Notes from the North Country, by Lon and Lynn Emerick

You’ve been following the two-lane pavement north from Marquette toward the end of the road.
You turn off on a narrow dirt track, and after a short bumpy ride, emerge into a gravel parking lot. Views of Lake Superior entice you from all directions. From here, you walk….on up the track to a point overlooking a small island, or through red pine groves to a sweep of sand beach and a rippling creek, or back south through deep woods, lake-cut coves and high red rock walls to another spectacular beach.
Aren’t you lucky to have discovered a spot no one knows, so undeveloped, so clean and natural? Like you, most visitors who don’t know the history of the Little Presque Isle Natural Area may assume it always has been protected and open to all.
Little Presque Isle, Wetmore Landing and Harlow Lake exist in their relatively undisturbed—and overwhelmingly beautiful—state today because of the efforts of local citizens.
In the early 1970s, the U.P. Generating Company announced it had optioned private lands at Little Presque Isle Point to build a 107-megawatt coal-fired plant providing power for inland iron mines. The lake bottom would be blasted for a deep water harbor, power lines would stretch inland from the shore to the mines, and a piping system would carry the coal slurry to dump sites near Harlow Lake. Chain-link fences would designate beach areas open for public use.
Some who rose to protest this industrial use of a special shoreline—Dave Rood, Dorothy Bird, Virginia Long, Richard Coombs—are gone now, but they, and others still here, raised an alarm and an organization: Citizens to Save the Superior Shoreline.
More than two years later, the U.P. Generating Company announced they were dropping plans for Little Presque Isle and expanding their plant in the City of Marquette.
Not an ideal solution, but the Little Presque Isle area at least temporarily was reprieved from heavy industrial use.
In 1979, the State acquired the 2,811 acres and 4.1 miles of shoreline in a trade for lands Cleveland Cliffs wanted for future mining operations. The entire tract became part of the Escanaba State Forest and for many years thereafter all seemed quiet.
The next surprise for citizens who thought the best use for the area was to keep it undeveloped came in 1992. The Michigan DNR had plans well underway to use a Michigan Public Trust grant for road construction and a drive-in RV campground on the shoreline next to Little Presque Isle Point. Again, local citizens—some from the 1970s battles—came together to say, “no.” No campground, no new roads to the shore, no noisy generators.
After hearings by the Michigan Natural Resources Commission, where information surfaced that DNR consultants and some staff had recommended against the plan due to the “outstanding scenic values and erodible shorelines,” the MNRC set up a citizens’ committee to review the entire tract. After twenty-one often-contentious meetings, a plan for quiet recreation was developed and approved by the DNR director.
The inland and shoreline areas were to be designated as the Little Presque Isle Natural Area and the offshore island as a wilderness area.
On the shoreline side of CR-550 there would be only minimal development (parking lots, toilets, signs, trails). Camping, beach fires, pets off leash and mountain biking are off-limits in the shoreline areas between Little Presque Isle and Wetmore Landing. Self-propelled watercraft or electric motors can be operated on Harlow Lake; six log rental cabins were constructed nearby.
So….you are indeed lucky to have this beauty nearby. Next time you visit, stop and give a brief thought to those who worked so hard to make sure it is there for you to enjoy.
Stop, also, to pick up and take home that extra bottle or wrapper, in thanks to the Central U.P. Sierra Club for fourteen years of monthly clean-up days, in sun and rain and beach flies. You might even join them on a summer weekend day to “pay it forward” for the gift of the Little Presque Isle area.
—Lon and Lynn Emerick

Editor’s Note: Comments are welcome by writing MM or to marquettemonthly@ chartermi.net

Lon and Lynn Emerick’s Upper Peninsula books: The Superior Peninsula, Going Back to Central, Lumberjack—Inside an Era, Sharing the Journey, You Wouldn’t Like it Here and You STILL Wouldn’t Like it Here are available at area book and gift stores or by visiting the North Country Publishing site at www.northcountrypublishing.com

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