Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Trust fund approves Gogebic County forest expansion


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Bessemer — A Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Board recommendation will add more than 4,000 acres to Gogebic County forest land, according to a Thursday announcement. 

The Gogebic County Forest Expansion Project was among 26 acquisition grant recommendations from the Trust Fund Board totaling $27.2 million. The county application requested $3,225,300 to add approximately 4,007.3 acres with the county budgeting for a 26% local match.

This acquisition of unique forestland consists of many separate parcels in Bessemer, Erwin and Ironwood Townships within Gogebic County, most of which exist within the 50,410-acre Gogebic County Forest ownership matrix, said Greg Ryskey, director of the Gogebic County Forestry and Parks Department. The acquisition is significant in terms of acreage and will also economically benefit local communities and ensure long-term stability of wildlife, natural habitat and ongoing forestry projects.

It improves public access for recreational pursuits to include access to hiking, hunting, fishing, snowshoeing, skiing, bird watching, berry picking and other popular outdoor activities for this area.

“The acquisition is an asset to the entire state for future generations,” Ryskey said. “It is critically important for the western Upper Peninsula while ensuring conservation of the land for all of Michigan’s citizens and visitors.”

The next steps include getting a formal grant offer and project agreement after the funds are appropriated by the Michigan Legislature, he said. This can take anywhere from 4 to 6 months.

The family of the late land-owner Melvin Flannery, who passed away at age 91 in 2018, approached the county forestry department to offer the former logging land for sale to the county. Ryskey and the Flannery family made the official proposal to the Gogebic County Commission in February 2020.

The commission approved Ryskey’s request to submit a trust fund application following a presentation from the Flannerys, who now operate Flannery Trucking and Contracting Company in Crandon, Wisconsin. 

“It was (Melvin) Flannery’s wish for Gogebic County Forestry to take over his 4,000 acres,” said Bob Orlich, a Gogebic County commissioner and vice president of the county forestry and parks department. “So, we pursued it.”

Orlich credited the work of Ryskey, along with fellow forestry and parks commissioner John Matonich, for doing “the leg work” that resulted in the approved grant request. 

“Most of the land butts up against our county forests and so we’ve got access to get to a lot of our land through the Flannery land now,” Orlich said. “Some of it has been cut but it’s going to grow and it helps our forest industry.”

Orlich said it’s early but the land brings the potential to eventually add up to 70 hunting camp permits. Ownership means the county can improve roads to the properties.

“It’s win-win for the county,” Orlich said. “We’re in the land business and that gives us now 54,000 acres total.”

Three of Flannery’s daughters — Carol Rychlock and Peggy Packard, and Cheri Fraley — said the family has not been involved in logging for around a decade. The land was purchased around 33 years ago from another timber company.

Most of the parcels are located south of Wakefield, Michigan and range in size from 40 acres to entire sections, Ryskey said. Most of the terrain is gently rolling, with small inclusions of steep terrain and scattered rock outcrops that are accessible by county and logging roads.

Some of the land is in varying degrees of timber management but most areas have been untouched since purchased by the Flannery family, he said. A few areas have been thinned or clear-cut resulting in thick regeneration and structural diversity.    

The water and wetland features range from small creeks and intermittent streams to rivers, ponds and bogs, Ryskey said. There are a variety of ecosystems and wildlife that thrive on the undeveloped land with an abundance of northern hardwoods, aspen and white cedar.

The proposed acquisition will enable the expansion of the Mosinee GEMS site and also enable the county forest program to more effectively manage the DNR’s Devils Creek-Chaney Lake Deer Wintering Complex Management Plan, he said. This complex is essential to winter survival of deer in Gogebic County. Deer based recreation, primarily deer hunting, remains a driving economic force in the region.

Along with the county grow, The city of Ironwood received a $111,300 trust fund board recommendation for its proposed Norrie Park Renovation and Montreal River Water Trail project.

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