UP road lands on National Register of Historic Places

By ERIC FREEDMAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — One of America’s most scenic stretches of road, Brockway Mountain Drive in the northwestern Upper Peninsula, is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

The National Park Service recognized the 9-mile road built by the Keweenaw County Road Commission in 1933 for its historic importance in recreation, entertainment, transportation, social history and landscape architecture.

“Brockway Mountain Drive is unique in Michigan as a scenic highway built expressly as a scenic drive through rugged country to provide access to grand scenery for the public’s enjoyment,” according to the nomination.

The register is “the official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation,” according to the National Park Service, which administers the federal program.

Brockway Mountain Drive runs between Copper Harbor and Eagle Harbor on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Its nine overlooks “provide incomparable views of Lake Superior to the north and expansive, forested valleys and hills to the south,” the nomination said.

One of them, West Bluff Overlook, stands about 725 feet above the surface of Lake Superior “and offers Brockway Mountain Drive’s widest panoramic views.” It’s also the place where the Skytop Inn gift shop operated from 1935 until 2013. The building has been razed.

“Its construction during the Depression era represents a concerted, and successful, effort to initiate a much-needed public works project, develop the local tourism industry, and provide relief to the unemployed,” the nomination said. The Depression hit Keweenaw County hard with copper mine closings, subsistence farming and high unemployment, and unemployed miners accounted for many of the hundreds of workers on the road project.

Before Brockway Mountain Drive, most of the county’s roads were used for logging, mining and military purposes, and the improving transportation for the less-populated northeastern reaches of the Keweenaw Peninsula “was not a priority during the first decades of the twentieth century, as the Keweenaw Central Railroad provided adequate passenger and freight service to the area.”

The economic hardships of the Depression sparked a push to develop opportunities for automobile tourism. And it worked. For example, between June 16 and June 30, 1939, about 9,800 cars entered the Keweenaw Peninsula through the village of Ahmeek.

“Since opening in 1934, Brockway Mountain Drive has been a leading attraction for visitors to the Keweenaw Peninsula, offering unparalleled views of the picturesque region of Michigan,” the nomination said. “The scenic road, together with two other Depression-era projects, Lakeshore Drive and the Keweenaw Mountain Resort and Lodge, helped Keweenaw County to diversify its economy and emerge from its dependence on mining.”

The road is open only seasonally, and Gregg Patrick, the road commission’s engineer manager, said traffic is busiest in the fall.

Use can spike at 1,000 vehicles a day, but at other times it’s 200 or fewer vehicles, Patrick said.

Property bordering the road includes mountain biking and hiking trails, as well as nature sanctuaries.

 

New album combines Great Lakes music, Michigan history

By KATE HABREL

Capital News Service

LANSING — What do you get when you combine Great Lakes history, folk music and Michigan musicians? In this case, Brandon and Bethany Foote’s upcoming vinyl album.

Yes, vinyl.

“A lot of people are listening to music online, so I thought one way to get a physical product in people’s hands that they might get excited about is through vinyl,” Brandon Foote said. “I think that analog experience is still important. And I think there’s a big human element that’s missing when we start only using these digital devices for this stuff.”

The husband and wife duo are two halves of Gifts or Creatures, a band that since 2010 has produced three albums blending folk music with folklore. Their songs cover everything from how the Great Lakes’ landscape has changed to how people of different backgrounds form relationships with the area. Continue reading

Lawmakers want to shoot down Chinese lanterns

By CARIN TUNNEY

Capital News Service

LANSING — Americans celebrate holidays by sending things up.

But popular Chinese sky lanterns can kill livestock, strangle wildlife and cause fires, experts say.

Sky lanterns are made of paper, cloth and string. They use wires or bamboo for support. So-called fuel cells made of cardboard and wax allow them to float when lit.

They can soar more than a thousand feet and travel for more than a mile, depending on winds.

And that makes them dangerous, said Rep. Henry Yanez, D-Sterling Heights.

Yanez, a former firefighter, has proposed legislation to roll back the state’s fireworks law and prohibit the lanterns. They’re already illegal in 29 states, including Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Continue reading

Connecting blighted Great Lakes cities to boost economy

By ABIRGAIL HEATH

Capital News Service

LANSING — The Great Lakes connect many blighted cities in a network that could supply recycled building materials.

That’s just one way that domicology could spur the region’s economic development, according to a recent report by the Michigan State University Center for Community and Economic Development and the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission.

Domicology is a new term coined by experts looking to repurpose materials from old buildings to avoid large-scale waste and high landfill costs.

