November 2006 News
Gratiot River North awaits funding for public access
ALLOUEZ TOWNSHIP -- To anyone enjoying a Walk along Lake Superior at Gratiot River North, it would seem absurd
that these 100 acres and 4,000 feet of agate-rich cobble and basaltic bedrock on the north
shore of the Keweenaw Peninsula might have been buried beneath residential housing and put
off limits to the public forever. To prevent this, in March 2003, the North Woods
Conservancy (NWC) became the interim owner, using proceeds from a commercial loan. By no
means was this an easy task: NWC members pledged stock and real estate to collateralize the loan, and four of them co-signed it to guarantee the payments.
|This photo is of the shoreline of the Gratiot River North property, looking southwest along the Lake Superior coast toward the mouth of the Gratiot River.
(File photo by John Griffith)
The property is located immediately northeast of the existing Gratiot River County Park. In
addition to the lakeshore, Gratiot River North includes several upland and wetland habitats,
many state and federally listed threatened or endangered species and an abundance of deer.
The Gratiot River is also the site of a coaster brook trout research and restoration project.
“We have worked with Michigan Tech and the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) since 1999
to help plant coaster brook trout," reports Bill Deephouse, member and past president of the
Copper Country Chapter of Trout Unlimited (CCCTU). "We were so enthusiastic."
|Bill Deephouse of the Copper Country Chapter of Trout
Unlimited and his grandson Liam, accompanied by Bill's dog Sadie, help
clean up the Gratiot River County Park area in Allouez Township during
the annual beach cleanup in September 2005. Trout Unlimited joins the
North Woods Conservancy and other community groups in cleaning up
Keweenaw beaches each September. (Keweenaw Now file photo © 2005
While it hasn’t happened yet that adult fish are returning to the river, CCCTU is now trying
to get the DNR to change the planting location to an area with more shoal, less
current and a less severe environment, Deephouse
"We are still interested in pursuing how to rehabilitate the coaster brook
trout," he adds. "We planted 31,000 coaster brook trout on Oct. 10,
2006. This is the eighth consecutive year our Trout Unlimited Chapter has
assisted the DNR in stocking these fish in the Gratiot River."
|The mouth of the Gratiot River adjacent to Lake
Superior is a favorite recreation spot open to the public as part of the
Keweenaw County Park. (Keweenaw Now file photo © 2005
Thankfully, the North Woods Conservancy is working hard to preserve the land as it stands
and enabling the public to enjoy, appreciate and benefit from this truly amazing
According to NWC President John Griffith, the Conservancy's interim ownership preserved public access and
the natural and scenic resources of the land, while precluding the immediate development of
22 homes on the lakeshore and a bridge across the Gratiot River through the middle of the
existing park. The intent of the NWC was to hold the property for up to three years, until
it could be transferred into public ownership. On December 6, 2005, Keweenaw County was
awarded a $1.95 million grant from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) to
purchase Gratiot River North from the NWC (retiring the NWC loan) to add to the original Gratiot River Park.*
"Our outdoor Keweenaw lifestyle, our quality of life, our environment, and our
tourism-based economy depend upon public access to Lake Superior and the North Woods," Griffith says.
"That's why I'm so happy to have contributed to getting 8,000 feet of Lake Superior and 200
acres into public ownership and why I'm working now to add another 7,000 feet of the Gratiot
River to the park."
Griffith added he is running (in the upcoming Nov. 7 election) for the Keweenaw County Board
of Commissioners position vacated by Gordon Roberts. In a letter to Keweenaw County
residents, Griffith notes he has the support of Roberts and also of two other County
Commissioners -- Al Gunnari (D) and Don Keith (R).
In that letter, Griffith describes himself as "conservative with regard to fiscal and general public policy, a social moderate, a strong defender of private property rights, and
a conservationist." Noting that open space is needed "for wildlife, recreation, tourism, and
logging jobs," Griffith writes, "My motto is 'You CAN have it both ways -- all it takes is a
little foresight and planning.' For example, we have it 'both ways' with the Gratiot River
Park. We have everything the park offers to residents and tourists, yet the tax base is not
impacted because the value of the surrounding property has increased and is drawing
residential and tourism-based development. We also don't have much infrastructure or
police/fire costs on the vacant land. It's a win-win: we get the park to enjoy instead of
vacation mansions and 'No Trespassing' signs lining the lake and river, plus we maintain tax
revenue, save on expenses, draw tourists, and create jobs."
