Keweenaw Loss: Jim Rooks of Copper Harbor, 1935 - 2005
By Michele Anderson
COPPER HARBOR -- -- Jim Rooks -- naturalist, nature guide and educator -- passed away March 10, 2005, at Zablocki Veterans Memorial Hospital in Milwaukee.
Keweenaw Now and friends wish to express to Laurel Rooks of Copper Harbor, their daughter Hannah and Jim's other family members our deepest sympathy in their loss -- and ours -- as we remember Jim's great love for nature and the Keweenaw.
From his helping to save the old-growth Estivant Pines to his Keweenaw eco-tours, Jim will be remembered for many contributions to conservation and education.
"It's pretty hard to start listing all the projects Jim has helped on through the years," said Charles Eshbach of the Michigan Nature Association (MNA). "In 1967 he and I started working to save the Estivant Pines. That project totally dominated Jim's life for the three years we
struggled. Jim and I were co-chairmen of the Pines Committee and drew close through that."
| Jim Rooks, Keweenaw naturalist and nature guide,
worked with the Michigan Nature Association, Charles Eshbach and other
members of the Estivant Pines Committee to preserve this stand of old-growth white pines near Copper Harbor.
Jim Junttila of Laurium captured this photo of Jim during a walk with
him in the Estivant Pines Sanctuary in the spring of 2004. (Photo ©
2004 and courtesy Jim
Junttila. Reprinted with permission.)
The Estivant Pines Sanctuary is a stand of old-growth white pines near Copper Harbor. Through the efforts of the Pines Committee, the Michigan Nature Association was able to purchase 200 acres of the tract in 1973 and another 177 acres in 1988.
Jim Rooks was a natural teacher who loved the Keweenaw and helping people love it, too, Eshbach added.
"Jim's passion was the natural world of the Keweenaw. Thousands of people came away from a Jim Rooks hike knowing that the Keweenaw was a
very special place," he said.
With his Bear Track Tours based in Copper Harbor Jim Rooks took groups of visitors to such Keweenaw
County attractions as the Estivant Pines Sanctuary, Great Sand Bay and The Nature Conservancy's Horseshoe Harbor. Sometimes the tours were on foot, but in more delicate areas where walking might be destructive to the land, Jim conducted the tour from his van. His definition of eco-tourism was sustainable, non-destructive tourism.
As recently as last summer, Jim attended several meetings of the Keweenaw Point Advisory Committee, a group formed to assist the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in planning for the management of the state's recent Keweenaw Tip purchase of 6,275 acres for public access, recreation and conservation. At some of these meetings, Jim sat with the committee to represent Richard Powers, Grant Township supervisor, or Charles Eshbach of
MNA, when they were unable to attend.
|The late Jim Rooks of Copper Harbor
addresses DNR officials, KPAC (Keweenaw Point Advisory Committee) members and the public during the Oct. 5,
2004, public meeting in the Mohawk School. Also pictured are Ann Wilson, DNR communications representative, Office
of the Press Secretary, Marquette, and Jim Junttila, KPAC member
representing the Calumet Keweenaw Sportsmen's Club. (Keweenaw
Now file photo © 2004 Michele
Jim was also a member of the Copper Country Audubon Club. Dana Richter, president of Copper Country Audubon, also worked with Jim and the MNA on the Estivant Pines Sanctuary.
"Jim Rooks was a Copper Harbor icon, as much a part of the Keweenaw as the rocks and shoreline," Richter said. "He will be remembered for his knowledge, love and care for nature and for his fortitude and determination in protecting it. He was a member of Copper Country Audubon and knew more about the birds of the Keweenaw than just about anyone. He documented many first records of birds in the Keweenaw. He was always the one to check with to find out what unusual and rare birds were in the area."
|On a bright day in spring, Jim Rooks, center, with
other Audubon members Bill Deephouse, left, and Joseph Youngman, watch
for birds on Brockway Mountain, near Copper Harbor. (Photo © 2003
and courtesy Dana Richter. Reprinted with permission.)
"Jim Rooks was an expert at identifying hawks and other birds,"
Richter added. "Almost every day between April and the end of May you could find him up on top of Brockway counting hawks and helping others identify birds."
Bill Deephouse, Audubon member, also shared his memories of Jim Rooks.
"It is so painful to write about my friend Jim and him being gone,"
Deephouse said. "It won't be the same anymore watching hawks up on Brockway Mountain. I almost always ran into him when I was up there in April and May."
Deephouse, who is also president of the Copper Country Chapter of Trout
Unlimited and chair of the Keweenaw Point Advisory Committee, noted Jim Rooks'
extensive knowledge of the Keweenaw as well as his concern for its future.
"I got to know Jim in 1968 and have known and admired him ever since,"
Deephouse said. "He had a range of knowledge about all aspects of the Keweenaw that few others did. He was just a wonderful interpretive naturalist. But his heart was devoted to preserving the qualities of the Keweenaw that we love. I learned that during the initial efforts to save the Estivant Pines from being logged. He was a great friend and there wasn't anything he wouldn't do for you. It always made me smile when I walked into the Laughing Loon and heard his deep booming voice. I learned so much from him. All of us are immensely poorer with his passing. The Keweenaw has lost a great friend and defender."
Born January 30, 1935, to Ralph and Vernice (Dorion) Rooks in Detroit, Jim was first employed as a naturalist at the Cleveland, Ohio, Metroparks. He moved to Copper Harbor in the late 1960s. Before establishing his Bear Track Tours, Jim was a park naturalist at Fort Wilkins, taught school in Copper City and gave nature walks in Copper Harbor in addition to working on the Estivant Pines project. He was hired by Edwin Lyons of Dubuque, Iowa, to start a nature center on the Mississippi River Bluffs. While in Dubuque, he met and married Laurel
Zimmerman; and they had their daughter, Hannah. Jim established and ran the E.B. Lyons Nature Interpretive Center for 10 years until it was turned over to the State of Iowa Parks System. Jim returned with his family to the Copper Country in 1983.*
In addition to his eco-tours, Jim contributed often to local conservation efforts and education through his participation in Fort Wilkins visitors' programs and his talks and slide presentations to various civic and school groups.
Bonnie Hay of the Gratiot Lake Conservancy had this to say about Jim Rooks: "We’ve lost a wonderful keeper of the human and natural history of the Keweenaw. He was so close to the land and so expert at sharing its special virtues and secrets with others. I admire Jim’s work as a modern conservation pioneer who had a vision for the Estivant Pines and helped to make it happen. He saw before many of us did that planning and education were necessary to protect Keweenaw’s natural treasures, and he was part of that process until the end."
A memorial service for Jim Rooks will be held in June, with a date to be
*Note: Information in this paragraph is taken from Jim Rooks' Obituary,
published in The
Daily Mining Gazette of Tuesday, Mar. 15, 2005, and on George Hite's Eagle
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