Editor's note: This is the third article in a four-part series looking at Keweenaw National Historical Park, celebrating its 20th anniversary this week.
CALUMET TOWNSHIP - In the early days of the Keweenaw National Historical Park, there were significant challenges with its formation, but there was success early on, also, according to people involved with the process.
Bill Fink, first superintendent for KNHP after legislation creating it was signed on Oct. 27, 1992, by President George H.W. Bush, said one of the first challenges he faced concerned an office for himself. He found space on the second floor of what was then a doctor's office and is now the park headquarters building on Red Jacket Road in Calumet Township.
Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette
Keweenaw National Historical Park Chief of Interpretation Kathleen Harter points out a historical photo on one of the exhibit panels installed in the Calumet Visitor Center in September 2011, just prior to its opening.
Fink said although the doctors were happy to be able to offer him the space free of charge, National Park Service officials wanted a lease, anyway. Although it took some time, he eventually convinced those officials that wasn't necessary.
"They decided writing a lease for something that was being given ... wasn't going to work," he said. "They dropped it."
Another challenge faced early by Fink was the fact his two staff members, Ed Yarbrough and Lynn Bjorkman, had offices in two other different locations - the Calumet village hall and the Calumet post office basement - making working together a logistical challenge.
Fink said soon after he started work at KNHP, the Congressional Public Lands Committee rescinded the funding for the park, so he was without a source of pay.
"They had to siphon off from other parks to pay my salary," he said.
Because of that uncertainty about funding for the park, Fink said there was some concern it might cease to exist soon after it was formed.
However, it soon became clear to those in Congress the story of copper is part of American history.
"It's truly an important story," he said.
Fink said he often had conflicts with then-director of the National Park Service Jim Ridenour, who, after leaving the NPS, wrote a book about his experiences, in which he called KNHP an "inconsequential slab of pork."
In response, Fink said he wrote an article for the magazine of the Hancock-based George Wright Society in the mid 1990s challenging Ridenour's assertions about the park.
"I think he severely distorted the facts," Fink said.
In 1995, because of a conflict between some members of Congress and President Bill Clinton, the government shut down, meaning no government employees were paid, but Fink said he didn't leave his office.
"I refused to quit working," he said. "That probably is what led to my career change."
The first chair of the KNHP Advisory Commission was Paul Lehto, who said the biggest challenge that group had early was lack of funding.
"We never had a budget," Lehto said.
Although the legislation creating the park and the Advisory Commission authorized them to receive up to $100,000 per year, they didn't actually receive funding until 2001.
The advisory commission also spent a considerable amount of time helping to decide what the park would actually look like, Lehto said. The version of the park's management plan submitted by the NPS Midwest regional headquarters in Omaha, Neb., was not to the liking of the advisory commission members.
"Our advisory commission spent a lot of time rewriting the management plan," he said. "(National Park Service officials) were much more satisfied with the revision."
Letting the public know where features of the park and its Cooperating Sites were was a problem, too, Lehto said.
"We did talk about signage, but that didn't get here until the last couple of years," he said.
Tom Baker, KNHP ranger and management assistant, said there have been many accomplishments for the park in its first 20 years.
The transition from the Cooperating Sites to Heritage Sites was important for the park, Baker said. Developing partnerships with local municipalities was helpful, also.
Although the federal Copper Trail National Byway was created through another federal agency, Baker said the park becoming a partner in that was an accomplishment. The Byway is actually everything north of the Portage Lake Lift Bridge.
The purchase by the NPS of the former Union Building in Calumet was necessary for helping to preserve a structure important to telling the story of copper because of its connection to fraternal organizations used by the copper miners, Baker said.
"The building was in a severe state of deterioration," he said. "It really needed to be saved."
After the building was purchased, Baker said stabilization work was done to prevent further deterioration, and in 2007 a decision was made to turn it into a visitor center. In June 2010, renovation work on the interior began and in Oct. 2011, it was opened to the public.
Other significant building purchases made by the NPS for the park were the former Calumet & Hecla Mining Company headquarters building, which now is KNHP headquarters, and the former Quincy Mine office building on U.S. 41 near the Michigan Department of Transportation lookout.
Another accomplishment for the park was financial, Baker said. In 2009, legislation changed the required match for funds distributed by the park from four-to-one to one-to-one. That meant more individuals and organizations could take part in applying for the park's Heritage Grants program.
"That was huge," Baker said.