By Eric Freedman
A Frankfort, Michigan, man has been arrested on federal charges of vandalism and tampering at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore by diverting water from the Platte River within the park.
Andrew Howard faces up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine if convicted. He also could be ordered to pay the government for any damage he caused. His first court appearance is scheduled for June 21.
Court documents don’t describe what Howard is accused of doing or whether other people were involved. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Grand Rapids said it cannot provide additional details because the investigation is ongoing.
The 111-square mile national park is on Lake Michigan in Benzie County in the northwest part of the Lower Peninsula. The 29½-mile Platte River begins at Long Lake in Grand Traverse County and ends at Platte Bay, a small Lake Michigan bay in the national park.
The park’s website describes it as: “Miles of sand beach, bluffs that tower 450 feet above Lake Michigan, lush forests, clear inland lakes, unique flora and fauna make up the natural world of Sleeping Bear Dunes. High dunes afford spectacular views across the lake. An island lighthouse, U.S. Life-Saving Service stations, coastal villages, and picturesque farmsteads reflect the park’s rich maritime, agricultural and recreational history.”
It drew 1.5 million visitors last year. There were more than 1.7 million in 2020 and 2021 during the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to court documents, it is a misdemeanor to commit vandalism, which involves destroying, injuring, damaging or defacing property or land within the borders of a national park. The second charge involves tampering with real estate “in waters subject to United States jurisdiction located within the boundaries of the National Park System.”
According to the charges, Howard committed the alleged crimes on Aug. 15, 2022.
His defense lawyer, Anthony Valentine of Grand Rapids, did not respond to req
Park Service law enforcement rangers conducted the investigation, according to a press statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.