By JOHN PEPIN
Journal Staff Writer
CRISP POINT - The recent completion of a $6 million land deal funded by federal and private monies has provided 3,810 acres of forestland and waterfront for the public at the Lake Superior State Forest in northern Luce and Chippewa counties.
Above, In the shadow of the Crisp Point Lighthouse, forest and lakeshore can be seen in the distance that are now part of the Lake Superior State Forest through the Crisp Point Project land purchase. (Little Traverse Conservancy photo) At left, Michigan Department of Natural Resources deputy director Bill Moritz, left, shakes hands with Daniel Blough, representing U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, at a recent closure ceremony for the Crisp Point Project. Blough “Congressional Recognition” for the acquisition of the Crisp Point property. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)
"This is state land, but no state dollars went into it," said Kerry Wieber, Michigan Department of Natural Resources forest land administrator in Roscommon.
A $4.5 million federal grant through the U.S. Forest Service's Forest Legacy Program and a $1.5 million donation from a private donor financed the purchase, which was being developed over the past four or five years. The acquisition was completed in December by the DNR, with help from the Little Traverse Conservancy.
A public ceremony commemorating completion of the land purchase was held recently at the Crisp Point Lighthouse where DNR deputy director Bill Moritz signed a ceremonial deed, which signified the state accepting the land and its protection.
"This outstanding acquisition on behalf of the public will guarantee the protection and sustainable management of one of Michigan's natural resource treasures, while also serving to support tourism, recreation and forest products industry jobs," DNR Director Keith Creagh said. "I would like to thank the Forest Legacy Program and our private donor for their significant investments on behalf of the state of Michigan, without which this project could not have been possible."
Forest Service officials said the Crisp Point project protects more than two miles of Lake Superior shoreline and environmentally important forest. The land parcel is bisected by the Luce County-Chippewa County line and is situated east and south of Crisp Point.
"The DNR worked extensively with Little Traverse Conservancy and the landowner, Crisp Point Properties, LLC, in order to ensure that this natural resource gem is protected for current and future generations and provides public access to some of Michigan's premiere natural wonders - healthy forests, an inland lake, sand dunes and Great Lakes shoreline," Forest Service officials said on a web page detailing the purchase.
Within the parcel, there are 2.5 miles of Snowmobile Trail No. 8, an important Upper Peninsula snowmobile trail connector that was previously operating in that area with an easement from the previous landowner. The trail route has now been secured into perpetuity with the land purchase.
The newly-acquired state land provides public access for diverse activities ranging from hunting, fishing and camping to stargazing, kayaking, birdwatching, hiking and wildlife viewing.
Wieber said the Lake Superior shoreline segment provides habitat for nesting of the endangered piping plover. The area is also home to bald eagles, common loons, spruce grouse, Lake Huron tansy and Houghton's goldenrod. There are also moose, bear, deer and wolves living there. In addition, there is also potential habitat for Kirtland's warblers and Canada lynx.
The Michigan Audubon Society designated the parcel's habitat an "important bird area." The area has streams, sand dunes, bluffs and forests. The parcel is located east of last year's 21,069-acre Duck Lake Fire burn area.
Brown's Lake, an 83-acre body of water east of Crisp Point, is situated within the property. A historic U.S. Coast Guard road -now impassable- that formerly connected the Crisp Point, Vermillion Point, Two Heart River, Deer Park and Grand Marais life saving stations is also located here.
"The Crisp Point project also helps to enhance a previous federal investment, as it is directly adjacent to a portion of the 247,803-acre Northern Great Lakes Forest conservation easement that was funded, in part, by the Forest Legacy Program," Forest Service officials said.
That conservation easement property is situated directly south of the Crisp Point project.
"Thanks to a great team effort that included the DNR, the Forest Service, our private funding partner and a caring, patient landowner, everybody wins in this project," Little Traverse Conservancy Executive Director Tom Bailey said.
"The public has 3,810 acres of recreational land that includes managed forest and fragile dunes, endangered species and lots of hunting opportunities," Bailey said. "The neighboring Crisp Point Lighthouse will benefit from additional public land, and an endowment for payments in lieu of taxes will benefit local government."
The Crisp Point Lighthouse was built in 1903 after Congress appropriated $18,000 for the project. The 15 acres it sits on were originally purchased for $30. The light began operating in 1904.
The lighthouse complex included a keeper's quarters, fog signal building and a variety of other buildings. Most of those structures were torn down by the Coast Guard in 1965, leaving the 58-foot brick lighthouse tower and attached brick outbuilding that was built in 1906.
In November 1996, a violent storm crashed waves against the footings of an outbuilding attached to the lighthouse tower. By the following spring, only a portion of one wall of the attached building remained standing. The lighthouse was often then referred to as "the most endangered lighthouse in the United States."
Losing the lighthouse tower seemed certain. But efforts to raise money to provide the initial dumping of quarry stones were successful in saving the structure.
In 1997, Luce County assumed ownership of the lighthouse and associated property from the U.S. Coast Guard, giving preservation responsibilities to the Crisp Point Light Historical Society . The society has a 40-year renewable lease to operate, maintain and restore the lighthouse.
Since that time, efforts have continued to progress toward improving conditions at the lighthouse.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.