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Friday, October 16, 2015

Hancock Labyrinth project continues on October Saturdays; volunteers make a difference

By Michele Bourdieu

Hancock Labyrinth volunteers, from left, Jake Jurkowski, Aaron Townley, Jared Townley and Gunnar Johnson are pictured here with bags of weeds they collected on Saturday, Sept. 19, during a Labyrinth cleanup morning. Jake, Aaron and Gunnar are members of Michigan Tech's Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity. Jared was visiting his brother and joined the group. The Labyrinth maintenance project continues this month. More volunteers are needed on Saturdays, Oct. 17 and Oct. 24. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

HANCOCK -- On a sunny Saturday in mid-September, Jared Townley was visiting his brother, Michigan Tech student Aaron Townley, a member of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity, which is located in Hancock, and cheerfully joined a group of Phi Kappa Tau volunteers in helping with maintenance of the Hancock Labyrinth -- a project of the Copper Country Community Arts Center.

Jared was digging up some of the rocks marking the Labyrinth path and raising them to the surface.

Jared Townley, visiting his brother Aaron Townley on Sept. 19, digs up rocks and replaces them in the paths of the Hancock Labyrinth. The Townley brothers are from Freeland, Michigan.

"The rocks got plowed under when the snowplows came through in the winter," he explained.

Jared, a theology and classics major, recently graduated from Valparaiso University in Indiana, and Aaron is studying engineering at Michigan Tech.

Carol Kozminski, Copper Country Community Arts Center board member and Labyrinth project leader, expressed appreciation for the hours of volunteer help from community members and students. She noted the Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity members have been regular helpers with the project.

Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity members Andrew LeSage, left, and Rob Shlimovitz clear tall grass around the plants and sculptures of the Labyrinth on Sept. 12, 2015. 

Two more Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity members, Andrew LeSage and Rob Shlimovitz, who were helping at the Labyrinth earlier in September, said their fraternity is a social one but offers a lot of community service.

"We especially try to get back to Hancock to help because they do so much for us," LeSage noted. "Hancock is very supportive of us, especially during Winter Carnival."

Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity has one first place in Michigan's Winter Carnival fraternity division several times over the years.

Pictured here after a Saturday morning of hard work on the Labyrinth are, from left, Phi Kappa Tau members Andrew LeSage and Rob Shlimovitz with Allyson Jabusch, volunteer coordinator, and Carol Kozminski, Labyrinth project leader.

Assisting Carol with coordinating the volunteers is Allyson Jabusch of Hancock.

"She's my great volunteer who calls everybody to help," Kozminski said.

Jabusch has dedicated many Saturday mornings to working on the project with other volunteers.

Visitor Mary LeDoux, right, who was in town for the Sept. 19 Parade of Nations, chats with Allyson Jabusch, left, and Carol Kozminski about the Labyrinth.

"It's years in the making and if the citizens want it they've got to help," Jabusch said. "Thanks to the efforts of Phi Kappa Tau brothers at the Labyrinth Park the last two weekends (in September) more than a dozen bags of weeds and a pile of dead pine trees were produced. Also many, many rocks were unearthed that had been buried by winter snow plowings."

Located at the base of the Lift Bridge near the Ramada, the Hancock Labyrinth was built in 2000 by volunteers led by community artist Mary Wright.* Gardens and sculptures were added in 2003 by community artists and volunteers. The Labyrinth is now on a National Registry of labyrinths.

This sculpture tells the history of the Hancock Labyrinth. Click on photo for larger version.

Jabusch adds that the Ramada Inn has also been helpful in grooming this special spot near the motel.

"It serves as a place of solace, right in the middle of the intersection of Hancock, Houghton, and the Keweenaw Waterway," she said. "With more  cyclical  maintenance of the gardens by local citizens, the Labyrinth would serve as a kind of pocket park adding to the attractiveness of the City’s waterfront -- a great walking destination!"

Anyone wishing to volunteer on the next two Saturdays in October can call Carol Kozminski, gardening project leader, at 523-5570 or the Copper Country Community Arts Center at 482-2333 for more information -- or just show up around 9 a.m. on Oct. 17 or 24.

To learn more about labyrinths in general visit The Hancock Labyrinth is listed on the World-wide Labyrinth Locator:

* Click here to read a July 2000 article on the building of the Labyrinth and its purpose -- archived on Keweenaw Now's precursor, Keweenaw Today, thanks to

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Tech Theatre Company to perform "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo" Oct. 15-17 and 22-24 in McArdle Theater

Poster for Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo courtesy Michigan Tech University.

HOUGHTON --  Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, a play by Rajiv Joseph, explores how the lives of two American Marines and an Iraqi translator are forever changed by an encounter with a quick-witted tiger who haunts the streets of war-torn Baghdad attempting to find meaning, forgiveness and redemption amidst the city’s ruins.

