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Iron County renews effort on Cooks Run

Board to seek release of reverter for former fish hatchery

The former Cooks Run fish hatchery, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, has gone nearly two decades without regular use. The Iron County Board this week took a preliminary step to possibly give the Stambaugh Township site a new future. (National Register of Historic Places)

CRYSTAL FALLS — The Iron County Board has taken a “first step” to try giving one of the county’s historic locations a future.

Commissioners Tuesday voted 4-0, with District 2 Commissioner Michael Stafford absent, to seek a waiver or release on the reverter clause for the former Cooks Run fish hatchery.

The state deeded the 122-acre site off Cooks Run Road about 14 miles west of Iron River in Stambaugh Township to Iron County in 1961, according to the county’s civil counsel, Steven Tinti. But the deed contains a reverter clause that dictates the county maintain the property for “public use” or ownership will revert back to the state, Tinti said.

“That’s our problem,” Tinti told board members at the regular meeting Tuesday. “It’s a public-use problem.”

Board members asked whether the county could lease the property to a private individual or entity that could operate the site and allow public access.

“That can only be a public entity,” he said. “(Or) we could give it back to the state anytime we want.

“The reverter is not a problem if it’s another public entity.”

Tinti added the county had, at one point several years ago, reached a tentative agreement on a land swap with the U.S. Forest Service that later fell through.

“The Forest Service would love to have that property,” he said.

However, commissioners Tuesday didn’t seem willing to give up on the property, at least not yet.

“It definitely needs some work to be taken care of,” said District 3 Commissioner Mark Stauber. “(But) I wouldn’t want to see the county to get rid of it.”

The site, first developed as a public works project in the early to mid-1930s, was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1983.

The NRHP description of the property states: “The Cooks Run Trout Feeding Station is a small trout hatchery, consisting of a pond, dam, and several buildings. The most significant building is the caretaker’s cabin, which is notable as an outstanding example of vernacular wilderness camp architecture, with finely crafted details and using local building materials.”

However, the site has gone nearly two decades without regular use. According to news reports, Dino Giannola of Watersmeet briefly managed the property for the county in 2013.

While agreeing the debate over the fate of Cooks Run was not a new topic for the county board, Stauber said the board needs to take action soon, before the structures on the property deteriorate further and possibly become irreparable.

If the county is able to get the state to approve a release of the reverter clause, officials would then be able to pursue other options, including leasing the property, Board Chair and District 1 Commissioner Patti Peretto said.

“That would be the first step,” Peretto said. “Let’s try it.”

Mike Golas, a member of the Fred Waara Chapter of Trout Unlimited, told board members the group would be interested in assisting the county with the property, under the right conditions.

“Whatever happens, we’d be excited to help with the trout habitat,” Golas said.

Tinti said Wednesday he will start the application process to obtain the release from the reverter clause in the next week or so, adding it most likely will go through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Dennis Mansfield can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 240, or dmansfield@ironmountaindailynews.com.

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