link to hilton.com.  “Can you build us a sight with online booking and all of this other stuff?” I asked.  “Sure!” he said. “All the bells and whistles you want!”  Soon we had a state of the art hospitality web site, and found we had harnessed the power of internet marketing.
 
Our growth now was only limited by what we wanted to do with this new found marketing power, and we made the conscious decision that what we wanted was to maintain the lifestyle we were leading.  Jean and I saw ourselves as a modern day continuance of Louie and Louise Shalda, and our goal was to maintain their home and the spirit of their time in ours.  This would keep us in compliance with the park and with our country lifestyle.  Louie farmed crops on the additional 40 acres that the NPS now owned.  I farmed cottages, but the end result was the same.  We referred to ourselves as “simple country folks with awesome high technology,” but “simple country folks” was the goal and the reality.

The language of the Reagan era NPS included terms like “shared stewardship,” “community partnership,” and “cooperative agreement.”  The budgetary issues in federal agencies during the 80’s were the result of a shift in federal spending to the defense initiative that would eventually result in “Star Wars” and the economic defeat of the Soviet Union.  Decreased funding meant that park administrators had no choice to but to seek and gain the cooperation of inholders and other members of the local community if they wished to achieve the higher agenda set for them in Washington.  This was by design.  And it meant that those like us, who understood the park’s vision, and sought to achieve it by committing our own private resources to it, were appreciated as partners and as an invaluable component in achieving the goal of providing the visitors to the parks the value intended.  “Recreational opportunity” was to be balanced with “ecological and historical preservation,” but the overall goal was to provide the taxpayer citizen maximum return on his investment.  We thrived in these circumstances.  And while I flat out said that we wouldn’t have made it in Leelanau County without the Shaldas and all they did for us, it shouldn’t be lost on anyone that this is also equally true of the National Park Service.

The Reagan years ended in 1989.  George H.W. Bush became president, and the major change we observed in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was an increase in budget.  Newer vehicles and more staffing.  Added programs for visitors and new signage.  Key personnel pretty much stayed in place, and while the overall philosophy of the park management seemed to be a little more distant, we still maintained a positive and constructive relationship with the rangers and the other staffers we came in contact with.  We knew them and they knew us by this time, and we all knew what to expect from each other.  The appearance that the park administration wanted maintained was “at acquisition,” and during the summer our 1960’s era vehicles and 1953 Ford “N” tractor meant anyone driving by our place essentially was seeing a snapshot from this period.  This exceeded the park’s expectation of us, but it was surely a nice touch.

I was proud to be an American in these days.  I had bought into the “Reagan Revolution” and it had paid off for me.  I had worked hard in Florida to become a successful hotel manager and I had.  I even dressed in dark, pinstriped three-piece business suits and always wore a white shirt, just like the president.  In the days on the farm I was in cotton work shirts and jeans, like the president when he took time off at the Reagan Ranch.  People scoff at “trickle-down” economics today, but the economy trickled down to us and the harder we worked, and the better we got at what we did, the more the faucet opened.  And we made sure it trickled down from us.  Starting with Carl and Heidi, and then with several other couples and individuals, we helped spin successful small businesses off of ours.  I built accounting systems, offered business advice, and dedicated my time and expertise to anyone who needed or asked for my assistance.  We all shared our talents in this way and did for each other, and when one succeeded we all did and we celebrated it.

It seems funny to me now that there was such a place and time when I loved my country and my country loved me like this, but at the time it seemed like it would never end.  I would walk out to the flagpole by the Bicentennial Barn each morning and hoist the stars and stripes and proudly watch the red, white and blue wave gently in the fresh summer breeze that blew in off of Lake Michigan.  We were proud of the simple but strong rural culture around us in which business was conducted with a handshake, and a contract was just something to keep a lawyer happy.  We left our houses unlocked in case a neighbor needed to come in and borrow something.  We left the keys in our cars because that way we’d know where they were.  In all the years we were in business, I told each of my customers, “Your check is as good as gold,” and each and every one was.  The slogan we put on our brochure was, “It’s still America here.”  It was and we were proud of it.  People really responded to this.  They wanted it to still be America somewhere, and we heard their stories about how it wasn’t where they were from, and this prompted Dale Shalda to say, “The difference between us and them is that we’re happy and they’re not.”  It was true and we knew it, and we thanked God for it.  And it was this that sold more people on Leelanau County than the National Lakeshore ever did.
               
