Iron County considering future of Cooks Run

THE FORMER COOKS RUN fish hatchery in Iron County’s Stambaugh Township was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. (National Register of Historic Places files)

STAMBAUGH TOWNSHIP — Despite interest from several groups, due to a clause in the ownership agreement with the state, the future of the former Cooks Run fish hatchery remains up in air.

The hatchery was built as a Public Works Administration project during the Great Depression. The 122-acre site includes fish rearing ponds, a small coffer dam, several outbuildings and a log caretaker cabin that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Iron County took ownership of the property in 1961.

The property 15 miles west of Iron River last operated as a fish hatchery in 2013, when Dino Giannola of Watersmeet Trout Hatchery used it for one season. Before 2013, the site had sat idle for several years.

Dan Hinch, chairman of the Iron County Parks and Recreation Committee, said the building can never be a hatchery again — years of feeding created layers of silt that have left the area unsuitable for trout, unlike the excellent fishing further downstream.

Hinch hopes to see the land developed as a recreation area, perhaps for ATV use or maybe as a primitive campground.

JEAN MACK, whose grandparents were once caretakers at the hatchery, took a tour of the Cooks Run cabin in October with the Iron County Genealogical Society group. (Submitted photo)

But the county’s hands are tied by a reverter clause in the deed that states the state of Michigan is allowed to take back the Cooks Run property if it goes to a private entity and is not maintained for public use.

“Last year we actually had the property surveyed and we parceled out two acres around the cabin — we wanted to separate that from the rest of the property, where we would take ownership of that and be able to do what we wanted to do with it, get it out of the reverter clause. But the state rejected that,” Hinch said. “It kind of stopped us in our tracks. It has been a roadblock to many ideas.”

The county has been hoping to partner with an outside nonprofit group to take over management of the property and there has been some interest in recent years. The Superior Watershed Council and Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy actually visited the hatchery in 2021 and came back with three options they could consider for managing the property, ranging from managing the property to taking ownership. UPLC would have protected the property as a preserve; however, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources did not approve of any of the three options.

Hinch notes the county does not receive any state funding to maintain the property.

“The state of Michigan has not offered one penny over how many years since they turned it over to the county, and yet they have that reverter clause hanging over us,” Hinch said.

Hinch said for the property to see more use the road will need work, as it is quite steep and washes out.

As recently as November the DNR did express interest in working with the county to find a solution for Cooks Run, Hinch said, adding the county will probably reach out to some of the organizations they have dealt with in the past few years as well.

The future of the property will be discussed at the next Parks and Recreation Committee meeting this month. The committee has not met since October, since it lacked a quorum until recently due to resignations and terms expiring.


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