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Planning a Wilderness

Regenerating the Great Lakes Cutover Region

2001
Author:

James Kates

Planning a Wilderness

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. After unsuccessful attempts to farm this cutover region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, some began to dream of restoring the North Woods as a place of solace and beauty, of recreation and retreat. What ensued was an extraordinary campaign to recreate the original Midwest forest—the Great Lakes Crusade that James Kates chronicles in this enlightening and entertaining account of a “natural” wonderland remade from the ground up.

A most original work. Planning a Wilderness is not only thoroughly researched, but written in exceptional prose.

Robert Gough, University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire

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, some began to dream of restoring the North Woods as a place of solace and beauty, of recreation and retreat. 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.

In Planning a Wilderness, we see how the technical 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.

Published in cooperation with the Center for American Places.

Planning a Wilderness

A longtime journalist, James Kates has worked as an editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer and has been widely published. He is currently an editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Planning a Wilderness

A most original work. Planning a Wilderness is not only thoroughly researched, but written in exceptional prose.

Robert Gough, University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire

It is sometimes difficult to visit the forested north today and imagine how devastated it was by man’s hand just a century ago when loggers finished the toppling of the magnificent forests that greeted the first settlers and abandoned the territory as largely useless. The story of how that land was regenerated, Planning a Wilderness is told by author James Kates.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinal

That mythical retreat we think of as ‘Up North’ is just that—a myth—according to a new book, Planning a Wilderness by James Kates. ‘Up North,’ Kates contends, is a story that keeps coming true, in the form of trees and fields, water and landscape.

Saint Paul Pioneer Press

James Kates describes how today’s northern Great Lakes forests sprang up. He argues effectively that it was no accident, rather the purposeful work of a generation of visionaries to sell the public on the value of restoration.

Michigan Environmental Report

A deeply scholarly book that is easily digested by the average reader. Planning a Wilderness is a thoughtful rumination on public policy and the politics of wilderness.

The Capital Times

A useful accompaniment to traditional forest histories that have tended to focus on western forests. A fascinating look at the cultural construction of a wilderness.

Michigan Historical Review

The worth of Planning a Wilderness is in the stimulating and thoughtful presentation that Kates offers of the men of science and the men of letters who convinced midwesterners to transform a bleak cutover land into an ‘industrial timber reserve’ and accept the fact that the ‘pioneer cabin would yield to the tourist lodge.’

Journal of American History

Kates offers much, and several audiences will benefit from this fine work. Planning a Wilderness helps fill in the historical gap between Progressive conservation and postwar environmentalism.

Environmental History

Kates has an important story to tell, and he tells it well. Planning a Wilderness reminds us that the modern landscape of the Great Lakes cutover is the product of continuous planning, and that a planned ‘wilderness’ holds many lessons about American interactions with nature.

Wisconsin Magazine of History