Aug 24-11

Past-E-Mail: Cam Notes - 2011: August: Aug 24-11
Looking at Ontonagon    ...scroll down to share comments
Photos by E. Neil Harri
The Paper Mill site    ...scroll down to share comments
Photos by E. Neil Harri
Zoomed in    ...scroll down to share comments
Photos by E. Neil Harri


By
Mary Drew at Pasty Central (Mdrew) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 04:35 am:

One day last week, E. Neil Harri flew over Ontonagon, just to check and see what was happening there and this is what he found. The tearing down and dismantling of the Paper Mill has begun, so Neil snapped a couple photos for us to get right in there with a "birds eye view" of the happenings. My first thought when I looked at Neil's photos, was how sad for this small town. But then Neil put it in a different light for me, a more positive outlook, by saying that this could be a move toward rebirth for the town of Ontonagon. They can now move on to a new venture that could possibly even include mining once again, since it may be coming back to the U.P. and Ontonagon is in a good position for it. So let's think positive for Ontonagon and say, 'out with the old and in with the new!'


By Joe (Jhurl) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 05:12 am:

I remember that mill . My father work for a paper mill in ypsilanti when i was growing up


By Janie T. (Bobbysgirl) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 05:41 am:

The town looks larger than I thought it was. I love flying with Neil!


By Brent in UPstate NY (Brent) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 05:58 am:

The only memories I have of paper mills was the smell. That horrid, horrid smell. Oh yeah, the houses nearby were all yellowish.


By Deb S. (Usedtobeayooper) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 07:31 am:

I love towns that sit right on top of Lake Superior!! Nice pictures!!


By Alex "UP-Goldwinger" (Alex) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 07:39 am:

Looks like there is a lot of potential in this town, especially the location. As I look at the river pic, I can imagine a resort town where boats can dock and maybe even a few hotels along the riverfront. Some charter sports fishing boat companies like they have on Lake Michigan, etc. I hope that when one door closes, another will open.

Nice photos, Neil!


By kay Moore (Mskatie) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 08:04 am:

Alex wouldn't that be great for that town. It seemed like a nice small town back when I'd visit my folks in White Pine. I actually expected to move eventually up there at one time. And wouldn't I love to be up there with Neil seeing it all.


By Kenty (Dashamo) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 08:16 am:

Why is the river so murky?


By Jeff Kalember (Jeffkal) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 08:20 am:

that site would make an AMAZING campground or park!!! The murky water kenty, is a combination of silt, clay, iron. the ontonagon watershed is huge and pulls out a lot of "stuff" from the banks. people see it and think its polluted but its pretty natural.


By Alex "UP-Goldwinger" (Alex) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 09:00 am:

Jeff...I was thinking the same thing. With the river right there for safe boat docking and the shoreline on Lake Superior, it seems to have the potential for a great vacation resort. A place for the public to enjoy and not just another company, although a thriving business would help the local economy as well. I suppose one must weight all the pros and cons and do what is best for the entire community.


By James Alain (Charlevoix) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 09:18 am:

The Ontonagon River is ALWAYS muddy looking,


By E. Neil Harri (Ilmayksi) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 09:20 am:

I see more new houses being built along the shoreline from Ontonagon towards Houghton every year.
I heard you can buy a nice house in town for $25-$30,000.
It is a great vacation or retirement town plus a good investment. It certainly won't go down much more.
You have a great marina with short access to Superior and good fishing. The clay discharge in river, ends just beyond the pier entrance.


By Shirley Waggoner (Shirlohio) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 09:27 am:

I'm guessing that the folks of Octonagon should have the 'say' about whether they'd want their beautiful little town turned into a resort. Even though that may bring in lots of revenue, it can also destroy the 'simple life'. I can name several examples where that has happened, and it's sad.