Great Lakes cities suffering significant abandonment include Detroit, Milwaukee, Toledo, Cleveland and Buffalo. They can provide salvage shipped across the Great Lakes to a reprocessing center, said George Berghorn, an MSU assistant professor of construction management. Continue reading

Muskegon new ‘Deconstruction Hub’ of the Great Lakes? 

By LUCY SCHROEDER

Capital News Service

LANSING — Muskegon once was called the “Lumber Queen of the World.”  It’s been called “the Port City” and the “Riviera of the Midwest.”

Now, city officials hope to add “Deconstruction Hub of the Great Lakes” to the city’s titles.

In the mid-1880s — the peak of the lumbering era — Muskegon was a bustling hub for processing logs into timber shipped across the Great Lakes region.  Chicago was rebuilt after the devastating fire of 1871 with timber from Muskegon.

Advocates of the city’s port would like to see some of that timber come back. That could happen if Muskegon becomes a hub for deconstructing some of those same cities it helped build.

Deconstruction is taking apart abandoned buildings and salvaging usable parts—as opposed to simply demolishing them. It is part of the larger study of domicology, which looks at the political, technological, sociological and economical aspects of structural abandonment. Continue reading

Recycle your home?

By LUCY SCHROEDER

Capital News Service

LANSING — You may recycle in your home, but did you know the building itself can be recycled?

A group of researchers at Michigan State University studying the science of domicology — the term they use to describe the policies, practices and consequences of abandoned structures — are examining how wood from abandoned buildings can be reused.

The average Michigan home holds about 6,000 board feet of lumber, enough to fill two school buses, according to George Berghorn, an assistant professor of construction management at MSU. And the state has 244,000 abandoned homes.

The lumber in abandoned buildings includes a mix of aesthetic products such as doors, siding and windows that can be sold as salvage. However most of the wood in homes is structural material used to construct the frame of a building — the support for the walls and roof. Continue reading

Reclaiming buildings can create jobs

By LUCY SCHROEDER

Capital News Service

LANSING — Sometimes deconstruction can yield surprising finds—like human body parts.

Workers with Reclaim Detroit, a nonprofit deconstruction organization, once saw a human arm among other trash in the basement of a blighted house.

At first, they thought there was a body in the house, said Jeremy Haines, its executive director. On closer inspection, workers realized it was just a mannequin.

Fake body parts aside, the house the organization was taking apart was one among many abandoned houses in Detroit. According to a U.S. Census five-year estimate, more than 183,000 homes in Detroit are vacant — accounting for 75 percent of the vacant houses in the state. Continue reading

Researchers seek new ways to salvage abandoned buildings

By DARIEN VELASQUEZ

Capital News Service

LANSING — Constructing, remodeling and demolishing buildings have significant environmental impacts: Natural resources are used to build them and large amounts of waste are sent to landfills when they come down.

What do you call that?

Researchers at Michigan State University use the word “domicology” to define the study of policies, practices and consequences of what happens to empty buildings.

It’s a term that doesn’t officially exist – yet. But George Berghorn, a self-described domicologist and assistant professor of construction management at MSU, is working hard to make it one. Continue reading

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1st SUMMER ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS PACKAGES: This is the first of the summer’s three regular packages of Michigan environmental stories for CNS members, in partnership with Great Lakes Echo.

Here is your file:

TRACKFISH: Biologists and scientists teamed up to track fish across the Great Lakes using sound— like the world’s biggest game of Marco Polo, but with fish. The Great Lakes Acoustic Telemetry Observation Systems is a network of researchers sharing fish-tracking data. We interview experts from the Hammond Bay Biological Station near Lake Huron, Grand Valley State and MSU. By Max Johnston. FOR ALCONA, LUDINGTON, MANISTEE, HARBOR SPRINGS, LEELANAU, PETOSKEY, HARBOR SPRINGS, ST. IGNACE, SAULT STE. MARIE, HOLLAND, MANISTEE, CHEBOYGAN, TRAVERSE CITY, OCEANA, BAY MILLS & ALL POINTS. Continue reading

Fast green locomotives coming to Michigan

By KAREN HOPPER USHER

Capital News Service

LANSING — Greener trains are coming to the Great Lakes region.

Technically, they’re locomotives. That’s the part of the train that does the pushing or the pulling. The Siemens Chargers, which are due to arrive by fall, meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s “tier four” standards.

Tier four is the agency’s highest standard for emissions.

Besides leaving a smaller carbon footprint, the locomotives can get up to speed faster than older models. A 94-mile section of track between Porter, Indiana, and Kalamazoo, Michigan, for example, could see trains flying through at 110 miles per hour without a long acceleration period. Continue reading