Gayk: Sides ‘not that far apart’ on conservancy

Keweenaw County Board member optimistic on bridging the divide

EAGLE RIVER — While various groups and people voice their concerns on the topic of conservancy lands in Keweenaw County, one County Board member is looking at both sides of the argument.

Sandra Gayk feels that the divide between groups and people is not as wide as they may think.

“I think that the groups are truly not that far apart,” she said. “I may be an idealistic person, but I feel we need to unite about things, and be willing to compromise and work around these things.”

In listening to all sides of the controversy, Gayk is keeping an open mind and seeing deeper issues that reach deeper than tax revenue and land access.

“I think what might be going on is not an economic argument, but more a preservation of a way of life,” Gayk said, “and I am concerned about people who have lived here all their lives.”

Gayk said historically, much of the land in Keweenaw County was what she referred to as “company land.” Around the turn of the 20th century, the Calumet and Hecla Mining company purchased abandoned companies throughout the county with the intention of conducting intensive mineral exploration. In 1968, C&H sold its Michigan holdings to Universal Oil Products, which in turn sold its holdings to another company. In 1996, the Lake Superior Land Company was organized as a subsidiary of Louisiana Pacific. Today, GMO owns most of the land once owned by C&H.

“Their land, when it’s in commercial forest, they do allow the hunting and fishing, and so we’ve grown up with this culture of company land, and we can go anywhere that we want to.”

Gayk thinks the thought of public use restrictions placed on conservancy lands are at the heart of the opposition.

“We are so fortunate to live in this beautiful area, but it is a deception to think that in this county you can just go wherever you want,” Gayk said. “On commercial forest, you can hunt and fish.”

Gayk remains aware of the question of tax revenue, but revenue is not the sole concern in the argument.

“I don’t buy that argument…about the economic concerns,” she said. “They’re there, but I think this goes deeper in that it’s a preservation of the culture and the way of life that we have here, and we’ve enjoyed here, and in a way, we’ve even taken advantage of, or taken it for granted. Because you just go somewhere else and then come back and then you realize how lucky you are if you’re a sportsman or a nature person. Everywhere else is private land. You can’t go on that private land, it’s usually posted (with) no trespassing signs all over the place.”