When Bill Clinton became president in 1993 things began to change.  Park staffing and management changed.  Rangers who were perceived as being too much a part of the local community left, and new ones appeared.  Those who were friendly and personable with the locals didn’t last long.  The veterans who did stay were those who were the longest tenured and they now spoke cautiously and guardedly with the locals if at all.  The language changed and a new Master Plan was in the works.  Terms like “designated wilderness,” “biodiversity,” and “habitat health” all came to be employed in a way that insinuated that those of us who resided within the park boundaries were somehow, either willfully or through our assumed ignorance, opposed to or prohibiting these noble and worthwhile goals.  “Historic preservation” came to be seen as vitally important for empty structures, such as the Port Oneida Historic Agricultural Landscape, which was three miles from us.  By the late 1990’s, park administrators and staff were referring to this area as a “ghost town” dating to the 1880’s.  It was a ghost town all right, but it dated to the 1970’s when the Land Acquisition Office bullied, coerced, and threatened the owners into selling out to the NPS.
 
The Shalda farmstead, where we lived, dated to the 1860’s – some 20 years before Port Oneida.  The landmark barn was such an attraction that I used to say that if I had a dollar for every photograph taken of it I wouldn’t have to do anything else.  That was a joke, but you’d be surprised how the Park by this time was believing this was some kind of an indication of character deficiency on my part.  Bass Lake Cottages dated back to 1937 and we’d restored the grounds and the cottages to their original usage circa the 1950’s, but it seemed like that had been forgotten at Park Headquarters in Empire.  The historical and cultural significance of our still living and still functioning property and business was apparently invisible, and inconsequential to the park management, because our property appeared on the proposed new Master Plan as “designated wilderness,” meaning no human habitation.
 
Suddenly lights were flashing and sirens were blaring in my head.  This Master Plan proposal was quickly shot down by public outcry and protest over the proposed severe restrictions to recreational opportunities it represented.  The park administrators claimed that the Lakeshore was being “loved to death,” that habitat was being destroyed, and that birds like the piping plover were being threatened with extinction.  This was, in the opinion of myself and many other direct witnesses to conditions in the park, patently nonsense.  The ensuing outcry sent the new Master Plan back to the drawing board.   However, the lines were now clearly drawn, and I knew if I wanted to keep my home and business, I was going to have to fight for it.

By the dawn of the new millennium, we were operating as Bass Lake Cottages and Vacation Rentals.  The cottages by this time were actually a rather small part of our overall business picture, as our property management operation had now grown to 17 units.  We managed cottages and homes on Glen Lake, Little Glen Lake, Little Traverse Lake, and Lake Leelanau, and we had several properties within the park boundaries.  We were able to pick our properties and did this primarily by working for people who liked us and who understood and appreciated our business philosophy, which was based on doing business in a way that reflected the old fashioned character of the place in which we lived.  We made money by making sure they did, and over half of our guests were now repeat customers and friends.  This was because we worked harder and smarter than our competition, were personally involved in every aspect of the business, and offered the most bang for the buck.  In other words, good old fashioned American free enterprise.  We were very practiced and professional in what we did, made it look easy, and had fun doing it; and we networked with numerous other small business people who provided support services for us.  We made money by making sure they did, too.  Our liberal friend Andy McFarlane’s Leelanau Communications was by now the leading web service company in northwestern lower Michigan, and he said it best: “It’s a whole different thing when we’re the capitalist pigs.”  This, too, was a joke.  We weren’t being pigs at all, and we weren’t getting rich by any means; but we were doing very well, and we were living the quiet and comfortable country lifestyle we wanted.  It was still America.

But this was about to change.

