KNA addresses county board

EAGLE RIVER — John Griffith of the Keweenaw Natural Areas (KNA) conservancy group spoke to the County Board last Wednesday, and made himself available for questions pertaining to that organization’s proposed purchase of what it calls the Gratiot River Natural Area.

“I think me and everybody else wishes it was like it was in 1990,” Griffith said, “when Lake Superior Land Company and …Mead, and Keweenaw Land Association owned everything, and it was all CFR land, and we could all go where we wanted at any given time, treated it like public property, but it was not.

The KNA was originally called the Northwoods Conservancy, and the organization’s mission is at least half conservation oriented, Griffith said, but at least half the nonprofit’s mission is public access.

Griffith said that while his group is mostly focused on passive, or non-motorized, public access, about half of the properties it owns are open to motorized vehicles and to hunting.

“We’re not hardcore,” he said, “but most of our group is conservation-minded.”

Griffith said while the group is moving forward, the KNA has not closed on the property yet, and might not. It must raise $80,000 for the downpayment of the property by Dec. 28, but said an anonymous donor he referred to as “a River Angel,” will match all donations up to $40,000, and the KNA only needs $25,000 to reach its goal of the $80,000 needed.

KNA has focused on the Gratiot River area, because it was mostly roadless, had high scenic and biological value, and was a favorite public recreation area under threat of development and blocked access, Griffith said.

Meeting audience member and former board member Ray Chase asked Griffith how much of the property KNA owns is on the tax rolls.

“Our 1,100 acres? It is all off the tax rolls,” Griffith answered, “and as a result of that, we have designations for people to come and we’ve increased the property values in the surrounding area, so at worst it’s a wash, and at most, may be a net positive.”