Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hike to Wildcat Falls draws large crowd

On April 1, a large crowd gathers near Watersmeet, Mich., for a hike to Wildcat Falls, located in a parcel the U.S. Forest Service has said it would trade to a private owner. A decision on appeals against the land exchange is expected this month. Speaking to the crowd (background) are organizers Joe Hovel (green sweatshirt and beard) and Rod Sharka (gray sweatshirt), both of Partners in Forestry, Conover, Wis. Click on photos for larger versions. (Photos © and courtesy Steve Garske unless otherwise indicated.)

WATERSMEET, MICH. -- On Sunday, April 1, approximately 100 people gathered on County Line Lake Road a few miles northwest of Watersmeet, Mich., for a hike to Wildcat Falls -- to mourn the sacrificial loss of these special Forest Service parcels containing the unique natural features of potential old growth hemlock/cedar forests, amazing rock outcrops, high quality Scott and Howe Creek, as well as Wildcat Falls.

On the way to Wildcat Falls, hikers make their way through the forest, enjoying its unique natural features perhaps for the last time.

The crowd contained not only local residents, but numerous individuals who traveled from as far away as Houghton/Hancock, Marquette, Iron River, and Ironwood, Mich., as well as Rhinelander, Wis. This hike was sponsored by Partners in Forestry Coop (a local woodland owners organization dedicated to sustainable forestry practices), the Northwoods Alliance (a local non-profit that promotes land conservation issues), and the Northwoods Native Plant Society (a native botany club consisting of professional and amateur botanists).

No April Fool! That's octogenarian mining expert and Keweenaw Now guest writer Jack Parker of Twin Lakes, center, with friends, from left, Marion True (retired Ottawa National Forest forester), Joe Hovel, Rod Sharka and Richard Sloat -- pausing during the hike.

The Ottawa Forest Service has agreed to trade these parcels (that it claims are too isolated and difficult to manage), to a private land speculator/developer in exchange for a parcel of land south of the Porkies that this same individual has recently logged off and badly abused. This same individual has openly stated his intention of logging off these parcels and subdividing them for residential development.

View of Wildcat Falls from the top. (Photo © and courtesy*

Six individual appeals against this land exchange are currently being reviewed by USDA-Forest Service, Eastern Region Appeal Deciding Officer Chuck Myers of Milwaukee, Wis. A final decision is expected by mid-April.

Rod Sharka, one of the organizers, pointed out that the US Forest Service has promoted a plan in recent years called the "Open Space Conservation Strategy," which points out that "the loss of open space impacts the sustainability of natural systems and the overall quality of life for Americans."

In this plan, the first stated goal is "Protecting the most ecologically and socially important lands."

Hikers enjoy the rushing water of Wildcat Falls, hoping it's not for the last time.

Sharka stated, "I’d like to know -- How is the trading of these parcels to someone who admittedly intends to log off these woods and subdivide these parcels for development, in exchange for land he has already cut over and abused, adhering to the conservation principles stated in this plan? Perhaps these parcels are small relative to the million acre Ottawa, but they are unique and should be treated as such. It’s NOT just Wildcat Falls. It’s NOT just the old growth hemlock/cedar. It’s NOT just the impressive rock outcrops. NO, it’s the combination of all of these unique features in one, concentrated area that makes these parcels so special."

Click here to read more about the land exchange and see more photos on the Partners in Forestry Web site.
*See more photos on

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