Editor's note: This is the second article in a four-part series looking at Keweenaw National Historical Park, celebrating its 20th anniversary this week.
CALUMET TOWNSHIP - According to Scott See, the Keweenaw National Historical Park Advisory Commission is somewhat unique in that it's a permanent body.
"A number of other parks and heritage areas have had federal commissions to help them get started, but they generally have sunset or ending dates built into their legislation," said See, advisory commission executive director.
See said not only was KNHP modeled after the Lowell National Historical Park in Lowell, Mass., so is the KNHP Advisory Commission.
"Lowell had a commission that was created as part of its enabling legislation," he said.
The KNHP Advisory Commission was quite a bit different in its original form, See said. Originally called the Calumet Historic Preservation Commission, its focus was supposed to work to preserve historic properties in Calumet, but there was some ambiguity in the mandate.
"It didn't specify who those property owners were," he said.
That body was also intended to advise the park staff, See said. However, that form for the commission never happened.
"That legislation didn't come to pass," See said.
However, See said when the legislation creating the park was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on Oct. 27, 1992, it did provide for the advisory commission, which would operate historical, educational or cultural programs in the entire Keweenaw Peninsula.
"It is very expansive," he said.
The commission is able to operate inside and outside KNHP boundaries, See said.
Early on, See said there was an issue with getting funding for the commission, because Bush found an error in the wording of the legislation regarding operational powers. The commission could advise the KNHP staff, but they couldn't run programs.
"It took seven years to get that legislation fixed," See said. "Their ability to get things accomplished was pretty limited."
In 2001 the advisory commission was authorized to receive up to $100,000 per year for operating programs, See said. That was increased to $250,000 in 2009. However, the commission has never received the maximum allowed.
"(The funding) provided financial assistance for a long list of projects and to hire the first executive director, Ron Welton," See said.
Welton served from October 2002 to November 2004, See said. The commission was without an executive director until See was hired in July 2009.
The first advisory commission meeting took place in April 1994, See said. Its first chair was Paul Lehto, who is currently Calumet Township supervisor. In those early days, commission members were part of trying to determine exactly what form the park would take.
"They provided input to (first KNHP Supervisor Bill Fink) and his staff," See said.
There are seven members on the commission, who are recommended by local residents, then approved by the Secretary of the Interior. Commission members meet quarterly in the KNHP headquarters building on Red Jacket Road in Calumet Township.
The second KNHP supervisor, Frank Fiala, created what was then called Cooperating Sites, See said. These private historic property owners or providers of programs relating to the history of the copper era, were part of the park's partnership concept. In 2007, the term Cooperating Sites was changed to Heritage Sites. There are 19 Heritage Sites now.
"They preserve and interpret some of the most important resources that are part of story of copper," See said of the purpose of the Heritage Sites. "They carry the bulk of the visitation to the park."
See said the KNHP began its Heritage Grants program five years ago under then-superintendent Jim Corless. The grants provided funding for upgrades or maintenance to owners of historic properties including, but not limited to, Heritage Site owners. In 2010, the advisory commission began its Heritage Grant program. In 2012, the two provided $149,000 in Heritage Grants, with $100,000 coming from the advisory commission and $49,000 from the park.
See said the advisory commission is funded by a combination of federal funds, private donations and foundation grants.
Kim Hoagland, advisory commission chair, said there were difficulties in the early days of the body.
"We have had great difficulty getting established as a recognized entity with our own dedicated funding from the National Park Service," she said.
However, the advisory commission has had successes, also, Hoagland said.
"We have made great strides here," she said. "With the hiring of an executive director, we became full-time rather than just volunteer, and we've been able to institute programs and see them through. One of our greatest successes is our grant program. We've distributed $100,000 over each of the past few years to organizations and individuals to further the main objective of the park, which is to protect and preserve the copper-mining heritage of this region."
Hoagland said she thinks the process to fill seats on the advisory commission is not the most efficient, however.
"The structure of the commission, which is seven volunteers appointed by the Secretary of the Interior to fill designated seats, is a little awkward," she said. "The actual designation process seems very far away from us in the Keweenaw."
Hoagland said commission members work well with current KNHP Superintendent Mike Pflaum and his staff.
"The working relationship with the park staff is excellent," she said. "They are a group of professionals who bring skills rare in our region - historical architect, historical landscape architect, interpreter, archivist, historian and others - and we value their expertise. In return, the advisory commission brings an understanding of the local community to their undertakings as we advise them. I think it works well."
Moving forward, Hoagland said advisory commission members want to get more people involved with the park and its purpose.
"We would like to get everyone in the Keweenaw interested in preserving and explaining their history," she said. "This would be reflected in restored buildings, thriving historic sites, local history in the schools and on field trips, and a better understanding of where we have been, in order to see where we are to go."