The original county park was also obtained with grants, at no cost to the county: 75% from
the MNRTF and 25% from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act fund obtained for the
County by the North Woods Conservancy.
|Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District (HKCD) volunteers are pictured here with bags of trash collected
during the September 2006 beach cleanup at the Gratiot River County
Park. Sue Haralson, second from right, HKCD administrator, reported on
the cleanup in her recent presentation at the HKCD annual meeting. John
and Jane Griffith of the North Woods Conservancy coordinate the annual
September cleanup of Keweenaw beaches as part of the Michigan Coastal
Cleanup, which is part of the International Coastal Cleanup. The goal is
to pick up trash from every portion of beach, large or small, in
Houghton and Keweenaw counties. A record is kept of what areas are
cleaned, how much and what type of refuse is collected and who
participated. (Photo © 2006 Sue Haralson.)
Interestingly, much of the Keweenaw Peninsula has very little publicly owned land. In Allouez Township (the Gratiot River North project area), only 2 percent of the land is public. The state-wide average is 11 percent. Land many assume is public is in fact owned
by private corporations. Many of these lands have been subdivided and sold within the last
ten years, greatly decreasing the chance for public ownership or use. Furthermore, Keweenaw
County is more dependent upon logging and tourism for its economy than any other county in
the state; and the traditional Keweenaw quality of life is almost entirely dependent upon
public access to land for hunting, fishing and other recreational activities.
The Gratiot River County Park and Addition and Gratiot River North will most definitely be
open to the public; public access is the driving purpose of the project. Access by vehicle
is available via the county road on the south side of the river leading to the mouth. A
dedicated 4-wheeler trail to the mouth is planned. Non-motorized access and use is
available on the north side of the river. Access is via the Gratiot River North trailhead
or from the parking area near the mouth. Picnic tables, pump-out restrooms, a footbridge
across the river and a surfaced handicapped accessible trail are also planned. Hunting,
fishing, primitive camping, and other recreational activities are encouraged.
Although the grant for Gratiot River North was awarded to the County in December 2005, the
money has not actually arrived yet, so the NWC is still servicing the interim loan until the
County can purchase the property. Even so, the NWC is looking ahead to the next step:
adding Gratiot River South to the park. This southern piece would complete the coastal
portion of the park, including 7,000 feet of up-stream river.
However, not everyone is as excited as Griffith is to conserve this unique parcel of
land. Keweenaw County Board Chairman Frank Stubenrauch, while a supporter of the original County
Park, has some objections to adding Gratiot River South to it.
|Keweenaw County Board Chairman Frank Stubenrauch
helps clean up the beach during the September 2005 Michigan Coastal
Cleanup at the mouth of the Gratiot River, part of the County Park. (Keweenaw Now file photo © 2005
"Quite a bit of land is already under the NWC and County Park," Stubenrauch says. "I’m not
enthusiastic about adding another piece of land for conservation. I have to think about the
Here is some food for thought: Conservation of lands for public access and recreation means
economic benefit for the County from not only the traditional recreation activities of
hunting and fishing, but also from silent sports that attract visitors to the area. An
example is the 2005 Keweenaw Trail Running Festival, which attracted 500 tourists and
brought in $272,000 to Keweenaw County.
According to the North Woods Conservancy's Web site, "The NWC is dedicated to the
preservation and enhancement of natural areas for the benefit of native biological diversity, science and education, and public enjoyment."
For more information about the North Woods Conservancy and pictures of Gratiot River North
and other NWC public access natural areas, please visit
www.northwoodsconservancy.org. Donations may be sent to NWC, P.O. Box 124, Calumet, MI 49931.
*The MNRTF provides funds for resource protection and recreation derived from royalties on
the sale and lease of state-owned mineral rights.
Editor's Notes: For background on this issue see also Keweenaw Now's
Jan. 30, 2003, article, "Conservancy plans purchase of Gratiot River North"
and the May 4, 2003 article, "North Woods Conservancy acquires property for public use."
The author of this article, Wimberly (Ashley) Routhier, from Livonia,
Michigan, is a third-year student at Michigan Tech University. Her major
concentration is in marketing, with a minor in journalism. This article was
written in conjunction with a journalism class taught by Professor Craig
Waddell, Department of Humanities.
Want to stay in the K-NOW? Don't miss out on the whole story. Find out how you can help.
Hire a Writing Pro
Does the writing on your Web site leave something to be desired? Thesis grammar getting you down? Find out how we can help.
Lure Our Readers to You
Our readers share your passion for the Keweenaw Peninsula. Lure them to
you through banners, sponsorships, and more.