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Great Lakes Article:

For sale: UP lakes, forests, shoreline

Some fear impact on recreation, hunting

July 26, 2002

Detroit Free Press

A tract of Upper Peninsula forest and lakeshore almost five times the size of Detroit will go up for sale this year, prompting fear among conservationists and some residents that nearly 390,000 acres could be lost.

But others see it as an opportunity for the state and conservancy groups to form a partnership to keep more than 200 lakes and the land free from development and open for recreation.

In New York last month, Gov. George Pataki, the Nature Conservancy and a timber company worked out a deal to keep nearly 44,000 acres open for recreation by buying some tracts and paying for the right to restrict development on other parcels. The timber company is able to continue logging portions of the land.

The amount of land for sale in the Upper Peninsula, however, is much larger.

The Kamehameha Schools Trust of Hawaii, which owns the land in 10 UP counties, expects to make more than $150 million on the sale, according to Martin Wilk, president of Shelter Bay Forests, the company that manages the trust's UP lands.

The land, much of it formerly owned by a mining company and later part of a failed high-tech timber business, includes several miles of Lake Superior shoreline, most of a small island, and more than 200 inland lakes, Wilk said.

"It should be placed on the market by the end of this year, and sold by early next year," Wilk said. An investment banking firm will coordinate the transaction.

The trust -- one of the world's wealthiest charities with a net worth estimated at $6 billion -- was a financial partner with Benson Forests, a company with ambitious plans for a high-tech logging operation using satellites and computers to manage the harvest. When Benson Forests abandoned the enterprise in 1994, the trust bought the land.

Wilk said the trust has decided to change its investment allocation, reducing the amount of real estate it owns -- hence the sale of the UP acreage.

Ray Fenner, executive director of Superior Wilderness Action Network in northern Minnesota, said the UP land must be preserved by whatever means.

"It would be a tragedy if future generations wouldn't be able to see that land," Fenner said. "If it all goes private, it's gone."

Some UP residents fear a company will develop homes and log the forests. If this happens, thousands of miles of snowmobile trails could be taken out of use.

Gov. John Engler was unaware of the pending sale late Thursday, said his spokeswoman Susan Shafer.

Currently, the land is covered by the Commercial Forest Act. The owners receive a tax break in exchange for keeping the land open for snowmobilers and hunters. New homes could cut off such access.

"The UP is being looted," said Doug Cornett of the Northwoods Wilderness Recovery, a nonprofit group based in Marquette that advocates the protection of forests in the Upper Peninsula.

Fred Rydholm, a Marquette-area historian, said UP natives are likely to be wary of outsiders' plans for the land.

The Benson company, he noted, alienated residents by building miles of fences on land that had been accessible to hunters, trappers and anglers.

Fenner said given the size and price tag of the property, it will "take a concerted effort" by the state officials and environmental groups to acquire it.

The trust was established in 1884 through the will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Biship, a descendant of King Kamehameha, who ruled the Hawaiian islands in the 18th Century.

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