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Longyear Environmental Assessment Completed

An advisory committee should be formed to develop a comprehensive land management plan for the university-owned Longyear property. That is the recommendation of students who conducted an environmental assessment of the area through a course taught by Ron Sundell (Earth, Environmental and Geographical Sciences). The 160-acre parcel was donated to NMU in 1949. It sits adjacent to Forestville Road about two miles northwest of campus. Because of its diverse landscape of mixed forest, a rocky bluff and three water resources, it is used by faculty and students for education and research. It is also used for recreation because both the Noquemenon Trail Network (NTN) and North Country Trail transect the property.

The class selected a proposed action thought to have the least-negative environmental impact: restrict Longyear’s use to NMU educational purposes only. It also selected four alternatives: take no action and leave it in its current state; develop the land for recreation; open it up to multiple-use economic development that might include timber harvesting and/or housing; or open it to the public for marked trail use and approved activities, while also serving as a site for NMU education and research.

“This isn’t an end-all study; it was a 15-week academic exercise in putting together an environmental assessment,” Sundell said. “The students were divided into groups that studied the impact each alternative would likely have on the soil, vegetation, wildlife, climate, air quality and noise. They used the field skills they’ve developed to collect and analyze samples. They also honed their writing skills to draft the report and their presentation skills to share their findings with the administration and the NMU Board of Trustees. They worked together as a team to come up with a sound recommendation. The report will be a good addition to their portfolios for graduate school or their first jobs.”

In the board presentation, student Jenelle Pelletier elaborated on the impact of recreational activities at the site, whether they continue at the current rate or increase.

“Visitors using the property trample vegetation,” she said. “The current bike trails contribute to downhill erosion from the railroad grade, carrying rock and ore pellets into Redberry Lake. There is talk of developing a bike trail network in that area. That would lead to more soil compacting and erosion. Wildlife and vegetation might also be affected if habitats are destroyed or if invasive species like spotted knapweed or garlic mustard are spread through the increased traffic.”

The assessment indicates that the economic development option would alter the landscape and potentially compromise educational uses. Timber harvesting would remove vegetation, increasing erosion. It would also destroy scenic views of the Longyear tract and take at least 60 years to be restored to its current state. The emissions from the timber harvesting process and/or housing developments would add pollutants such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Those activities would also significantly increase noise levels and the waste they produce could contaminate groundwater.

The fourth option of public use was described this way: “Having a marked trail system will stop visitors from creating new trails on the property. Allowing the public to have access to the land will cause fewer issues with the Marquette community, which already uses the site. The property may increase in popularity and result in higher human traffic over the long term, which can lead to higher emissions from vehicles. This increase will not lead to noise levels significant enough to change the average levels. The marked trail use will continuously contribute to erosion downhill to the water bodies. There will be soil erosion and compaction issues with public use, but not as significant as alternatives 2 [recreation development] or 3 [economic development].”

The assessment concluded that the diversity of the Longyear property makes it an extremely valuable educational resource for multiple NMU academic departments.