COPPER HARBOR, Mich. (WJMN) – Members of the Keweenaw Outdoor Recreation Coalition say expanding the area would ensure future generations have access to trails and more.
Currently, many trails are located on privately owned land in the area and are available for use through land-use leases signed with the Department of Natural Resources. Gina Nicholas, President of the Keweenaw Community Forest Company, says the expansion has been a hope for several years.
“A lot of our trail systems and our outdoor recreation is basically a privilege by the existing landowners and if they change their mind or if they sell their land that privilege disappears and so by striving to get more land into the public trust we’re trying to come up with a permanent solution for posterity,” said Nicholas.
KORC posted on their Facebook page urging for community members and others who use the trails to submit a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Nomination for Land Acquisition to the Department of Natural Resources. Mark Ahlborn, Member of Calumet-Keweenaw Sportsmen’s Club, says the local DNR has been supportive of this initiative.
“The local DNR has been working on this for probably 3 or 5 years now,” said Ahlborn. “They’ve attempted numerous times to get public involvement to help them and I think that’s what the local DNR is really after is local help to get now a statewide momentum and that’s what KORC is now concentrating on is trying to get the word out so that it’s not just a bunch of people from this area saying they want it but certainly statewide and even out of state.”
Jon Mayes, Grant Manager for Michigan Department of Natural Resources, says they do take public interest into consideration with land acquisition but it is also up to other factors.
“This opportunity through the nomination form for any citizen to promote a piece of property for acquisition by the state it’s been a long time policy of ours to use that nomination process,” said Mayes. “The department may become aware of lands that are on the market or could be sold that might be a good fit for the department’s mission.”
Ben Ciavola, president of Copper Harbor Trails Club, says they’ve partnered with landowners for many years to put trails up but they want to make the access permanent and open up the opportunity for more trails.
“Right now a lot of that land is open for you know you can drive your ATVs on a lot of the existing trails out there, you can ride your bikes out there, you can do a lot of hiking in the woods but since it’s under private ownership and there’s no assurance of what the future of that land is going to look like there’s really no way we can improve it, we can fix things up that we can make it more benefit or a longer lifespan for the local residents,” said Ciavola.
Peg Kauppi, co–owner of The Mariner North in Copper Harbor, says they’ve looked at this for a long time.
“We saw over the years that many people had a fear of corporations coming in and that they would ruin the way of life here and we were saying while you’re worried about those corporations coming in, six more tracts of land got sold and we got more fragmented and we lost more water access and more mineral access and all of those things,” said Kauppi. “We knew that these small individual purchases here and there that was actually what was going to destroy our ability to have anyone come here and enjoy what we have everyday when we live here.”
Erika Vye, geosciences research scientist at Great Lakes Research Center, adds that each representative on KORC’s steering committee has a different relationship with the area but that the common denominator is the landscape.
“The landscape itself is part of our identities, so protecting that and access to that is really critical,” said Vye.
The land isn’t just useful for recreation according to Vye but also for educational opportunities.
“The geology of our region is absolutely world-class, it teaches us about incredible and really significant parts of world history and so it’s the reason Lake Superior is there, it’s what’s created the basin, it’s created all of our harbors, our peninsulas,” said Vye. “And then this landscape … it’s just the place that we play, we learn on, and places we’ve foraged and it’s all rooted in this billion-year-old landscape so it’s really significant.”
Don Kauppi, co–owner of The Mariner North in Copper Harbor says recreational use contributes to the number of jobs in the area.
“On our system, we have in the Keweenaw Peninsula, it’s the largest system in the state with 235 miles but 140 miles are on one landowner’s property so we had free use of that those trail systems, logging roads old train trestles and stuff that help this economy now even in Keweenaw County because of that year-round usage we developed 120 year-round jobs,” said Kauppi. “That’s the statewide motivation to retain these trails because most of these trails are on a year-to-year lease so somebody can come up and buy some property and take the trails off and kind of destroy our economy.”
Current owners of the land include investment pools according to Nicholas.
“They don’t have really any connection to the land here and they bought it to make a profit so they sell it on sort of set intervals and they will sell at anytime for the right price,” said Nicholas.
Nicholas says some of the land is privately held by individuals but in most cases, there are willing sellers. Mayes says whether land is purchased depends on a variety of things.
“First whether it fits in with our current ownership and what the recreational aspects and benefits are of the property and also our management capabilities in that part of the state are going to be considered for something like this as well because in some ways the department is spread pretty thin with all the different parks and rec areas across the state so we have to consider whether our department has the ability to manage well not just manage but manage well and make sure the land is properly stewarded for the future,” said Mayes.
Nicholas says KORC has helped the DNR with various projects in the Keweenaw Tip Recreation Area including acquiring trash bins for the High Rock area and fixing the access road to Schlatter lake.
Mayes says April 1 is the deadline for applications to the land trust and after that they must be reviewed before decisions are made on what lands will be further pursued.