The shift in local park management philosophy had accelerated during the second Clinton term.  We heard rumors, and listened to programs on shortwave radio, that claimed that Al Gore had essentially taken control of the Department of the Interior and was bent on pushing the full implementation of United Nations Agenda 21 as the “green” president once he was elected in 2000. [2]  The proposed new Master Plan for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore sure seemed to support this contention, as did the term “Master Plan” itself, which is very much part of the language of Agenda 21.[3]
 
Author: RaMa2016 
Agenda 21 and the green agenda is often passed off in the mainstream media as a right wing conspiracy theory, which it really isn’t.  This is perhaps best pointed out by Rose Koira, a self-professed liberal lesbian activist, and author of Behind the Green Mask: UN Agenda 21. [4]  Ms. Koire is Executive Director of the Post Sustainability Institute [5], and publishes the web site, “Democrats Against UN Agenda 21” wherein she makes this statement:  “UN Agenda 21/Sustainable Development is the action plan implemented worldwide to inventory and control all land, all water, all minerals, all plants, all animals, all construction, all means of production, all energy, all education, all information, and all human beings in the world.  INVENTORY AND CONTROL.” [6]

It began to dawn on us that things had changed.  It really wasn’t America any more.  At least not in the way we understood what America was all about.  And this wasn’t about Democrat versus Republican politics, either.  It was Republican President George Bush who committed the United States to Agenda 21 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. [7] The warm and friendly reception we received from the NPS during the end of the Reagan years was the anomaly our neighbors had then claimed it to be, and we now realized we should have heeded their warnings.  In the ensuing administrations, the NPS returned to business as usual, as the old guard responsible for the abuses of the 70’s, and the new blood they now brought in during the 90’s, began to course through the veins of the National Park Service and retake control.
 
We believed George W. Bush when he promised to stop NPS abuses when he campaigned for president in 2000, but the changes his administration did try to institute ended up mired in controversy about opening the parks to commercial exploitation.  We didn’t want that either.  Changes proposed by Paul Hoffman, who took control of the NPS in 2002, had some positive aspects, but were met with much resistance by the established park staff and personnel.  Executive director of the American Land Rights Association, Chuck Cushman, who is himself an inholder in Yosemite, and who served on the NPS advisory board during the Reagan years, put it this way: “The Park Service has been arrogant for a very, very long time. They are a cloistered, almost cult-like society.  The Park Service doesn’t believe it needs to listen to what Congress is telling them. They think, ‘We know better how to define the law.’  They have a whole history of using parks as a tool to lock up land.” [8]

In the late summer of 2001, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was assigned a new park superintendent.  Heretofore, I have not mentioned the previous superintendent, a man named Richard Peterson, because I never met him.  Mr. Peterson delegated the authority to deal with all inholder situations to his assistant, Ray Kimpel, and since Ray was a very capable, competent, and knowledgeable person, we never had any need to go over his head to Mr. Peterson about anything.  The new superintendent was a woman named Dusty Schultz, and her attitude toward us, and our property and business, was drastically different than what we had experienced in the past.  Her task was to get the new Master Plan implemented, and she inherited all of the controversy that came with it.  And me.

Author: Mdf
We began to notice that everything we did was suddenly under the scrutiny of Park personnel.  Trucks would slow down and rangers would take long hard looks at our property whenever they went by.  Sometimes they would park on County Road 669, the quiet road that ran down to Lake Michigan, and look across the back side of our property.  Sometimes they did this with binoculars.  We were told that our private access to Bass Lake, which ran across our private property at the entrance, now had to be a public access and we had to take down our signage.  We were told that we couldn’t use our deeded access site at adjoining School Lake at all, and rangers began stopping by to inquire about the activities and behavior of our cottage guests, which was no different than it had ever been.  Many, if not most, had been staying with us for years.  I had a 13 stars-in-a-circle American flag that I used to fly on special occasions, and I now began to fly it every day.  This was, of course, the flag of the American Revolution, and my meaning wasn’t lost on the Park Service.  A ranger stopped and told me it was inappropriate and illegal to fly any flag but the current 50-star issue.  I told him to make me take it down but let me get a camera first.  He left.
 
Now complicating this situation, and making it all the more stressful, was the fact that as this began, Dale Shalda was dying of cancer.  He passed away on September 9, 2001, and we were devastated.  The 9/11 incident took place on the morning of the day we were going to have his funeral, and we postponed it to the 12th.  We held a reception for the funeral guests at the Lodge, and it was a teary and very emotional affair.  Dale was a much beloved figure in our community, and it was particularly poignant when one of the rangers whom we had been friends with all these years stopped by to hug and cry with the rest of us.  It’s not his real name, but I’ll just call him Ranger Bob, because I believe he still may be employed by the NPS, and he becomes a rather important character in this story before it gets done.

