9780816635795 / 081663579X

Planning a Wilderness: Regenerating the Great Lakes Cutover Region


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Publisher:Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2001



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About the book:

Natural History/Regional

A grand story of a surprising chapter in environmental and cultural history.

By 1910, the forest region of the Great Lakes states was largely denuded, logged over by industrialists who coveted its timber, particularly the giant white pine. After unsuccessful attempts to farm this cutover region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, a group of visionaries began to dream of restoring the North Woods as a place of solace and beauty, of recreation and retreat, for the benefit of people ever more remote from the splendors of nature. What ensued was an extraordinary campaign to recreate the original Midwest forest-the Great Lakes Crusade that James Kates chronicles in this enlightening, deeply interesting, and entertaining account of a "natural" wonderland remade from the ground up.

The forest might seem a strange focus for great feats of social engineering, but in the cutover region, this is what we have: a planned landscape, a "wilderness" more naturalistic than natural, produced by a massive coordination of economic and political powers, technical mastery, and propaganda. As Kates describes this vast effort, we see how the challenges that taxed the expertise of foresters, land economists, game managers, and regional planners were only one part of the enormous task. Kates tells of the equally arduous undertaking of selling reforestation to the public, a campaign in which the experts and their allies in the mass media invoked popular myths of frontier individualism to create consensus about the need for a new "wilderness," one geared to the material and psychological needs of an integrated industrial nation and its increasingly affluent middle class. This renaissance raises the question that informs this book and resounds through our time: What meaning does the forest hold for us, that it should be construed as indispensable to the American way of life?

A longtime journalist, James Kates worked as an editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer and the former Milwaukee Journal, and has published in American Journalism, Michigan Historical Review, and Wisconsin Magazine of History. He is currently an editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Published in cooperation with the Center for American Places

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