The play will be performed by the Tech Theatre Company at 7:30 p.m. Thursday - Saturday, Oct. 15-17 and Oct. 22-24 in the McArdle Theater (second floor of Walker Humanities building) on the Michigan Tech campus.

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo examines both the power and the perils of human nature.

The New York Times writes, "Set in the chaotic first days of the American invasion of Iraq, this boldly imagined, harrowing and surprisingly funny drama considers the long afterlife of violent acts, as well as the impenetrable mysteries of the afterlife itself."

According to Director Roger Held, "While depicting a devastatingly cruel and venal world [the tiger] offers hope of redemption and meaningful life after a history of complacency and compliance. What we must do is not easy; we must find and risk being ourselves…"

Tickets for Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo are on sale now: $13 for adults, $5 for youth, and no charge for Michigan Tech students with the Experience Tech fee. Tickets are available by phone at (906) 487-2073, online at, in person at the Central Ticketing Office in the Student Development Complex, or at the McArdle Box Office the evening of the performance. Please note the McArdle Box Office only opens one hour prior to performances.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Green Lecture Series to present Energy Efficiency program Oct. 15; Energy Show to be Oct. 17 at Dee Stadium

Poster courtesy Houghton Energy Efficiency Team (HEET).

HOUGHTON -- The Houghton Energy Efficiency Team (HEET) will join with the Green Lecture Series sponsors to present an Energy Efficiency program on Thursday, Oct. 15, at Michigan Tech. HEET will also sponsor an Energy Show on Saturday, Oct. 17, at Dee Stadium.

Green Lecture, Oct. 15: Energy Efficiency in Your Home

The Green Lecture Series will present "ENERGY EFFICIENCY IN YOUR HOME – What Can YOU Do?" by Yvonne Lewis, energy auditor /contractor with Efficiency UNITED, Lansing, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15, in G002, Hesterberg Hall, Michigan Tech Forestry Building. Enjoy free coffee, tea and refreshments. Find out some low to NO-cost ways to reduce home energy use:
  •  How to define your thermal boundary,
  •  How furnace filters affect heating comfort and cost,
  •  How "phantom" items are using power even when not in use,
  •  How air infiltration into your home quickly removes heat,
  •  Hands-on demonstrations for DIY caulking, faucet aerators, filter sizing and changing, dry venting, and fireplace chimney work.
  •  Take home a checklist to inspect your own home.
  •  Sign up for a FREE energy assessment of your home.
The Green Lecture Series is co-sponsored by Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative, Michigan Tech Center for Water and Society, Keweenaw Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Keweenaw Land Trust and the Houghton Energy Efficiency Team.

Energy Show: Oct. 17 at Dee Stadium

HEET will sponsor an Energy Show from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17, in the Dee Stadium Ballroom.

The Energy Show will feature a variety of exhibits, presentations and activities to help community residents and businesses prepare for the upcoming winter. Here are some of the activities planned:

Exhibits: Local businesses and organizations will show off products and services related to energy efficiency and renewables that can help you stay warm and save money.

Sign Up for a Complimentary Home Energy Assessment through Efficiency UNITED: UPPCO and SEMCO customers can sign up to have a professional assessor visit their home and provide a Home Energy Score. The score provides information about a home’s energy performance and identifies opportunities for improvement.

Appliance Recycling through Efficiency UNITED: UPPCO customers can unload outdated/unused refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners, and dehumidifiers (no electronics or old stoves). Efficiency UNITED will take them out of your sight forever -- and even provide a rebate for doing so!*

Sign Up for 2016 programs through Efficiency UNITED: Income-eligible UPPCO customers can sign up to receive new, energy-efficient LED lighting and refrigerators to replace their old, energy-guzzling ones.*

Solar Oven S’mores: Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? And more… lots more!

Want to be an Energy Show exhibitor? Learn more.

* UPPCO and SEMCO customers should bring a copy of their bill to participate in special programs. Proof-of-income is also needed for income-eligible programs.

Click here to see the schedule for more HEET events in October and November.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Letter to DNR: Save the Wild U.P. requests moratorium on mineral leasing, public hearing on 320-acre lease request from North American Nickel

This Andersen archaeological site, damaged during recent resource extraction activities, is located within the 320 acres of public land, in section 35, Michigamme Township, where North American Nickel has requested a metallic mineral lease. (Photo courtesy Save the Wild U.P.)
[Editor's Note: Save the Wild U.P. (SWUP) recently sent a letter to the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR) with their comments on North American Nickel's request for a metallic mineral lease on 320 acres of public land in Section 35 of Michigamme Township, Marquette County, Michigan. We are publishing part of their letter here at SWUP's request.]

