Proposal for 34,000-acre public nature park faces monumental challenges
GRANT TOWNSHIP — Grant Township Supervisor Scott Wendt gave a presentation to the Keweenaw County Board Wed. evening on a proposal for what would be called the Keweenaw Heartlands Collaborative Park that would encompass more than 32,500 acres of forestland.
The park would be created out of four large parcels of land for sale by American Forest Management.
The Heartlands park, said Wendt, is a transformational approach to conservation, managed growth and economics, by combining outdoor recreation, resource protection, sustainable forestry and community partnerships in regional, “forever collaborative park setting.”
The mission is to use the park as a public park for the conservation and preservation of the Keweenaw’s unique and natural historical resources, Wendt said, for educational and interpretive purposes, and for the purposes of public recreation for both current and future generations.
The four parcels under consideration comprise more than 32,600 acres that are connected to, or adjacent to, state, county and conservation lands, and would form, when interconnected, the third largest public park in Michigan.
In addition to mixed boral and hardwood forestland, the park could contain some 3.5 miles of Lake Superior frontage, four primitive inland lakes, 11 miles of Montreal River, the entire Little River/Betsy Basin; two miles of Upson; two miles of Silver River, along with two and a half miles of French Annie, and if counted correctly, said Wendt said, there are more than 20 miles of Type-1 trout streams and creeks.
The park would contain frontage on Lac La Belle and Lake Medora. There are also two long-term ski hill operations, and seven miles — essentially the entire covered road of U.S. 41 leading into Copper Harbor.
The gist of the park, Wendt said, will integrate a well-designed, diverse trail system, encompassing almost every type of trail user that currently uses Keweenaw Point, along with strategically located, developed, and rustic campground sites; picnicking and day-use areas, along with historic, indigenous, mining and logging interpretive areas. It will, he added, create a connection between the natural environment, the park amenities, local communities, and park visitors.
At the conclusion of the 16-minute presentation, County Commissioner Jim Vivian asked: “Where’s the money coming from?”
There are two goals to the park, Wendt replied, to preserve and protect the land at all costs, and the Nature Conservancy has said that there is a possibility that they would operate as a temporary bridge land owner, provided the conservancy is provided an exit from it. How that will be accomplished, said Wendt, is the key.
The conservancy has stated that collaborative government is part of their answer, he continued.
“Early talks with the Trust Fund is actually how this whole plan started,” said Wendt. “This vision is three months old.”
At a meeting with directors of the Trust Fund, Wendt said he was told that creation of parks in the Michigan wilderness is the reason for the Trust Fund, and at this phase, a large percentage of the money is envisioned to come from the Trust Fund. Beyond that, he said, there are no answers yet.
County Board Chairman Don Piche said he believes something of the magnitude of the proposal needs to go to a referendum vote of the entire county, to which Wendt replied he agreed.
“This is a transformational change,” said Wendt, “in the way that we believe Keweenaw County should protect and manage its resources.”
Vivian added that the proposal is a “pretty ambitious” project, and dwarfs the Fort Wilkins State Park and the Isle Royale National Park combined.
An audience member asked who is going to run this park, which Wendt said would be a collaborative effort between the county and the townships.
When Commissioner Del Rajala asked how much of the land would be removed from the county’s tax rolls, Wendt said at this level, he could not provide an answer yet, but there are several revenue streams that would help to offset that, which are camping, concessions, forest management and day-use visitors.
While there are still many significant questions yet unanswered, Piche told Wendt that the first step to this proposal is to get the permission of the Keweenaw County residents.