Man Convicted Of Vandalism After Diverting Course Of River At US National Park

Has Pierce Brosnon taught us nothing? Far from how we should order our martinis, the former Bond actor was recently in court and later fined for trespassing in Yellowstone National Park and it appears the cautionary tale did not reach everyone. Now a man has been convicted for taking a shovel to the sands at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan to redirect a river, charged with acts of tampering and vandalism.

Andrew Blair Howard, a reportedly keen member of the fishing community, was seen taking a shovel to the sand in a bid to dredge a waterway between the Great Lake and the river allowing for better access for boats in August 2022. Typically the water flows down the Platte River before emptying into Lake Michigan and is enjoyed by kayakers and beachgoers. 

Previously the area has been dredged every year allowing boats to pass between Platte River and into Lake Michigan to fish for salmon. However, according to the New York Times, the dredging stopped to allow the dune vegetation to grow after an environmental assessment report in 2016. 

Images above from 2022 show the extent of the diversion created by Mr Howard and others. Howard used a shovel to dig the trench and stacked rocks to dam the water and divert it, the US Attorney’s Office Western District of Michigan said. Mr Howard claimed he dug the trench to get better access for his boat after he enlisted the help of four people to drag it over the river bed. The trench, which was narrow at first, became greatly enlarged by the power of the river and dam in a matter of days, opening the channel to around 61 meters (200 feet) wide. 

The US Park Rangers called for more information into the case and help from the community on August 26, 2022, including opening an anonymous tip line. The creation of a new channel caused an influx of fishers who took advantage of the new wider passage for their boats. 

In February 2024, Howard was convicted of one count of tampering and one count of vandalism, both of which are federal misdemeanors. US Magistrate Judge Ray Kent said that Mr Howard “intended to and in fact did divert the flow of the Platte River into Platte Bay” in a statement.

“The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a Michigan jewel,” said US Attorney Mark Totten. “Every year countless visitors enjoy its pristine waters, towering sand dunes, and rolling forests. Mr. Howard had a policy dispute with the National Park Service and took matters into his own hands, breaking the law rather than using lawful means to advocate for his position. His actions resulted in significant financial and ecological harm and altered the landscape so many enjoyed.”

Mr Howard called his conviction a “tremendous injustice” according to the New York Times. However, tampering with US National Parks can come with hefty fines, result in bans and, as Howard has shown, risks conviction of federal misdemeanors. It’s best you leave them as you found them.

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