In the aftermath of 9/11, there seemed to be a respite from all of this nonsense with the park.  America was in a somber mood that fall, and it pretty much wiped out our color season.  Our friends, the Gehrkes, always came up and stayed in the Lodge for a week in October.  Joel Gehrke was an attorney, and they were a Christian family who home schooled their large brood of kids.  Their kids enjoyed playing with ours, and we became good friends with them like we did with a lot of our guests.  Joel had been a judge and had been recalled when a man on what he regarded as a trumped up domestic abuse case had been convicted in his courtroom.  The jury may have brought in a guilty verdict, but Judge Gehrke meted out the sentence, and enraged feminist sensitivities all over the nation, when he literally slapped the man’s wrists and dismissed him.  His wife, Kim, had been mortified when ABC’s 20/20 did a piece that was supposed to be sympathetic and instead turned it into a hatchet job.  Joel was smart, conservative, and fearless, a top notch attorney, and I now realized that I needed his help if I was going to stand up and push back against the Park.  I called him and told him that I wanted to talk to him about hiring him and that his stay at the Lodge would be on us as a down payment towards his fee.  He told me to gather all of the documentation I had pertaining to our relationship with the NPS, and said he would in turn do some research on the National Park Service in general and Sleeping Bear Dune National Lakeshore in particular.

The Gehrkes arrived and spent their first night doing family things.  On the second night, Jean and I and some of our girls went down to the Lodge after dinner, and Jean and Kim chatted about all of this out in the yard while the kids played on the swing-set and volleyball court.  Joel and I sat down in the living room and, over a glass of wine from Leelanau Cellars, began our conversation.
 
“A lawyer is essentially a prostitute,” Joel began.  “Even considering our friendship, you will pay me a lot of money for my services, and my responsibility is to see that you achieve your expected satisfaction.”  Oh.  I forgot to mention that Joel could be colorful like this.  “Now, what is it you want to accomplish?”

“Well,” I said, “First of all the harassment that I told you about needs to stop.  Secondly, I need to make sure that my rights as an inholder and my constitutional rights as a citizen are respected and upheld, and finally, I want to approach the Park management about extending the leaseback on the Lodge or outright purchasing back the building, which would be preferable.”  The leaseback on the Lodge was scheduled to expire in May of 2003 and the park’s plan was to tear it down.

Joel looked thoughtful for a second then said, “I see no problem accomplishing the first two things providing your documents are all in order.  I see no way to accomplish the third, to be honest with you.”

I explained to Joel that back in the early days, Ray Kimpel had mentioned that it might be possible to extend the leaseback.  The NPS was strapped for money in those days, and, unfortunately, so was I.  At that time, and up until recently, it seemed like this would be possible.  The park was always promoting its commitment to historical preservation and we owned the last functioning cottage/cabin resort within the National Lakeshore.  It had been in continual operation since 1937.  We had restored the Lodge to its original usage and returned the property to its initial configuration, and we offered a recreational opportunity in conjunction with our farmstead, which was one of the most historically significant properties in the Park.  I also wanted it secured and protected as private property, and I wanted to explore the possibility of leasing the farm lands around it for the purpose of staging period agricultural demonstrations for park visitors.  My pal Art Babel liked to play 19th century farmer with his team of Clydesdales, and we’d long talked about how much fun it would be to do this for the tourists.  It was the same kind of thing the Park Service was allowing others to do at Port Oneida.

Author: Archives New Zealand
“Look,” Joel said, “You have to understand something.  You are an inholder operating a business from his home within national park boundaries and making money.  That makes you public enemy number one in the eyes of the Park Service.  We’ll go over your documents, but I’m already sure what you are doing is perfectly legal or you wouldn’t be doing it.  It is going to be hard enough to maintain the status quo.  You should have no expectations of advancing beyond that.”

“Ok,” I said.  “I understand that. My thought is to push expanding the use of the farm and saving the Lodge in such a way that the position I fall back to is the status quo.  Best case scenario would be saving the Lodge as part of that status quo, but if it ends up being sacrificed to secure my rights with my home and the other two cottages, then I can live with that.”

