June 15th: A Visit from TV and a Very Important Guest Lecture
We began the 4th week (5th if you count the week off) of the field season knowing that it was time to do a little promotion for our project. The weekend before was the first of our open house weekends, but due to some timing issues with the local paper and television station, our promotional campaign wasn’t able to get going until after the weekend.
Wednesday brought with it a visit from TV6, based in Marquette. Reporter Ashley Palumbo did a story on us last year during the mapping field season, but when she came to the site it was raining and the video for the story was devoid of anything interesting remains/artifacts-wise. This time around we had beautiful weather, and Ashley was able to spend about an hour on site that morning interviewing myself, Dr. Scarlett, and students about the work we were doing and the weekend open house. The story was crafted as a promo spot for the open house, and we were asked questions like “What surprised you?” and “What do you want people to take away from their visit?”, etc.
During lunch, we were visited by people from Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) and the Houghton/Keweenaw Conservation District HKCD. They came to talk to us about plans for stamp sand remediation at the Cliff site. In the last few years the DNRE and HKCD have funded remediation projects at the Central Mine (about 10 miles north of Cliff) and Winona Mine (in southern Houghton County). The aim of these projects is to remove as much of the copper-infused sands from riparian zones as possible, thereby encouraging wildlife (and trout) to return to these watersheds.
The copper in the sands can be a hazard to small insects and fish in the streams, preventing lager fish from succeeding in them. It’s not necessarily the metal content that is harmful, but the fact that the minute copper particles can get stuck in the gills of minnows and other water-based life, causing them to die and not support a large food-chain.
The sands at Cliff are still highly concentrated with copper, and it is the DNRE and HKCD’s wish to remove the sands from the west branch of the Eagle River so it can sustain a diverse range of species. One of the issues with this sort of work however is that since it uses federal dollars, the planning and implementation of such remediation work must follow federal guidelines. Since we are dealing with a historic landscape and significant archaeological site, the guidelines that must be followed are set forth by the National Preservation Act of 1966. This states that sites must be assessed for their historical importance and their significance in American history. If the project is seen to disrupt the sites integrity, the plans must be altered to mitigate that disruption.
No one could argue that the Cliff isn’t historically significant or important on a national scale. Yet how do we balance the desire to reinvigorate a watershed while also maintaining the integrity of the Cliff, a place many people who follow this blog can trace their personal stories to? It’s a very difficult question and one I have to struggle with every time I talk with people who visit the site. Why do we need to preserve something that is destructive to the natural environment? Is there such a thing as a natural environment once a person has set foot there? These are all head scratchers. And that’s why we invited out quests from the DNRE and HKCD to come and speak to their views on managing that balance I just wrote of.