By Eddyfitz (Eddyfitz) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 09:57 am:

My only memories of Ontonagon is when we played football there with 85 degree temps and the horrible smell from the pulp mills. I always assumed they provided a good income for the parents of my opponents as did the copper smelter in Hubbell where we lived.


By kay Moore (Mskatie) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 11:04 am:

The odors from industry is one problem but these days even that can be tolorable if need be. Nearby Clinton, Iowa is a nice snall city but Owweee the smell from the corn processing plant makes me keep the car windows closed when I go shopping there! The paper mills in central Wisconsin is the same.


By Paul (612paul) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 11:55 am:

I remember a couple of years ago there was a lift bridge crossing the river between the marina and the lake.


By Paul H. Meier (Paul) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 12:05 pm:

Be careful of what you wish for. Beautiful places for resorts, once they became resorts, also became too expensive for the folks that originally lived there to continue to live there. Ask the former residents of Aspen or Teluride Colorado. Most of the new jobs created in such places just create a class of serfs to serve the rich and famous. The people that stayed through the hard times end up needing to move out to places they can afford to live and commute back to all those nice new jobs.

Cut through all the verbiage about economics and there is one overriding principle: an entity must at least produce as much as it consumes in order to survive. It must produce more than it consumes in order to grow. That applies to individuals as well as nations. The loss of the mill is not a good thing. It is one more place where we actually produced something. That loss and the coming loss of infrastructure doesn't bode well for the UP.


By E. Neil Harri (Ilmayksi) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 12:45 pm:

Every end is a new beginning


By Alex "UP-Goldwinger" (Alex) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 01:04 pm:

Adapt and survive.


By Doug (Greenhermit) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 01:36 pm:

It would be interesting to hear where the Pasty-Camers from Ontonagon stand regarding these comments. I worked several years at this mill - before its last owner ran it into the ground.


By Shirley Waggoner (Shirlohio) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 02:10 pm:

Alex, I respect your opinion but that statement can apply to countries also....which can be sorta scary.


By FRNash/PHX, AZ (Frnash) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 02:19 pm:

Alex "UP-Goldwinger" (Alex):
"Looks like there is a lot of potential in this town, especially the location. As I look at the river pic, I can imagine a resort town where boats can dock and maybe even a few hotels along the riverfront. Some charter sports fishing boat companies like they have on Lake Michigan, etc. I hope that when one door closes, another will open."


Oh, that sounds like the (click) → Saugatuck of the north? Small town, (click) → huge, beautiful blue water marina (Blue water? Ooops!)


Quote:

"Saugatuck's primary source of revenue stems from tourism - though only 1,000 individuals call Saugatuck their year-round home, the population of the town swells to nearly 3,000 in the summer. Saugatuck is a prime summer weekend getaway destination for residents of Chicago, Grand Rapids and Detroit areas and many guests are attracted to the many Bed and Breakfasts in the area. In 2010, Saugatuck came in fourth in Budget Travel Magazine's ten coolest towns in America.'


Shirley Waggoner (Shirlohio):
"I'm guessing that the folks of Octonagon should have the 'say' about whether they'd want their beautiful little town turned into a resort. Even though that may bring in lots of revenue, it can also destroy the 'simple life'. I can name several examples where that has happened, and it's sad."


Saugatuck of the north? Resort, Tourist Mecca Hmmm

Paul H. Meier (Paul):
"Be careful of what you wish for. Beautiful places for resorts, once they became resorts, also became too expensive for the folks that originally lived there to continue to live there. The people that stayed through the hard times end up needing to move out to places they can afford to live and commute back to all those nice new jobs."


Saugatuck of the north? Too expensive for the natives Yes, that's it!