“The Lodge as a straw man,” Joel said.  “That’s a very interesting approach and I suspect the NPS won’t see it coming.”

“I take my role as the steward of my property very seriously.  I always have.  The key to that stewardship is maintaining its value.  They can’t make me sell out, but they can make it so I can’t do anything else.  The NPS likes to drive down property values, and buy up parcels at bargain prices.  Designating my home as within a wilderness area does just that, and that’s been proposed.  Then I can’t sell to anyone but them, and fair market value becomes whatever the NPS decides they want it to be.  Suddenly, I’m upside down on my mortgage. Take away my ability to run my business from my home and I don’t have the financial leverage to move it and set it up somewhere else.  Now I’m out of business.  I have to sell out, and they have my property for cheap.  I think that’s the scenario their trying to play out, and I’ve heard rumors that Park personnel are already talking about the farm as a possible headquarters for the northern end of the Lakeshore.”

Joel poured us each another glass of wine and sat swirling the red liquid around in his glass as he pondered all of this.  “Here’s the hard part for you,” he finally said.  “You are one of the most private people I know, and to make this work you’re going to have to do it in public.  Trust me, I know all about negative publicity, and you are going to have to put this out for the world to see if you want it to have any chance of it working.  If you’re right about this, and you accuse them of it quietly and in private, they’ll just deny it and come up with another variation on the same theme.  Do it in public and they have to prove to the world it isn’t so.  You lose the public battle over the Lodge, but they deny there was ever any intent to take your home or close your business.  You apologize, and wonder how you ever could have thought such a thing.  You win the war and they save face.  It just might work.”

This was all pretty hopeful until we moved on to reviewing the documents.  The file on the house was all in order.  It had passed down through the capable hands of Louise Shalda to Ken and on to us.  Dale’s file on Bass Lake Cottages contained the land contract for the Lodge, a barely legible and nearly black copy of the access agreement for the School Lake access, and some hand scrawled notes about operating the cottages and keeping the accesses in perpetuity.  The similar document for the more vital Bass Lake access, and even more importantly, the document which granted Bass Lake Cottages the right to operate as a business entity in perpetuity weren’t there.

Joel was incredulous.  “You don’t have the documents that grant you the right to use the lake or do business?”

“Dale always said that if I ever needed this stuff, I could go to Park Headquarters and get a copy.  I went down there and asked for copies of the documents and the girl at the counter went in the back, asked somebody about it, and then told me those documents weren’t in the file.  She said they didn’t exist.”

“So you don’t have the documents, they know it, and they’re not going to give them to you.  Who told you that they did exist?”

“Dale Shalda and Ray Kimpel, who was the Assistant Park Superintendent.”

“Where is Dale Shalda?”

“He passed away last month.”

“Where is this Ray Kimpel?”

“I don’t know.  He’s retired.”

“I’ll tell you what I want you to do.  You find him.  I’ll set up a meeting with the Park and come back up in a couple of weeks.  You see if you can find Ray Kimpel, and I’ll call him to see if he’ll at least vouch for the documents and what’s in them.”

I knew who just might know where Ray Kimpel was.  He and Ranger Bob had worked together for many years and were quite close.  I drove over to Ranger Bob’s house.  He was out in his yard working on a landscape project.  I told him I wanted to get in touch with Ray Kimpel and asked if he knew where he was living now that he was retired and how I might get in touch with him.  He didn’t ask me why and I didn’t offer.  He told me Ray was living down in Benzie County, and gave me his phone number.

I called Ray Kimpel and he invited Joel and me to come over to his place on our way to our meeting with the Park.  In retirement, Ray had built himself a really neat rustic log cabin that was both quaint and efficient, and looked like it had been designed by a Boy Scout architect.  The term “boy scout” suddenly rang true about Ray, and it seemed to explain why he had made a career in the NPS, and also why it had never had the dampening effect on his personal integrity the way it did with so many others.  He offered us coffee, showed us around his place, and then Joel got down to business and asked him about the missing documents.  Ray said he knew that they existed, and quietly scoffed at the idea that they could be lost.  “The Park Service is a federal bureaucracy,” he said.  “They never lose anything unless they want to.” Joel asked him if he would be willing to sign an affidavit vouching for what was in the two documents.  Ray said that he’d consider it if it turned out to be important, but he didn’t want to do so right then and there.  We thanked him and proceeded to our meeting at Park Headquarters in Empire.

