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The city, the park and nature/Out There

June 15, 2012
By Dan Schneider , The Daily Mining Gazette

I am standing on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 59th Street in New York City.

Buses lumber by, cab drivers honk their horns, a street vendor hawks baseball caps. There is concrete and noise and people and people and people, all of them in motion.

This is an incongruous place to begin a column about the outdoors.

I arrived in this city yesterday. I am not yet moving with the pace of life here. It strikes me as exhilarating but also, at times, hellish. So much frantic activity, so much heat radiating from the sidewalks.

This is an incongruous place to begin a column about the outdoors.

Across the intersection from where I stand, New York Central Park stretches out over 873 acres to the north and west - acres of trees and lawns, winding paths (albeit paved ones), baseball diamonds and reflecting ponds. In places, there are rocky outcroppings reminiscent of our basalt rock here in the Western Upper Peninsula.

Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux designed Central Park in 1858. Its construction was a Herculean attempt to bring nature to the heart of the largest city in America. It is in Frederick Law Olmstead that this column finds its connection to the Copper Country.

Olmstead had a protege - his nursery man, Warren H. Manning - who shared Olmstead's philosophy that a vital part of the human soul required contact with nature in order to thrive.

Manning designed Agassiz Park in Calumet, with the principles and purposes he learned from Olmstead guiding his hand. When it was dedicated in 1923, Agassiz Park possessed a beauty scarcely hinted at by its present condition. Besides baseball fields and picnic pavilions, there were expansive lawns and the tree-lined walkways were much longer than they are today. There were gardens densely planted with flora native to the forest surrounding Calumet.

During Agassiz Park's construction, Manning organized "Community Days," when groups of residents fanned out into the woods around Calumet to procure these native plants for transplant into the gardens.

This gets me thinking about what life must have been like in Calumet during the copper boom days, with smokestacks churning out soot and the noise of machinery clanging in the air (to say nothing of the harsh and dangerous conditions miners faced underground).

These days, it is hard to imagine people needing deliverance from the pace of life in Calumet. It is hard to see it as a place where the forest was remote enough its plants needed to be physically transported, by a concerted effort, in order to bring people into contact with them.

Now, the rails have been removed from the railroad grades for years, and there are trees growing up out of the foundations of long-forgotten buildings. Now, there are many places in the Copper Country where a half hour (or less) of walking is all it takes to find something profoundly beautiful outdoors.

On the subject of humanity's need for meaningful contact with nature, I stand firmly with Olmstead and with Manning. We must appreciate nature as we are able to experience it here in the U.P. That experience is not so easily found elsewhere, and a vital part of our souls depends upon it.



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