Not to worry, with that silt and sticky, nasty, red clay laden Ontonagon River, useable for at most for only five months of the year vs. the clear blue waters of the Kalamazoo River, that's unlikely to happen!
By
Deb S. (Usedtobeayooper) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 02:32 pm:

WOW!!! I think that "sticky, nasty, red clay laden Ontonagon River" is beautiful!! We stop and look at it all the time when we're on our way UP there!! It's just that color because the sand is that color. It's not dirty at all. There was a program that Ron and I watched called "Northern Experience". There were 2 guys (maybe more) canoeing UP the Ontonagon River. They were saying how very clean that river is. But it looks dirty because of the color of the sand. I'm sorry FRNash, but that was an awful thing to say.


By Thomas Baird (Thomas) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 03:26 pm:

Nice views.


By Hollidays (Hollybranches) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 03:38 pm:

FRNash, are you sure you're in the right place?

Ontonagon is a beautiful little village. I feel bad for the paper mill putting so many people out of work, but, it happens everywhere and this will just be a new beginning. I have only lived here for a few years but have noticed so many changes. Some are for the better, some are not. I support UP mining and have a bumper sticker that says; "Quit your whining and start the mining". I think this might be the next step for Ontonagon.


By FRNash/PHX, AZ (Frnash) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 03:46 pm:

Deb S. (Usedtobeayooper):
"WOW!!! I think that "sticky, nasty, red clay laden Ontonagon River" is beautiful!! We stop and look at it all the time when we're on our way UP there!! It's just that color because the sand is that color. It's not dirty at all."


"Because the sand was that color!" (?)

"WOW" indeed! Then perhaps upstream on the Middle Branch, east of Bruce Crossing & Painesdale it is worse than in beautiful downtown Ontonagon.

I've spent plenty of time in da bush along the river and the clay slides there the river there is almost soup! Even the red clay on the roads in the area was so sticky ya could hardly get the mizzerable stuff off yer swampers! 'Twas all you could do ta blast it off wit' a water hose, and heaven forbid you track it in da house! That certainly was nasty stuff!


Hollidays (Hollybranches):
"Ontonagon is a beautiful little village."


The village? Yes indeed it is, though a mere shadow of what it once was, as the commercial hub of the county back in da 1930s thru the 1950s or so. The river, now that's something else.
By
Hollidays (Hollybranches) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 04:06 pm:

Okay FRNash, I, slowly agree. You know more than I do. I am just trying to stick up for the place we retired to. We did, however catch a lot of clean, non-fish smelling walleye in that river. I also know that this town boomed because of "Hawley Lumber". It used to be all logging way back when. Hawley Lumber is still alive and well.
Here is a link to the things you can do here;

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Tourism-g42554-Ontonagon_Michigan-Vacations.html


By Janie T. (Bobbysgirl) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 04:13 pm:

FRNash...do you often go back UP to this area for visits? Have family, friends there?


By Hollidays (Hollybranches) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 04:28 pm:

FRNash knows all. He is a smart cookie. I can't dispute his posts even though I wanted to. Janie, trust him, I always have.
Enjoy Bobby's return, make him a pasty. :)


By Janie T. (Bobbysgirl) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 04:32 pm:

I was just asking FRNash this question out of curiosity, without regards to the river.....


By Deb S. (Usedtobeayooper) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 04:46 pm:

Because the river is that color does not mean the water is dirty, so to speak. Maybe these guys on this nature show didn't know what they were talking about, but they were camping in the woods there and canoeing all up and down the river. They loved it and said it was a nice, clean river despite the color. AND, they were hiking up and down the hills too. I don't know. I'm just telling you what we watched. That was a great program! Maybe they were in a different part of the river. All I know is, it can't be just too dirty with Lake Superior right there.

Good question, Janie!!


By FRNash/PHX, AZ (Frnash) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 05:35 pm:

Janie T. (Bobbysgirl):
"FRNash...do you often go back UP to this area for visits? Have family, friends there?"

Not nearly as often as I'd like to. Maybe in the next year or two, if my upcoming hip replacement is as successful as I hope it will be!

There's plenty of family still there, but those of my generation and earlier are fading far too fast!