Assistant Superintendent Tom Ulrich ushered us into a very nice but sparsely appointed room with a large table with numerous comfortable chairs around it.  There were a couple of other Park people there, but I don’t remember who they were.  Mr. Ulrich was very calm, professional, and reassuring.  He insisted that the NPS didn’t want to acquire my property, that they were delighted with my ongoing fine stewardship of the farmstead and cottages, and assured me I was a model inholder.
 
We turned to the subject of the Lodge, and I told him we would like to explore the possibility of extending the leaseback or perhaps even purchasing the Lodge and its surrounding property, and he said absolutely not.  I turned the conversation to historic preservation and mentioned that Bass Lake Cottages was the last cottage/cabin resort within the Park, and that we provided much needed accommodations for visitors and the unique experience of staying within the Park itself. I even managed a few tears.  He informed us that the NPS was planning to install a youth hostel in Port Oneida, and that this need was going to be amply met.  He finished by saying that once the Lodge was gone, we would sit down again and map out a business plan that was less “commercial” and that lowered the traffic flow through our property.  He said “commercial” like it was a dirty word, and I am sure he knew it wasn’t lost on me that the “traffic” he mentioned was due to our rental management business, not Bass Lake Cottages.

A couple of days after this meeting, Ranger Bob appeared at my front door with a file folder in his hand.  Our meeting was brief and to the point.  “You didn’t lose this file, you just misplaced it.”  He looked me in the eye and I looked him in the eye and said, “There it is.  How silly of me.  I must have had it all the time.”  The file contained everything the Park had on Bass Lake Cottages, including deeded access to Bass Lake Cottages and the document assuring the right to continue in business as before and in perpetuity.  Master Plans can change and do.  “In perpetuity” means just that: the status quo continues as long as the property is in private hands.  Joel made sure.
  
When deer camp was over at the end of November, I started the “Save the Lodge” campaign.  I put up links on the Bass Lake Cottages website, and built a series of pages on my radionewjerusalem.com website that not only told the history of Bass Lake Cottages and the story of the Park refusing to consider extending the leaseback on the Lodge, but outlined every sordid detail I knew concerning the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and the abuses of the NPS.  I told the history of Shalda Corners, where we lived, and how there had once been a store there and a post office, and that it had been a community all to itself until the NPS removed it.  I told the story of Port Oneida, the “ghost town” the Park created, and I relayed tales of the hardships that the acquisition of the lands in the Lakeshore had caused.
 
The response was impressive.  I posted copies of letters from friends and past guests to the NPS.  My old friend Dave Hoxie, an archaeologist by training, wrote the Michigan History Division and asked them to get involved.  They investigated.  Letters went to the NPS regional headquarters in Omaha and to Washington DC.

This went on until one day there was a knock on the door, and it was Ranger Bob.  He looked at me deadly serious and told me that I had to take my web pages concerning the NPS down from the internet.

“Bob,” I said, “That’s blatantly a violation of my first amendment right to free speech.  They can’t do that.” 

“Actually, it was my idea,” he said. “I’m asking you to do it for me personally as a favor.”

I got it.  “Go back and tell whoever gave you this idea that there’s no way it’s coming down.” 

I then called Joel and howled about my constitutional right to free speech.  He told me to calm down.  “What’s next?” I asked.  “You think they’ll have me arrested?” 

“I hope so!” he responded, “That would be perfect!”

I was never arrested.  In fact, you know what?  The Park Service now left me alone.
 
The winter passed without further incident, and when the spring of 2002 rolled around, it was time to put phase two of this plan into action.  This just happened to be an election year, and there were lots of incumbents and candidates who were anxious to please perspective voters.

Leelanau County in those days was heavily Republican and I was still very much a Ronald Reagan Republican.  I still would be today, for that matter, if we still had a Ronald Reagan.  Anyway, we called mostly Republican politicians, who were supposed to be most sensitive to NPS abuses, and we got a very positive and encouraging response from each and every one.  All at least called the Park Service, and some visited in person and used it as a photo op.