Karen Maidlow,
Property Analyst, Minerals Management
Department of Natural Resources
P.O. Box 30452
Lansing, MI 48909
October 12, 2015

Dear Ms. Maidlow,

On behalf of Save the Wild U.P.’s Board of Directors, Advisory Board members, and SWUP’s supporters, we strongly urge the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to deny the mineral lease sought by North American Nickel, Inc. for 320 acres of State-owned land on the Yellow Dog Plains (SW1/4; N1/2 SE1/4; W1/2 NW1/4, Section 35, T51N, R29W, Michigamme Township, Marquette County).

We ask the DNR to deny this mineral lease for the following reasons:

Ecological Concerns

Ecologically, this land is part of the Escanaba River State Forest, and supports a jack pine forest habitat, including age/class critical to the endangered Kirtland’s warbler. The DNR lease review acknowledges the possible (?) presence of this species. Does the lease review process involve any on-site review? Kirtland’s warblers have been seen in this area by local birdwatchers. We ask the DNR to conduct a rare species survey on the property before further ecological disruption is sanctioned, in collaboration with local experts and environmental stewards who are deeply familiar with the land. Moreover, we request that the DNR complete a landscape-scale habitat preservation plan for the Yellow Dog Plains, with an eye to Kirtland’s warbler conservation. The current Land Management Plan for the Yellow Dog Plains is out of date, and fails to address any of the industrial threats. The Yellow Dog Plains is seasonally used by migratory songbirds and waterfowl, which are unaddressed in the lease review.

Endangered Kirtland's Warbler. (Photo © and courtesy Joseph Youngman. Reprinted with permission.)

According to the DNR’s Management Plan for the Yellow Dog Plains, this area "provides multiple benefits including forest products, dispersed recreational activities, and provides habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife species" and the DNR's stated management priority in this area "is to continue to provide these multiple benefits..."

Note: Mineral exploration was NOT listed among the DNR’s management priorities for this land.

Archaeological Concerns

The DNR lease review acknowledges the presence of a site of "archaeological significance" on this land. While confirming the nature of this archaeological site (a homestead), it has come to our attention that this significant site has never actually been evaluated. There is a standing ruin on the property, but also a number of related sites on the property that would be difficult for a mineral exploration team to "see" much less avoid disturbing.

Historically, this land is an integral part of our collective culture. As historian Jon Saari has noted, "The Yellow Dog Plains is one of those storied places in our collective
imagination. That place, and the larger community we live in, includes rivers, forests, wildlife, rocks and waterfalls, and quiet backwoods camps."

Archaeologically, the site contains a remnant structure from the Andersen Homestead, directly connected to the land’s first European settlers, the result of the controversial Homestead Act. The Nels Andersen homestead (misspelled Anderson on some maps and sources), was built by early Danish immigrants who settled on the Yellow Dog Plains in 1902. Additionally, the history of the Andersen family and their homestead are interwoven with the history of White Deer Lake, as members of the Andersen family were employed by industrialist Cyrus McCormick -- land now preserved as the McCormick Wilderness Area. Photographs, oral histories and stories related to the Andersen site were recorded by the late historian and storyteller, C. Fred Rydholm, in Superior Heartland: A Backwoods History.

North American Nickel, Inc, is seeking a new mineral lease for 320 acres of Public Land (area in brown) on the Yellow Dog Plains. Grassroots environmental group Save the Wild U.P. is urging the Michigan DNR to reject the mineral lease application, stating that it threatens to undermine critical habitat for the Kirtland’s Warbler, and a site of historical significance. Click here for a larger version of the map. (Map courtesy Save the Wild U.P.)

Prior to the 1900’s, the plains were frequented via a trail between L’Anse and Big Bay, used for hunting and berry-picking, with a strong pre-European Indigenous presence. Much evidence of this ancient trail was obliterated in 2014, when the historic sand road was replaced with a highway (pavement ends at the gates of Eagle Mine, approximately 3 miles SE of this historic site).

Recently, the physical integrity of the Andersen historical site was severely damaged during the DNR’s logging of the public forest. The damage has not been remedied, and may have been undocumented. This fragile archaeological site will only be further compromised by new mineral exploration, and increased traffic on the 2-track roads that pass the ruins. This lease request (North American Nickel, Inc.) follows a mineral lease granted to Prime Meridian; it is clear that the Andersen archaeological site was damaged and the environment degraded during the tenure of that mineral lease -- without DNR intervention.

Save the Wild U.P. respectfully requests that a moratorium on mineral leasing be instituted until the integrity of all Andersen historical sites, and their archaeological significance, can be fully evaluated.