What I'd dearly love to do is spend a month or three (July through the fall color season perhaps?) exploring the UP from one end to the other, including some places I haven't seen in decades some not since the early 1950's with a toy like this: EarthRoamer XV-LTS/XV-LT, at an unhurried pace.


P.S.: Actually I really would love to see Ontonagon village become the "Saugatuck of the north", but I'm afraid some local folks might not be that enthusiastic about it!

And Deb S. (Usedtobeayooper), I'll give you that; the Middle Branch of my experience is probably way "nastier" than by the mouth of the river! I really wish I'd seen the "Northern Experience".
By
Tom (Tom) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 05:51 pm:

You know there is a very simple test to determine
if that Ontonagon River is clean. Would you drink
the water by scooping it up? Without some kind of
process? No, I don't think you would.
FRNash made an important comment about being at tourist destination. It is very seasonal work and
supports only a handful of people. Not the way
you want your village to end up.
The reason the cardboard box factory closed that it is too far from it's major markets. There are factories closer that do not have the transportation costs as does Ontonagon. Location theory says: must look at the labor, market the raw materials market and selling market. Locate where it is least costly.
Isn't there talk of new mining operations in several spots in the UP? It might be just talk?


By Doug (Greenhermit) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 08:31 pm:

Well, I was hoping someone who's been around Ontonagon for a while would chime in here. Since not, here's my two cents worth:

Yes, Ontonagon certainly has no choice now but to look to the future and do everything it can to promote its assets to others. (Incidentally they've had a 150+ year long history of doing this, including rising from the ashes of a totally destroyed community after the fire of 1896 - with the added insult of its largest employer Diamond Match Company walking away from town a lot like Smurfit-Stone did a couple years ago. So they will survive this time too). And, no, the mill will never run again - Neil's great photos make that perfectly clear. And, yes, there's absolutely no point pining for it to happen. Here's the point and hopefully a lesson too: this did not have to happen. Don't place undeserved trust in the claims and promises of distant corporate executives who have no personal investment in the communities from which their fortunes are extracted.

Smurfit-Stone, who closed the mill because they said they could not make their product at a profit in Ontonagon, produced the identically same product that a paper mill less than 100 miles away (as the crow flies) did and continues to do. Presumably they are doing this profitably enough to still be running - and never took downtime "due to economic conditions" as Smurfit-Stone did for the better part of two years before abandoning their operations in Ontonagon altogether. Both mills used identical pulping and papermaking processes to manufacture corrugated medium (paperboard used to make the wavy middle layer of what most people call cardboard boxes). Both used identical raw materials (wood and waste paper) drawn from the same market basket. Both shipped product by rail or truck. Both were mills were of the same vintage and used virtually identical equipment. Yet, one still runs successfully today, while the other is now a pile of rubble being sold for its scrap metal value. If the Ontonagon mill could not be run profitably, why did Smurfit-Stone adamantly refuse to sell it to someone who might? Was it because they did not want the competition, but instead wanted to reduce the supply of corrugated medium, and thereby increase the demand (price) of medium and boxes produced at their many other facilities? If it's not the condition of the mills, raw material supply, transportation, employees, or market conditions that distinguished one mill from the other, one might reasonably be led to the conclusion that the competence or motives of one company's corporate management compared to the other might be involved. With the guile of its corporate lawyers, Smurfit-Stone emerged out of federal bankruptcy court (under the humored objections of a small town's prosecuting attorney), sold itself to yet another corporation, and it's cleaver (if otherwise incompetent) management clinging their multimillion dollar golden parachutes as they cheerfully jumped out of the whole fiasco. The workers at the mill, on the other hand, are about to run out of their unemployment insurance any day. So who's coming out of all of this looking to their brighter future?

Finally, the river does run muddy (not polluted) from the natural clay deposits it flows through south of Ontonagon; and, yes, the mill did smell when it was a Kraft mill - that was some 55 years ago.