Most impressive in this parade of politicians was the response from Senator Carl Levin’s office.  Senator Levin sent his senior aid up from Detroit, who came to the house, looked over both the farm and cottage properties, and then sat down and had a long talk with Jean and me.  He didn’t like the story of the lost documents, and he really didn’t like the part about a Park employee coming to tell me to take down the web pages.  He went down to Park Headquarters and met with Superintendent Schultz and then came back to the house to report that she was contrite, apologetic, and was sure that I had simply misunderstood the intent of the Park which was, of course, all positive and in my favor.  Reagan Republican or not, Senator Levin got my vote.  I suspect Ronnie himself would have voted for him in those circumstances.

Now the stage was set.  Joel called Park Headquarters and arranged another meeting, and asked that Superintendent Schultz be present.  She was, though she didn’t look very happy about it.  I was assured that all of the attention that I had created was unwarranted, and the decision on the Lodge was final and would remain so.  She said that she was sorry that I had wasted so much of my time, hers, and that of so many others when I had already been told that their decision to remove the Lodge would be final.  We were told that, while it was unfortunate that Ranger Bob had acted the way that he had concerning the web site, he had acted on his own and really meant well.  She assured us he had been reprimanded.

Joel now did all the talking. He pulled out the file containing the previously missing documents.  He had a duplicate folder with copies of all the documents that he had made as his special gift to the Park Service, and he asked for their reassurance that this file would be kept intact and that none of these documents would ever again cease to exist.  They seemed offended that he would even suggest such a thing.  He placed copies of each document in front of Dusty Schultz and Tom Ulrich, and he proceeded to outline exactly what the language in each one meant point by point.  He asked them to define and explain their understanding of each paragraph in each document and he had them define “in perpetuity” and he asked them to clarify what this meant in light of modified, reworked, or new Master Plans.  It meant “in perpetuity” regardless, which we already knew. 

Moving to the farmstead documents, he asked if there was any language in this document that precluded operating a home-based business.  They admitted that there was not, and protested that no one had said anything about closing down my business.  He then pointed out the section that gave jurisdiction over all such matters to the township, and he informed them that the township clerk would vouch for my compliance and for the fact that my taxes were always paid in full and on time.  He asked if there was anything or any condition on my property in violation of any pertinent park regulations, including scenic easement.  Again, we were reassured that Mr. Ropp was a model inholder, and that his property was always well maintained and attractive.

The 2002 summer season passed by and was mostly uneventful.  I had no direct contact with Park personnel other than business as usual.  I knew the woods around our place really well, and Ranger Bob stopped by once to ask if I’d help look for a lost child in the hills above School Lake.  Neither of us said anything about the events of the past year.  The child was found safe and unharmed, and this had the poignant feel of older and happier times.

One of the incidents I recall from this summer was a college student who did a survey of the fish in Bass Lake for the Park Service and claimed it was fished out.  It wasn’t, so I didn’t worry about this too much.  The truth was that Old Mike Mannick had dumped a five-gallon milk can full of pike fingerlings into the lake 40 years before, and the lake population was mostly pike that never grew to legal size.  We called them “hammer handles” and they were actually fun to catch on ultralight tackle and release.  Bass Lake didn’t get fished much, and very few fish were ever taken; and everybody knew it.

Another time, someone showed up offering to take free soil samples to determine if there was any residual contamination from long term agricultural use.  I had heard stories that the NPS would send these guys around and that they’d spill a quart of oil on the ground and claim it was some kind of environmental disaster.  A lot of these stories were apocryphal, and I just politely declined the offer and sent the man away.

We had a very good year businesswise and recovered nicely from the 9/11 trauma and lost money it had caused the previous year.  We recovered less from losing Dale, and late in the summer, feeling the need for a deeper spirituality, Jean and I decided to join the Catholic Church.
 
Lodge guests came and went all season and payed their final respects to the building.  It was hardest on the deer hunters.  The last skiers left, there was a little flurry of early spring business, and on May 1, we closed down the cottages and stripped the Lodge.  It was demolished on May 15.  Joel had made it clear to the Park that the rubble was to be removed promptly and that the site was to be restored and seeded.  It was, and we were ready to open back up with two buildings on Memorial Day weekend.

