Stones and stories:Geoheritage links local history with geology
CALUMET – In a region known as the Copper Country, history has grown from the area’s rocks and minerals – and historians have then often overlooked the geology. Now, retired Michigan Technological University professor Bill Rose is bringing geology and history together with a website, a large catalog of unique geological sites individuals can explore, and a burgeoning tourism industry based on the area’s geoheritage.
On Wednesday, Rose spoke to about 60 area residents at Calumet High School, explaining the concepts behind geoheritage, outlining the work he’s done to make it accessible, and even showing attendees a pair of unique geoheritage sites right outside in the schoolyard.
Geoheritage, Rose explained, is “geology with links to social science and history.” While the field hasn’t yet become prominent in the U.S., it’s bigger overseas, he said, and has the potential to take off and even drive tourism here.
“In Europe, geoheritage is a big field, like a national heritage site with many partners,” he said, noting that “quarries have open days for people to visit and see the rocks.”
A prime example of U.P. geoheritage, he said, would be the Ontonagon Boulder, a 3,700 pound copper boulder that figures in Native American legend and early Michigan history, and that helped spark the copper boom in the 1800s.
Currently, Rose said, the boulder sits in a back room at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. He thinks it should be brought back to the U.P. for display.
“We can tell the Smithsonian to honor their commitment to share it,” he said. “The boulder is a part of Michigan history, an important part of our geoheritage.”
But while the boulder may be temporarily out of reach, there are plenty of easily accessible geoheritage sites, such as ornamental boulders, rock used as a building material visible in the facades of old building, or trees bending in a unique fashion that reveals the geology of a sliding slope.
“I want you to tell me the places you know that should be on here,” Rose said. “Tell me where else. I know there are better ones I haven’t found. You are the people that know stuff I have to learn.”
Laurium’s Marshall Wickstrom didn’t say whether he had any sites to contribute, but he was definitely interested in using the website to exploring some of those already cataloged.
“I think it combines the past with the future,” he said of geoheritage’s possibilities.
In Houghton, Rose has created a map of Geo Walk/Bike Sites, which can be found on his Keweenaw Geoheritage website, and he’s working on another for Calumet. The map shows the location of each site on Google Maps, along with GPS coordinates to help people locate them. At each site, there’s a bar code that can be read by phone, which then displays more information about the site.
“It’s like geocaching, but instead of a prize, there’s information,” he said. “There’re plenty of sites in Houghton, and in Calumet, where we can interpret geologic things.”
The website also has all kinds of other information, from discussion of why geoheritage is important to an overall look at the region’s geology, as well as information on various geologic formations and specific locations.
Visit the site at www.geo.mtu.edu/~raman/Silverl/keweenawgeoheritage/welcome.html.
Rose will also be running guided two-day geotours this July, where he’ll lead groups to less accessible sites, using Michigan Tech’s research boat, the Agassiz, to reach some.
“I’m hoping to find a geology student who’ll want to do this professionally, and make some money from it,” he said.
He also hopes to someday see a geopark in the area.
After the lecture, Rose walked outside with a small group of attendees to examine a pair of geoheritage sites right in the schoolyard, that had earlier been shown in his slides. The first was an outcropping of basalt – lava rock – with grooves showing the direction a glacier moved in as it receded and uncovered the Keweenaw thousands of years ago. Another was a brick cap to a local mine entrance that had been relocated to the schoolyard.
Mary Hunt, of Five Mile Point and downstate Martin, said the lecture definitely inspired her to dig deeper into the Keweenaw’s geoheritage.
“I think the ideas are great,” she said. “I love geology… This is such a unique area.”