Why not take a ride over to Ontonagon some day and drop a couple of bucks at a local restaurant or shop.


By C Pihlaja Russell (Gone2long) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 08:47 pm:

The Ontonagon River is ALWAYS that color. It is not dirty; that is silt in it. If it stopped moving, the silt would settle and it would be clear. But the river drops significantly on its way to the Big Lake so it moves pretty fast. I lived on the banks of the East Branch of the Ontonagon River and it has always been red (and mighty good whitewater canoeing in the spring). I agree with Doug; stop in for a pasty and a cuppa joe and see for yourself.


By James Alain (Charlevoix) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 09:45 pm:

The lift bridge somebody remembered crossing closer to the river's mouth was NOT a lift bridge, but rather a swing bridge....reportedly Michigan's last one of these.


By kay Moore (Mskatie) on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - 11:41 pm:

James Alain...that's what I was thinking too. That it was a swing bridge. Glad my mind wasn't playing tricks on my memory. It's bad enough with everyday info...:>O)


By Wes Scott (Travelnorth) on Thursday, August 25, 2011 - 01:39 am:

Clean it all up and put in a seasonal RV park.
These folks escaping the heat of Florida
would spend money all summmer in town. Works
well in many towns near Lake Superior.


By E. Neil Harri (Ilmayksi) on Thursday, August 25, 2011 - 08:09 am:

Ducky Klevins worked on that swing bridge for MDOT.


By Sheri (Sheri) on Thursday, August 25, 2011 - 08:42 am:

I still live here, my husband and I both lost our jobs when the mill closed. I hesitated to comment as anytime someone from the mill comments on the mill, within the village (not on this list :)), someone always jumps in and tells us to "get over it!". Let me say: mill workers and their families have no choice but to get over it! It is hard to lose your family - some of the people worked together for 20, 30, 40+ years, seeing them almost every day. No one should criticize how any of us have dealt with it. We have moved on - some to work out of the area, some into college, some into retirement.

The closing of the mill was unfair - the Ontonagon mill was the most profitable mill in their division. And I agree with the comment about not selling it - they didn't sell it because they knew a competitor would make a profit.

Smurfit-Stone provided my family a great living for 31 years, helped us send 2 girls onto grad school and 1 son for his bachelor's, build and pay off our home. But when Stone Container took over this mill, they resorted to intimidation right from the start so we knew how it was going to be. And we weren't wrong.

But it is over and that stuff is in the past. As Barb Ojanen says, "they took our mill but not our will" and she's right. There is no question that the people of Ontonagon County will survive - we are Yoopers. We adapt, adjust, and accept. I would welcome another industry, business, or anything to help other families stay in the area, but I'm glad the younger families are leaving as they still have a chance to have a life somewhere else.

Tourism would be great but right now Ontonagon doesn't have anything to attract people to stay here unless they only want to look at Lake Superior from the township park. They can look at the lake from many other places that also have other attractions to make them more attractive to the tourist.

The Porkies are great but how many days are most people with kids going to stay here to look at them or go hiking? What do people do when it rains? Many times we get people in the library on a rainy day asking where the movie theater is (Houghton or Ironwood - 50 miles in either direction) or the fast food places for the kids (Houghton or Ironwood - 50- miles in either direction) or miniature golf, or skate parks or etc.

The other drawback is that you can't raise a family with a job paying minimum wage - contrary to the opinions of some in the village. Some would like to turn it into a retirement community. There has been talk of condos on the lakefront, landing seaplanes on the river, enlarging the marina. But WHY would a tourist come here and once here, what is there to keep them here for days or even weeks? At this point - nothing unless you are into camping or hiking. Tourism has been tried for at least the last 75 years and so far it has not lived up to its hype. Now there is talk of a gambling establishment on the mill site! (I tried to use the "C" word but it was blocked). And a possible business moving into the Maple Manor building.

