Land Trust working to purchase Hungarian Falls

By Garrett Neese

TAMARACK CITY – The Keweenaw Land Trust is mounting a fundraising and membership drive in an effort to keep part of Hungarian Falls open to the public.

The KLT is working to protect a 10-acre parcel on the upper part of the Hungarian Dam area, near Tamarack City in Osceola Township. The parcel includes the top portion of the Hungarian Falls, a historic dam and woodland trails that connect to the adjoining state lands, where the bigger portion of the falls lie downstream.

KLT Executive Director Evan McDonald said with an access road, parking area and trails, the land provides easy access for the public.

“For families or for older folks … this makes it a convenience and an ease to walk to the property,” he said.

To purchase the property, the KLT is looking to raise $40,000 for upfront costs by April 30. Several donors have pledged another $10,000 if the KLT can get an additional 100 members.

As of Wednesday, there had been $12,000 raised, and 50 new members, McDonald said.

The land now belongs to the Torch Lake Area Fire Protection Authority, which formerly used the water behind the dam for fire protection before finding other sources.

The authority put the property on the market in December. Clay Hickson, a resident who lives nearby, called the KLT to see if anything could be done about it. He started a Facebook page, which about 1,000 people have joined since. The KLT also had calls and emails from members asking it to get involved. A KLT online survey yielded 650 responses, the vast majority of which were in favor of the purchase.

The KLT board reviewed the project, particularly liability and maintenance issues regarding the dam, and decided to pursue the idea.

It was a change from the usual process, where the KLT brings a project to its members, McDonald said.

“This is one where community members had come to us and asked us if we could do this,” he said. “We wanted to be a good community partner and see what could be done.”

The KLT made contact with Torch Lake Township and the realtor. In response, the Fire Protection Authority pulled the listing and set up meetings to see how to proceed.

Torch Lake Township Supervisor Brian Cadwell said the sale is a win-win for the Fire Protection Authority, which can use the proceeds for maintenance fees and also ensure the public can use the property.

“There’s a need to keep that area open to the public, and accessible,” he said. “I think by working with the land trust so they can purchase the property, it will help ensure that. If the property had been sold to a private individual, there’s no guarantee it would be available to the public.”

Down the road, Cadwell said, there may be a chance of the Hungarian Falls becoming a Keweenaw National Historical Park cooperating site, as it was a significant site during the mining days.

Additions to the site in the short term would include entrance and interpretative signs, improvements to the parking areas, and a picnic table or two.

Soon after acquisition, the KLT would put together an advisory committee that would look at management issues with the dam and the pond, McDonald said.

“We don’t have any definitive approach on how we’ll deal with the dam in the long term, but well have expertise and community involvement to look at how to go about it,” he said.