In the fall, I was sitting at my bench in the tractor garage.  This served as my office in the warmer months.  Jean ran the front office in the house and I managed the maintenance and physical aspects of the business from here.  It was late September, or maybe very early October, a beautiful warm day, and the last Detroit Tigers game of the year was on the radio.  It was the last game that Ernie Harwell called for Detroit and, next to my dad, I must have spent more time with Ernie as a kid than any other man.  I sat listening to the game and realized that if Dale was alive, we’d certainly be listening to it together.  Actually, we’d be watching it on TV with the sound turned down and the radio turned up.  I was working half-heartedly on costing out the repainting of the Bicentennial Barn, which was the big project I had planned for the spring of 2003.  Suddenly, somehow, I knew that this was the last season we were going to be here and I broke down and cried like a baby.  Wept inconsolably.  Just let it all out.

Jean was already in the throes of some kind of spiritual crisis.  I thought it was from all of the stress of all of this.  It was actually unrelated but this certainly didn’t help it, and I was now beginning to realize she needed something more than what I could do for her.  The Catholic Church proved to be the best thing we could have done, but it brought us to a very hard spiritual crossroads.  As I prayed now about all of this, looking out over the yard towards the barn, at the woods, at the two cottages, at the awesome beauty of this place, it was like I was seeing it all for the first time.  God, how I loved it.  And I realized that God’s lesson in all of this was that I had come to the point where this love for my home and my business meant selling it to someone who wasn’t as compromised with the National Lakeshore administration as I was now.  The ultimate good stewardship concerns knowing when to let go.  That time was here.

The NPS wasn’t going to give up.  I knew that.  I knew that the green agenda and Agenda 21 and the insanity of the 21st century wasn’t going to allow even a semblance of the past agricultural culture that I longed for and lived for to survive.  It wasn’t America here anymore.  It was time to go.

The Park folks didn’t say a word to me now.  Instead they went to the owners of the properties we managed which were in the National Lakeshore and told them that “commercial” management of their property like we did was disallowed.  Joel looked at their documents and he said that they had just as much right to do what they wanted with their private property as anyone else.  He advised us to have them sign the management agreements like always and call their bluff.  It turned out that the Park was bluffing, and we opened the summer season with our full complement of properties.

But I had gotten the message.  We listed the farmstead and Bass Lake Cottages for sale and had more shoppers than we knew what to do with.  In two weeks we had a deal down.  We decided to value the business at zero based on the uncertainty of the future with the Park Service.  In preserving the property’s market value by securing our legal rights, and passing these rights along, we were able to position the new owner to keep it out of NPS hands, if not in perpetuity than at least until the seller was willing and not forced.  The new owner was anxious to please the Park, and the Park was anxious to have somebody own it who wasn’t me.  It wasn’t America anymore in Leelanau County for us, just like it had ceased to be most everywhere else.  Our time was up.

And so this story ends here.  And if you are wondering what this has to do with the upcoming election, well I guess I do, too. I guess this election has made me homesick for my home and business and for the Reagan Revolution that made the sixteen best years of my life possible.  Homesick for a president who rode tall in the saddle, took a bullet for the nation, and who, at least for a little while, really did make America great again.  Homesick for that time when in a place that was from another time then, and which has since been absorbed into the new world order of the 21st century, it was, for one last brief shining moment, still America there.

Ronald Reagan said this way back in 1961:

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.  We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream.  The only way they can inherit the freedom we have known is if we fight for it, protect it, defend it, and then hand it on to them with the well fought lessons of how they in their lifetime must do the same.  And if you and I don’t do this, then you and I may well spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was like in America when men were free.”

That’s what I’ve been doing in my sunset years.  That’s what this story is all about, and that’s why it doesn’t matter who you vote for or if you vote at all on Election Day.  You’re going to get either Hillary or the Donald, and if this choice doesn’t sound the final death knell of American freedom, what could?  You’re going to get Agenda 21 either way.  You already have.  It’s not America here anymore, and no one seems to want to listen or believe it.  It’s like Jethro Tull said:

“My words but a whisper, your deafness a shout.”

Phil Ropp

Phil Ropp is the owner of the Catholic news portal Radio New Jerusalem.