I have interacted with some tourists that love the scenery, but move on the next day or later in the day, up to Houghton or Copper Harbor as there is more to do and see. What is the solution? I don't know.

I don't know which day Neil took the pictures but Ontonagon was hit with a tornado last Friday and it involved a lot of rain which probably made the river very red from the clay.

And by the way, the smell connected with the mill disappeared for the most part about 15 years ago when they put in some new pollution equipment.

The mill didn't make cardboard boxes - they made corrugated medium - the part that goes in the middle of the inside/outside of the box - the squiggly part.

Ontonagon already has a small RV park.

A lot of kids used to swim in the river and they still might and I know I swallowed my share of river water. I'm 55 now and still making a nuisance of myself with no harmful side effects yet!

The swing bridge was supposedly Michigan's last one. The new bridge does really make you realize how wide the Ontonagon River is! Even I never noticed it when we were crossing on the swing bridge.

In the end of this pontification, I want to thank everyone for their comments. It's nice to know that the list hasn't forgotten Ontonagon. It's been a tough time for everyone here, but we will just have to wait and see what happens. Eventually it will settle to a new normal.


By Victor Creed (Victor) on Thursday, August 25, 2011 - 12:23 pm:

I was born in Ontonagon, and get back there periodically to visit family. Not sure if anyone's ever heard of geocaching, but when I was up there a couple of weeks ago, I placed over 100 geocaches in the area. They are getting hit pretty good now from people who would never have come to the area otherwise. Definitely not much--a fillup at Holiday here, a meal at Syl's there--but every little bit helps.


By kosk in Toronto (Koskintoronto) on Thursday, August 25, 2011 - 04:11 pm:

Sheri: Thank you for your thoughtful and poignant comments
about your hometown. They reminded me of a song by The Red
Clay Ramblers about the effect of the closing of a mill in another
part of the country. I have eaten at Syl's, probably filled my tank,
hiked in the Porkies and visited the historical museum. Your
comments make me want to visit that region next summer.


By Deb S. (Usedtobeayooper) on Thursday, August 25, 2011 - 10:18 pm:

I came back to today's pasty notes because of what Sheri wrote. Sheri, honestly, that was such a great piece. It kept me interested from start to finish. Like Kosk, I too have been to Ontonagon. And Sheri makes me want to go back. I still get angry at the comments made about that river. No, I wouldn't drink from it, but then I don't drink Lake Superior water when I'm swimming either.


By Diana P. (Diana) on Friday, August 26, 2011 - 09:27 am:

Victor, what a fun idea! I bet it took quite a while to get all those geocaches in place. How does a person find out about geocaching ... is there a website? :)


By Capt. Paul (Eclogite) on Friday, August 26, 2011 - 02:51 pm:

This website should get you started, Diana:

http://www.geocaching.com/


By Dean Juntunen (Yuper3) on Friday, August 26, 2011 - 02:52 pm:

The color of the Ontonagon River is due to Ontonagon County Red Clay. For the most part, the clay is in colloidal suspension in the water. You can drink it, as a small amount of clay won't hurt you. I've done it many a time myself. I wouldn't recommend drinking gallons though.
When it rains, the color of the river darkens. During dry periods it becomes a lighter shade of reddish brown. In these photos, the river is a bit darker due to recent rains.
You can see a small plume of muddy water in Lake Superior. During spring flood or after bigger rains, the plume can get quite large. Many fishermen on Lake Superior like to fish "the mudline."
If you go far enough upstream on the branches of the Ontonagon River, you will enter sand country, and find clear water. The Main Branch is entirely encompassed by red clay though. Friends and I paddle all of the branches of the Ontonagon River, plus feeder streams. It's world class river paddling -- virtually all wild and scenic. Our last paddling outing of the season is usually on the Main Branch which remains open until late November. The snow on the trees and hills and the newly forming ice adds a dimension to the scenery.


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