Back in the early 1950s, faced with debilitating allergies and in need of a place to breathe free during the summer months, my grandfather bought a piece of land along the Lake Superior shoreline and built a modest cabin. At about 750 square feet, it would never qualify as a villa, more like a big closet.
In any event, we spent a decade’s worth of summers in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the Keweenaw.
You can grow to love the natural splendor of this place. In fact, I am writing this column from a rustic cabin with none of the disruptions that we experience during our day-to-day lives. An eight-hour drive from Northwest Indiana, it seems much farther away.
What I found upon returning after 20 years is that it isn’t really that much different than our area, save for the weather (they measure their snow in feet, not inches). The area is only 50 years removed from a copper mining boom and its good paying jobs.
The area was the first boom mining community in the U.S., four years before the California Gold Rush. From those rough beginnings, the land reverted back to its original form and slowly healed. Today, the natural resources are taken care of, to a large extent, by good stewardship and a can-do attitude.
The lake has been protected by public purchase of large swaths, particularly parcels closest to Lake Superior. The community realized early on that the trails, as much as the lake, attract people. Those trails have been extended into the surrounding hills and are also perfect for mountain biking.
Copper mining may have disappeared a half century ago, but tell-tale signs of it still exist in the buildings and the shuttered mines. Old-timers tell stories of the mines and many still hold out hope that with newer technologies, the mines could operate again.
While the area could certainly benefit from new mining, they are not sitting on their hands waiting. Like the intrepid organizers in the revitalization of downtown Griffith and those ever vigilant for new business opportunities in Highland, they seek out new tenants and opportunities to make their towns more livable.
The mills in our area may hire a couple of hundred new workers, but in the meantime, we press on and protect our most valuable assets. Contrary to what others may say, we have a great many assets, chief among them access to the best water in the world, an adaptable work force and an economic engine that is at the heart of our lives, the city of Chicago.
If you want examples, just visit the Upper Peninsula, an area given up for dead nearly a half century ago. The families banded together and protected what was important.
Just last week, they closed out one of their great projects of the last 20 years, the purchase, in cooperation with the state of Michigan and local environmental groups, Brockway Mountain, an important observation point. It will be preserved for future generations in a way that encourages people to enjoy an unmatched view of the lake.
With that kind of pluck, there isn’t much that can’t be accomplished.