Indigenous Natural Resources

Contemporary tribal uses of this land include the gathering of traditional foods and medicines, in accordance with protected treaty rights. Given the long history of pre-European Indigenous presence, the Yellow Dog Plains have a cultural value -- beyond their ecological value, watershed, mineral or timber value -- deeper than the value of any individual archaeological site. This land should be seen as an integral part of the human culture and natural history of Marquette County, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, "the wild U.P." and the State of Michigan as a whole.

Hydrological Concerns

In their Management Plan for the Yellow Dog Plains unit, the DNR states that "almost all state lands are leased and extensive exploration has been conducted" yet notes "there is insufficient data to determine the glacial drift thickness" on the Yellow Dog Plains.

Clearly, the State of Michigan is allowing a live experiment -- industrialization of a remote and previously unpolluted environment -- to play out in real time, with insufficient monitoring and a pattern of "insufficient data."

If the DNR does not possess sufficient data about the thickness of glacial sand deposits in this area, they must also lack sufficient understanding of the complex hydrogeology of the Yellow Dog Plains, especially the groundwater aquifer contained in these glacial sands, an aquifer which is currently pristine and without industrial contamination.

Groundwater from the NW Yellow Dog Plains aquifer feeds the headwaters of several rivers and coldwater trout streams, such as Cedar Creek, Salmon Trout River, Yellow Dog River -- and unique spring-fed ponds, including nearby Andersen Lake, which provide key habitat for mammals (especially predators crossing the Yellow Dog Plains), migratory birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and native plants, including threatened species.

No watershed information is included in this mineral lease application, but we assume that surface water (precipitation) on this parcel drains into headwaters of Cedar Creek, flowing into Mountain Lake en route to Lake Superior. Mountain Lake is a pristine wilderness lake of critical scientific research value, located entirely within the Huron Mountain Club. Groundwater in this parcel, by contrast, feeds the Salmon Trout River. Mineral exploration poses serious and apparently unconsidered risks to groundwater. We ask that the DNR explain how mineral exploration is regulated with regards to drilling in this unconfined sand aquifer, given the "insufficient data" about the land’s hydrogeology, and lack of oversight in the field.

Note: if the DNR is truly interested in hearing the public comments about mineral leasing of State lands on the Yellow Dog Plains and elsewhere, we believe the ideal venue for this exchange of information would be a Public Hearing -- something which Save the Wild U.P. has repeatedly requested....Click here to read the rest of this letter.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Letter to DNR: Moratorium on Upper Peninsula mineral leases needed to protect watersheds, land use imbalance

[Editor's Note: Today, Oct. 12, is the deadline for public comments on North American Nickel's request for a metallic mineral lease from the State of Michigan on 320 acres of public land in Section 35 of Michigamme Township, Marquette County, Michigan. Gene Champagne of Concerned Citizens of Big Bay submitted the following letter to the DNR and has shared it with Keweenaw Now. The following is reprinted here with permission.]*

Karen Maidlow
Property Analyst, Minerals Management
Department of Natural Resources
P.O. Box 30452
Lansing, MI 48909

Dear Ms. Maidlow:
I am writing these public comments urging you and the MDNR to reject the mineral lease for North American Nickel for a 320 acre state owned parcel in northwest Marquette County. The main reason for rejection by the MDNR is the sensitivity of the location with regards to wetlands and watersheds. The area is also rich in historical and cultural history for this area of Marquette County and the State of Michigan.

In addition to aforementioned reasons, all mineral lease requirements and criteria for metallic minerals in the Upper Peninsula need to reexamined and rewritten. When the current criteria were written, the specter of a new mining region and possible boom did not exist. The potential accumulated impacts of such a region by this segment of the mining industry places this entire region at serious risk for watershed decimation and land use fragmentation.

These mineral leases within the area known as the Yellow Dog Plains are going to continue indefinitely as speculators crowd in regardless of proof of mineralization. If a mineral lease is granted and product is found, a permit will be issued regardless of risk involved. The DEQ will only make an attempt to minimize the risk as much as economically feasible to the lessee, not the interests of the other stakeholders (public) involved and affected.

Until the current system of granting mineral leases particular to this area of the state is reexamined and rewritten with a critical eye to both process and effects to non-leased lands and non-mineral extraction interests, there needs to be a moratorium on mineral leases. The minerals are not going anywhere. They will wait. To not correct the significant imbalance of negative effects caused to other lands and stakeholders outside the leased areas will lead to a totally out of balanced land use opportunity situation in this region that may never again be realized. Please deny this request for a mineral lease.

In addition, I respectfully ask that you pass on the above request for a moratorium to the proper agency personnel.

Thank you,

Gene Champagne                                                      
Big Bay, MI 49808

* Editor's Note: To learn more about this issue see our Oct. 6, 2015, article, "Nickel company seeks 320-acre metallic mineral lease on state land near Eagle Mine; comment deadline is Oct. 12."