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News from the Keweenaw Peninsula

July 19, 2005  

Ceremony marks Bete Grise preservation

By Michele Manarolla

BETE GRISE -- Community members, conservation leaders and local, state and tribal officials gathered on July 9, 2005, to celebrate the dedication of Bete Grise South -- the 1,104-acre dune-swale wetlands preserve located on the Keweenaw's south shore of Lake Superior, near Lac La Belle.

The land was recently purchased by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District (HKCD) from owner International Paper/Lake Superior Land Co. through several state and federal grants, fundraising and private donations.

Photo: Children playing on the beach at Bete Grise South (c) 2005 Michelle Manarolla.

Children enjoy the beach at Bete Grise South, now a preserve open to the public for non-invasive recreation. (Photo © 2005 Michelle Manarolla)

The HKCD will retain ownership of roughly 1,045 acres containing the area's primary coastal plain wetland community. The Keweenaw Land Trust (KLT) will hold a conservation easement over the parcel retained by HKCD. The Nature Conservancy will hold title to roughly 59 acres, containing nearly a mile of Lake Superior and Mendota Canal waterfront. The entire 1,104-acre preserve will be managed jointly by the three-agency partnership.

The ceremony drew nearly a hundred men, women and children who came by car, boat and kayak and on foot to celebrate the preservation of the single most important coastal marsh wetland community in the upper Great Lakes region and to honor the key individuals and organizations that made the preservation a possibility.

Photo: Visitors and local officials at Bete Grise Dedication Ceremony (c) 2005 Michelle Manarolla.

Visitors and local officials listen to presentations at the Bete Grise Dedication Ceremony on July 9, 2005, at Bete Grise South, near Lac La Belle in Keweenaw County. (Photo © 2005 Michelle Manarolla)

"I think it [the preserve] is so special because of how many people came together to save the Bete Grise shoreline and create the preserve," stated Gina Nicholas, HKCD vice-chairperson. Nicholas, who led the ceremony, has worked voluntarily for over five years to get the preserve established.

The public will be encouraged to continue using the preserve year round for non-invasive recreation such as berry picking, hiking, bird watching, etc., Nicholas explained. Prohibited on the Preserve are activities such as campfires, overnight camping and the use of ATVs.

The HKCD partnered with The Nature Conservancy, Keweenaw Land Trust, South Shore Association, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to make the preserve a possibility.

Photo: Sign for Bete Grise Preserve (c) 2005 Michelle Manarolla.

This sign honors the groups and individuals who have worked through partnership to create the Bete Grise South Preserve. (Photo © 2005 Michelle Manarolla)

"This is one the most tremendous land acquisition efforts I've ever been involved with," said Jeff Knoop, Upper Peninsula director of land protection for the Michigan Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. "In less than one year a terrific group of partners came together, raised the funds; and now Bete Grise Wetland with its outstanding shoreline is in protective hands for the people of today and for future generations to savor and enjoy."

Knoop, who has been instrumental in negotiations for the purchase of the property, was a speaker at the dedication ceremony.

For purchase of the Preserve, the partnership has received $1,447,000 through two granting sources -- $447,000 through the DEQ Coastal Zone Management Program and $1 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"Under these grants, we have to bring matching funds of 25% to the table in order to comply with the grant funding Proposal Agreement," Knoop said. "To date we have only raised roughly $50,000 and still need to come up with an additional $450,000 to complete the project."

In other words, The Nature Conservancy has an outstanding loan of $450,000 with a 5% interest rate, Knoop explained.

"Until these loans are paid back in full with interest we will not be in a position to acquire any more land in the Keweenaw or elsewhere in Michigan, so donations of funds to complete the project are essential for us to continue our land protection efforts in Michigan," he added.

Also present at the ceremony were two representatives from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) -- Donnie Dowd, who performed a traditional Native American pipe ceremony, and Warren "Chris" Swartz, Jr., KBIC Tribal Council vice-president, who offered a short speech on the significance of the Bete Grise preserve to Native American culture and history.

Photo: Native American pipe ceremony (c) 2005 Michelle Manarolla.

During the July 9 Bete Grise Preserve dedication, Evan McDonald, right, executive director of the Keweenaw Land Trust, participates in the Native American pipe ceremony conducted by Donnie Dowd of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. Gina Nicholas, second from left, vice-chairperson for the Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District, led the dedication ceremony. (Photo © 2005 Michelle Manarolla)

Other speakers at the ceremony included Dave Kenaga, project manager for the DEQ's Michigan Coastal Management Program; Don Keith, Keweenaw County commissioner; Evan McDonald, executive director of the Keweenaw Land Trust; Bob Doepker, Western U.P. Wildlife Supervisor for the DNR; Tom Collins, representing the South Shore Association, and Bonnie Hay from the Reading the Landscape educational program.

Speaking on behalf of the DEQ coastal management program, Dave Kenaga comically stated, "I spoke to the animals this morning and the plants and they wanted to say thanks for keeping their home safe." He later described the preserve as, "a place where people can come to let their burdens of daily life escape their minds for years and years to come."

Evan McDonald of the Keweenaw Land Trust, a local organization involved with conservation easements, said, "I know that in 30 to 40 years this land will be here and look the same then as it does now."

Photo: musician playing closing song for Bete Grise ceremony (c) 2005 Michelle Manarolla.

Tom Collins, South Shore Association president and local musician, plays the closing song for the ceremony. (Photo © 2005 Michelle Manarolla)

The HKCD has also applied for management grants to supply gates and appropriate signage where needed and to develop a long-term management plan for the area.

Future activities at the preserve include a beach cleanup in September. The HKCD also hopes to continue with more detailed biological surveys and educational programs.

Editor's notes: 

Bete Grise South, once destined for a residential development, has been preserved after more than five years of public meetings; DEQ permit applications, denials and re-applications (one including a proposed bridge over a wetland) and negotiations between conservation groups and the landowner, Lake Superior Land Co. (now a subsidiary of International Paper). For background on the efforts to preserve this rare Great Lakes Marsh, see our Keweenaw Now articles, "Bete Grise wetlands, shoreline protected through TNC partnership" (Dec. 10, 2004); "Bete Grise awarded $1 million for wetland, habitat protection" (Oct. 29 and Nov. 4, 2004); and "Bete Grise awarded $450,000 for coastal wetland protection" (Nov. 24, 2004).

Guest writer Michelle Manarolla is a graduate student in forestry at Michigan Technological University and a reporter for the Michigan Tech Lode.

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