Volunteers rally to repair community park, image

by Kim Hoyum
Over the last five months, a group of residents, businesspeople, developers, officials and other community leaders has been meeting in K.I. Sawyer to discuss, research and solve the community’s issues. Their progress is measured in more police presence in the community, contacts made with owners of vacant buildings, cleaning and painting at Little Trout Lake Park and even a planned fall community clean up.
The group of about thirty people has no official name, and intends to keep it that way. It’s based on ideas of self-reliance, inclusiveness, positive thinking and action rather than words.
“It’s the old-fashioned way—a community doing things for itself,” said Bob Struck, an organizer of the group and a Marquette County commissioner. “What’s more important is what we accomplish, and not what we call ourselves.”
Those involved have met since March and work on areas of concern that were identified early in the group’s formation. They have a dozen work groups of a few people each, and concerns include vacant buildings, police availability, road conditions, streetlights, local ordinances, water and sewer, Little Trout Lake Park, community clean up, public relations, the “W” community center, the K.I. Sawyer Community Association and education and research.
Scott Bammert, another group organizer and corporate manager of K.I. Sawyer developer Macasu, Inc. said one major obstacle already has been overcome: opening the lines of communication between disparate and previously confusing factions with interests in the community. The former U.S. Air Force base is split in governance between Forsyth and West Branch townships, and Marquette County operates Sawyer International Airport and owns tracts of property in K.I. Sawyer. Private developers, landlords and homeowners also have pieces of the community.
“We’re four-and-a-half or five months into this, so it’s neat to see the cooperation between the residents, the townships and county, homeowners, renters and developers,” Bammert said. “Before, an issue would come up and people would not really be sure who to direct it to. Now, everyone is at the same table and we can pass ideas around and come up with a solution.”
So far, the group has made progress on most of its chosen issues. The problem of vacant and sometimes vandalized buildings is highlighted on Panther Street, close to Sawyer Elementary School, Struck said. Much of the street consists of boarded-up former housing units, which are not only eyesores, but potential hazards that attract trouble in the form of further vandalism, he said. So, the group is working on contacting the owners of the buildings, and seeking grants either to renovate them into something useful or livable, or have them demolished. That goal also helps with several other interlocking goals, such as community clean up and public relations, Bammert said.
“If we can either redo them, or tear them down, that would go a long way toward improving perceptions of Sawyer,” he said.
Another longtime struggle for the K.I. Sawyer community has been a lack of adequate police protection for the area, and with input from Forsyth Township’s supervisor and police chief, patrols in the K.I. Sawyer area are increasing, Struck said.
“There already has been more of a police presence at Sawyer from Forsyth (Township Police Department),” he said. “Besides that, we’re talking to the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office to see if we can’t get their cars out here more.”
Volunteers also have identified roads and sidewalks to be improved, and streetlights that are vital to be kept on for the community. As for local ordinances, they sometimes conflict, or are designed more for rural areas of the respective townships than for a more congested area such as K.I. Sawyer housing areas, Struck said. For instance, stray animal complaints abound at K.I. Sawyer, but no system or agency exists to remedy them, so the group has recruited a few volunteers to transport strays to the Marquette County Humane Society in Negaunee Township. Perhaps the most noticeable difference the group has made so far is the work of several young people through Michigan Works! who have begun to clean up Little Trout Lake Park, including its campground, playground and beach. The same people are researching vacant buildings and putting together a sort of Welcome Wagon for the community.
“We’ve got a dedicated working group actually doing these things besides the original people,” Struck said.
Public relations is another area the group is hoping to improve, increasing efforts to contact media about the positives of K.I. Sawyer, and organizing welcome packages for new K.I. Sawyer residents to help them feel a part of the community.
“Sawyer sometimes is its own worse enemy,” Struck said. “People don’t talk about the good things going on there, and focus on the bad.”
Bammert said the things K.I. Sawyer has to offer are worth highlighting to newcomers.
“We’ll be making sure people feel welcome when they come to Sawyer, making them feel like this is a good community they want to be a part of,” he said.
The group also is working on helping two established K.I. Sawyer community focal points out of trouble: the former “W” community and fitness center, and the K.I. Sawyer Community Association, which briefly ran the W, but did not succeed in revitalizing it, and now is struggling to stay afloat itself.
Struck said the positive initiatives coming from K.I. Sawyer residents and group members are encouraging, although they are just the first steps in a larger goal of having a successful community.
“It’s somewhat slow going—we’re not going to revitalize Sawyer into a thriving city in a few months,” Struck said. “But these are the small steps we can do right now. Part of the problem out here is that this is not like living in an established community, where you have a city government to work through. Here, we have to decide, is this a township or a county issue? And sometimes when it’s not clear, especially with a lack of resources, it means problems get passed back and forth and around.”
But, he said, with the community group taking the initiative to solve the issues that come up, they are seeing an increase in assistance from local governments.
“They’re showing local ownership as well as local leadership,” he said. “Now we’re seeing that the county and the townships are very willing to help them because they’re not just sitting there, they’re actually doing things. Something comes up and people from the county or the townships are right there, saying, ‘Tell us how we can help you.’ ”
The K.I. Sawyer community group meets again at 6:00 p.m. on August 3, and is open to anyone interested. For details, call 346-7911.
—Kim Hoyum

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