Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Northwoods Land Trust completes Interstate Falls purchase


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KIMBALL, Wis. - Public access to Interstate Falls was secured Wednesday when the Northwoods Land Trust completed the purchase of the property on the Wisconsin side of the waterfall.

"The intent of the purchase is to permanently protect public access so that people will be able to go in and view the waterfalls in perpetuity," said the trust's Executive Director Bryan Pierce.

The trust plans on turning the property over to the town of Kimball, Pierce said, although the town has to officially accept the property at its annual town meeting in April.

Pierce said the trust purchased 38.7 acres bordering the waterfall, including 2,500 feet of frontage on the Montreal River. The purchase also includes roughly a quarter-mile of corridor on Cominski Creek.

The 17.5-foot waterfall is downstream from Peterson Falls, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which officially named to the pair of waterfalls in 2007, clarifying the confusion over the proper name for the two features. Peterson features three cascades descending approximately 35 feet, according to the USGS, whereas Interstate Falls features a single drop over bedrock.

The sale was partially financed by a grant through the Department of Natural Resources Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund, Pierce said.

The sale price of $188,000 was a mixture of the $94,000 stewardship grant and a combination of grants from five private foundations and donations.

The purchase completes a 8-year process that began when the previous owners, Donald and Nancy Siebert, listed the property for sale and it was brought to the attention of the land trust by area resident Ian Shackleford.

Pierce said the Sieberts owned the property for over 60 years and allowed the public to access the falls, however, they had listed the property for sale so the trust began talks to purchase the property.

"We really appreciated their patience in allowing us to go through the grant application process," Pierce said, noting the time it took before the purchase was complete.

Language in the deed prohibits the land from being sold for development, Pierce said, ensuring it will remain open for hiking and skiing, fishing, hunting - although size of the property limits its feasibility for hunting - and other recreational opportunities.

Shackleford was excited for the news that the purchase was finally complete.

"Few communities have such a spectacular waterfall that is so close and easily viewed with a short scenic walk. Now there is an opportunity to develop better signage and improvements to the trail and parking, such simple improvements can make the falls an incredible community asset that people can visit easily without confusion or fears of getting lost," Shackleford said. "Instead of being a hidden waterfall, it can be part of local communities."

While Kimball will ultimately operate the site, Pierce said plans were to construct a parking lot on the property and do some minor changes to the trail system as well as improve the signage so visitors have an easier time accessing the falls.

"(The) location is excellent because it's right off the intersection of U.S. 51 and U.S. 2," Pierce said. "So it will be very accessible to both residents who want to go out and visit the falls during all four seasons, but also to visitors who come to the area, so we think it will be a really nice tourism attraction."

Shackleford also mentioned the possibility of stairs being installed to allow for easier access to the bottom of the falls.

Given the land on the Michigan side of the falls is already private, both Pierce and Shackleford said the purchase was the only way to ensure public access.

"Years ago I hiked to Minnewawa Falls on the Presque Isle River. It's private land, with a home on each side and no trespassing signs all around. With the Interstate Falls property for sale, I feared that would happen here," Shackleford said. "This waterfall is right here in our backyard. Now public access is secure forever."

The Eagle River-based trust has secured over 10,000 acres of protected lands - mostly through conservation easements - since 2003.

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