PORTAGE TOWNSHIP - The health of any stream or body of water depends in large part on what happens beyond its banks or shores, and that's the focus of the Pilgrim River Watershed Project.
One of the organizations involved in the PRWP is the Keweenaw Land Trust, and Evan McDonald, KLT executive director, said the current effort for the project is to get funding to pay for easements for properties along the Pilgrim River. Two properties in Portage Township owned by the Hovel family, who live in Wisconsin, total 1,360 acres. Another piece of property owned by Portage Township resident John Ollila connects the two Hovel pieces. Three other property owners are in discussions about providing easements for the project.
McDonald said the Hovels will be timbering their property, but they will also allow access for non-motorized uses, including hiking, hunting, fishing and trapping in season. It's hoped the other owners will do the same.
From left, Mary Claire Wyble, Sandra Luoma, Jeff Parker, John Ollila and Evan McDonald pause on a footbridge over a creek during a tour in July of a 1,360-acre tract along the Pilgrim River. Members of the Portage River Watershed Project are seeking donations to help get easements on several properties along the river. (Photo by DMG Writer Kurt Hauglie)
"The challenge is to keep the uses in line with the goals of the landowners," he said.
Last summer, members of the Keweenaw Trails Alliance constructed a section of what will eventually be 12 miles of trails for hiking and bicycling on the Hovel property. One idea is to connect with other existing trails, such as the Michigan Technological University trails.
"The trails are still in development," McDonald said.
The idea for developing a system to protect the Pilgrim River came from members of the Copper Country Chapter of Trout Unlimited, and group board member Bill Leder said there's an effort now to get funds to help pay for the easements on the properties along the river.
"The goal is to protect as much as we can," he said.
Leder said the reason TU members got involved in 2005 with the effort to protect the Pilgrim River watershed is because the stream provides some of the best trout fishing in the Upper Peninsula.
Typically, Leder said protective corridors along streams are 100 to 200 feet wide on each side measured from the center of the stream.
"If it were in a city, you could consider it a linear park in some ways," he said.
Leder said once easements are acquired, they will exist even if the property is sold.
"(Easements) remain with the land forever," he said.
McDonald said the draft of an easement for the Hovel properties states the owners can do timbering on it, but other owners may have other requirements.
"Several landowners are interested in protecting wildlife habitat," he said.
The idea of the PRWP is to prevent uses of the adjacent properties, which McDonald said could lead to erosion into the river. That in turn could diminish it has a habitat for trout and other fish. Fortunately, those possible ill effects are not a problem now, McDonald said.
"The river's pretty healthy," he said.
McDonald said the PRWP effort will be done in three phases. The first phase is the fundraising effort. About 500 requests for donations have been sent to members of the project's various partner organizations, including Partners in Forestry Landowners Cooperative, Copper Country Trout Unlimited, Copper Country Audubon, Northwood Alliance, Keweenaw Land Trust, Keweenaw Trails Alliance and the Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District. Phase II will involve getting the easements from the Hovels and Phase III will involve working to get easements on other parts of the watershed. They will be conducted simultaneously.
McDonald said one of the main concerns about getting people to use the properties involved in the project is lack of parking.
"We're going to need to address parking eventually," he said.
The more local donations are received for the PRWP, the more likely large donors, such as corporations, will become interested in donating to the effort, McDonald said.
Leder said it's hoped eventually a protected corridor along the Pilgrim River can reach all the way to the Portage Lake Shipping Canal.
"That's the dream," he said.
Kurt Hauglie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.