Open to ideas: Douglass-Houghton Falls concepts spark conversation at session

LAKE LINDEN – Michigan Department of Natural Resources hosted an open house at the Lake Linden High School auditorium Wednesday to discuss conceptual designs for the Houghton-Douglass Falls scenic site.

The tallest waterfall in Michigan at roughly 110 feet, the site has drawn visitors for years, though no formal structures were ever implemented.

Access to the falls have been user-generated, over rough terrain and sometimes through other private property parcels. Initial concepts for the improvements would include a parking lot and trail to the top of the falls.

Four primary objectives were presented within the initial improvement plans for the area:

≤ Public parking;

≤ ADA compliance;

≤ Maintenance; and

≤ Site safety.

The site was purchased in an agreement in 2018 by MDNR for $300,000 sourced from landowner James Kusisto. Included in the purchase was an agreement to designate the site as a veterans memorial.

Additional funds sourced through the DNR Trust Fund and other grant opportunities amounted to $600,000 for this phase of site plan improvements. U.P. Engineers and Architects of Houghton were employed to survey the site and design a parking lot and ADA-accessible trail structures.

About 50 Copper Country residents attended the open house, moderated by Eric Cadeau, MDNR regional field planner, and Steve Wright, project manager for UPEA.

“We don’t have all the ideas, that’s the purpose of this meeting,” said Cadeau, encouraging input from the attendees.

A presentation displayed the conceptual designs which included a rounded parking lot with spaces for up to 22 vehicles, including larger vehicles like campers or school buses.

Two concepts for trails, one potential path to the north side of the falls included a bridge across Hammel Creek, and four possible observation decks with views of the falls.

All trails were conceived as meeting ADA-accessible guidelines to allow for visitors of all abilities to enjoy the natural wonder of the site.

Some constraints faced in the project design revolved around MDOT’s right of way, pushing the parking lot back 300 feet from M-26.

Other constraints included the exposed bedrock at the site which would limit excavation to keep costs down and trail designs to avoid interfering with wetlands and waterway corridors.

Comments from attendees included advocating for honoring the purchase agreement and the designation of a veterans memorial. Cadeau responded that the DNR had every intention of aligning with the initial agreement and encouraged continued interaction between veterans groups and MDNR to ensure the memorial is representative of the desires of stakeholders.

Safety at the site was of utmost concern for the state agency and residents as mass parking along M-26, existing erosion at the site and steep cliff faces pose threats to visitors.

The site was closed to public access in the late 1990s following a series of serious incidents. Included in the designs were handrails along boardwalk sections of the trail and observation decks to limit intrusion on cliff faces and along sensitive areas prone to erosion.

Other comments included interest in maintaining year-round access, security lights and additional design elements that may enhance the site, such as interpretive signage and gathering spaces for visitors.

As a scenic site, the falls will come under the jurisdiction of the F.J. McLain State Park staff. Executive Supervisor of McLain State Park, Louise Hunt was on hand at the meeting. Maintenance and upkeep would be the responsibility of staff.

She said after the event that the turnout and engagement were exciting and that comments provided insights their team had not previously considered.

Historically, the site has long been a highlight of the area. Jim Curtis brought along historic postcards dating to the early 20th century. Evidenced by the postcards are the impacts of erosion to the site over the years.

The site was named for Copper Country surveyors and geologists Douglass Houghton, and nephew Christopher Columbus Douglass. Several comments were directed at ensuring the name is properly retained, though many residents have been wont to refer to the site as “Douglass Houghton Falls.”

A project timeline suggested the phase 100 study portion of the project would be completed by April 2024, with bidding and construction to follow in the summer and public access restored in September 2024.

The initial design for the project phase prioritizes the parking lot and trail access to the falls. Concerns that limited funding would prolong completion of the project were voiced by attendees, as well as offering support in the form of community volunteerism to minimize cost.

Cadeau was grateful for the engagement at the open house, noting it was some of the best public turnout and input he’s received in his time at the DNR.

Additional comments and thoughts regarding the site plans and project implementation can be directed to DNR Parks and Recreation Division Western U.P. District Supervisor Doug Rich at RichD@michigan.gov.


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