Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Partnerships and Photographs: Community Conceptions of Keweenaw National Historical Park

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Partnerships and Photographs: Community Conceptions of Keweenaw National Historical Park

Article excerpt

People who drive through Michigan's relatively remote Keweenaw Peninsula, 575 miles northwest of Detroit, may notice a sign or two for Keweenaw National Historical Park (NHP). Or they may not. In Michigan's so-called Copper Country, locals and visitors alike often drive through this mostly privatized park on Federal Highway 41 without spotting any of the sparse National Park Service (NPS) signage. Instead, people are more likely to notice the aging mine shaft houses and head frames, rusty mine equipment, stamp mills, old railroad lines, and company-built housing that are the present-day icons of the once-wealthy, now-struggling, but ever-proud Copper Country (ccm 2011a, 2011b) (Figure 1).

Michigan's Copper Country was the site of the United States' first large mineral rush (Lankton 1991; Kerfoot, Lauster, and Robbins 1994). During its heyday, from the 1870s to the 1940s, miners produced, processed, and shipped immense quantities of copper from this remote area to urban centers elsewhere. Copper mining in Michigan's Upper Peninsula gradually declined during the middle of the twentieth century and faced its inevitable demise in 1968.(1)

As with any mining region, Michigan's Copper Country offers a sprawling relic landscape to preserve and interpret. Spread out over a 110-mile range, this set of resources makes heritage stewardship a daunting task for NPS policymakers. Scattered resources and mixed ownership defy the traditional park format, wherein the NPS assembles contiguous blocks of property and has authority over the activities allowed to occur on parklands. Instead, Keweenaw NHP's development follows a different nps tradition, one in which resources are preserved, protected, and interpreted in a format known as a "partnership park " In such cases the NPS partners with other groups, public and private, to manage a park that lacks clear boundaries.


Keweenaw NHP is one of the country's newest and most privatized parks. Both the NPS and local authorities view Keweenaw NHP as a leading example of a particular approach to heritage park making. Civic leaders claim that Keweenaw NHP is a "park for the twenty-first century." The U.S. Congress established Keweenaw NHP in October 1992 to preserve and interpret the stories and landscapes of copper mining, with emphases on both technological and social aspects of life in the Copper Country The park and other similar ventures have brought the NPS into new kinds of cooperative agreements with local governments, state governments, and nonprofit groups to selectively interpret aspects of the decaying industrial landscape and cobble together a mixed ownership ensemble that will attract visitors and bring needed economic development to a depressed region.

The scattered nature of copper mining communities and industrial production merits this nontraditional park format. The 1,869.4-acre park comprises two units and nineteen affiliated "Keweenaw Heritage Sites " most of which are owned by state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, or "for-profit" organizations. Keweenaw Heritage Sites are scattered throughout Michigan's Copper Country. The permanent, seven-member Keweenaw National Historical Park Advisory Commission helps Keweenaw Heritage Sites and scattered preservation and interpretation sites throughout the Copper Country become more coordinated with each other and with the park. But the park's centerpiece is the Village and Township of Calumet, much of which was formerly owned by Boston-based Calumet and Hecla and now used by the NPS to interpret the legacy of a company town.

Calumet's business district and several neighborhoods are within the park, so they offer residents daily opportunities to develop perceptions of the park and deepen their levels of place attachment. Building upon these two literatures, my objective is to assess how local residents conceive of Keweenaw NHP and how it relates to them. …

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