While mining, agriculture, and community are all tied to place and landscape, the story of these neighboring landscapes - the Paavola Wetland Preserve and Boston Pond - beyond their economies, is one of contrasting Euro-American efforts at water management.

 
 

The people of Paavola reclaimed land from the water They brought with them from Finland a traditional agricultural practice called suo ojat or "swamp ditches." At some point in the early 1900s they crafted these ditches to drain away water from the nearby former wetland. These ditches created relatively dry raised areas for cultivation. This landscape feature was likely maintained for generations.

The suo ojat are visible on satellite images today more so than they are from the ground when the local vegetation is fully grown in. Water pools in the ditches, still draining away from the raised areas as originally intended. However, today the water flow is blocked in part by modern-surfaced roadways, such as US 41. Water flow out of the formerly cultivated area is also blocked by beaver dams. The actions of the present day beavers at the preserve are returning the area back to wetland.

In contrast to the people of Paavola, but much like the beavers there, the people of Boston consolidated water on the landscape for their own purposes. In the early years of mining there, Boston Creek was dammed. This action created a pond to support the industrial process of the stamp mill built on its shore. Over the last 150 years the resulting pond has had a number of identities. First, as mentioned above, the pond was an important component of the copper mining process. As mining waned near Boston, the residents there came to see the pond as a recreational water body, their own lake. Multiple generations have enjoyed boating and fishing there, so much so that in the early 1960s the pond was stocked with fish to encourage its continued use.

Despite positive local perceptions of the pond, it was also a former industrial landscape that was subject to environmental regulation and remediation to protect the public. In 1992, the EPA designated the Boston Pond stamp sands (a 65 acre parcel on the northern shore of the pond) as part of the Torch Lake Superfund site in its Record of Decision. This was the result of site investigations of stamp sand locations in Houghton County which began in 1988 when the Torch Lake Superfund site boundaries and units were established. Human health hazards for stamp sands include exposure to metals through airborne dust. Environmental health hazards include exposure of surface waters to metal contamination by runoff from stamp sands. By 2012, 25 acres of the stamp sands had been remediated by being covered with soil and vegetation.

Toward the end of the 20th century, tensions ran high in the Daily Mining Gazette when the paper reported that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources was weighing whether or not to continue maintaining the dam that keeps Boston Pond in place. In recent years the Keweenaw Land Trust acquired a portion of the south shore of Boston Pond in order to protect that landscape and maintain its access for the public.

 

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Pathways to the Past: Historical Narrative

Photos Courtesy of MTU Archives

Keweenaw Land Trust, 801 N. Lincoln Drive - Suite 306 - Hancock MI 49930 --- (906) 482-0820

This project was supported in part by the Federal Highway Administration's National Scenic Byways program and Finlandia Foundation National.