Keweenaw Natural Areas striving to acquire ‘the missing link’

The Lake Superior shoreline as seen near the mouth of the Gratiot River in the Keweenaw Peninsula. Story and photos by Scot Stewart

Tho’ you’re tired and weary
Still journey on, till you come to your happy abode,
Where all you love you’ve been dreaming of
Will be there, at the end of the road.
– Sir Harry Lauder

The Keweenaw Peninsula is a wild place. The road ends there. It is actually true. U.S. 41 runs across the entire country starting at the southern tip of Florida and ending near the tip of the Keweenaw just east of Copper Harbor. The most northerly part of the Upper Peninsula is an amazing mix of wild, clear rivers, a steep spine once filled with copper, remnants of old growth forests and gorgeous miles of sand, cobble, basalt, conglomerate and shale on the Lake Superior shoreline.
The Keweenaw Natural Areas (KNA) is a land conservation and preservation project west of Ahmeek, a small community north of Houghton-Hancock. It is a work of connections and cohesion, meant to patch together large chunks of land serving as the home to fishers and martens, otter and mink, deer and wolves, black bears and red foxes, bald eagles and barred owls. Large animals need large spaces. As the Upper Peninsula has become a patchwork of land, it has become more and more difficult for these large tracts of land to survive and hold on tightly to their biological integrity.
In late summer when the wind is blowing in from the northwest off the Big Lake, it is hard to tell if it’s summer or fall. The lake is cool and so is the air. It can provide a respite from the heat of summer. A path just off the lake at Gratiot Park can provide just the right amount of sun to provide a warming area for eastern garter snakes lining up to catch some of those last warm rays before getting themselves tucked in for winter.
In the skies above the deep croaks of the common ravens tell a story too. Their calls nearly shake the leaves on the trees with their deep resonance and they offer a warning. As a small group circles overhead, it becomes clear the group is not homogenous. There is a white-headed bird in the group, the cause of the commotion. A bald eagle, cruising along the Gratiot toward Merganser Lake will draw the attention of the ravens and maybe draw some crows too to the aerial fray. Soon though they are all gone.
These are some of the slices of life seen resulting from the work of the KNA group as it has secured 1,100 acres of land thus far in Keweenaw County. The areas contain 1.9 miles of the Gratiot River and over two miles of undeveloped Lake Superior shoreline. The long-term goal is to connect the six current areas of land as much as possible to create an intact block of land managed for its biological character.
The Keweenaw Natural Areas land trust, formerly the Northwoods Conservancy, formed in 1992 and is overseen by five board members, including Jane and John Griffin. The Griffins, biologists, got involved in key work with an endangered subspecies of Bell’s vireo in California and protecting critical habitat in Tecolote Canyon near Mission Bay and San Diego. They soon realized the importance of conserving larger tracts of land to protect wildlife habitats and their waterways, and wanted to have an impact protecting them and slowing global climate change. Wishing to make a bigger difference in land conservation while getting more impact for the money they could secure; they began looking at maps of the entire country to see where they could be effective and make a difference.

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