Chippewa Hills Update

This past Thursday a meeting was held in Gaylord.  The meeting was very positive.  The following is an e-mail that Mary Beth Stutzman had sent out to the Chippewa Hills User Constituent Group.
Her email captures the tone of the meeting.  Hopefully TBTA will be able to move forward with the the cut and work with the DNR in the area of compromise that will lead to Chippewa Hills becoming a destination point for all non-motorized users.

Randy Fairbanks, President TBTA  

Hey gang -
Warning! This is a long email :)

Yesterday's meeting in Gaylord went better than expected. I was fairly
apprehensive going into it and was expecting to be met with argumentative
and pacifying commentary but nothing of the sort occurred. I believe it was
extremely helpful to have two people facilitating the discussion. There
were a few times were the facilitators were lightly trying to force an
issue but everyone in the room was very respectful of trying to hear each
other out and eventually everything was smoothed out.

The attitude of the meeting was much more positive and collaborative than
any of our previous meetings with the DNR. There wasn't any posturing or
bullying or nonsense being thrown at us. There were no slideshows arguing
the health of the forest. There were a few times where the DNR was
challenged by one of us and everyone in the room collaborated to bring
about a truthful answer. Eric Ellis (Ruffed Grouse Society), and Andy the
Mountain Bike association guy, and Paul Rose from the MUCC proved to be
very helpful at certain points in helping us justify our cause. Even the
Weyerhauser representative told me that she was really surprised and was
really learning a lot about how complex this issue really is and could
now understand why we were so adamant about our cause, and most
importantly, she did not argue against it.

I really think they were expecting us to come in with wild crazy in our
eyes and do some fist pounding and yelling. When we presented our very
objective and carefully thought out statements I think they realized that
they weren't going to be able to steamroll us.

Here is the outline of the day's activities:

We started off with some icebreakers to get to know each other. This was
good because it helped calm the nerves and got everyone up and talking to
each other.

From there we agreed on some ground rules for the discussion (be respectful
of differing opinions, don't interrupt, etc.)

Then we had to agree on a final outcome. This is were things could have
gotten a little hairy. The facilitator presented the objective of the
meeting as "agree on a revised plan that all stakeholders agree
with."...she basically wanted a compromise by the end of the day. We shared
our thoughts on the matter and brought up the point that the discussion may
not get us to that point. Everyone agreed so what we then agreed to was
basically to move toward a peaceful resolution while understanding that we
might not get very far in this one meeting.

While we each gave our 5 minute presentations the facilitators had been
writing the main points of our statements on little post-it notes. They
then categorized the main points into categories like "economic
considerations," "Logistics," "questions," etc. Then we all went through
and determined what things could be addressed at a later meeting and what
needed to be further discussed right now.

As part of my discussion I stated that was not able to offer any
suggestions for compromise but I needed some real answers to questions we
have asked.

1) What can't Parks & Rec take over the property?
2) Why can't it be left alone?

It cannot be transferred to Parks & Rec because it would have to be
something like a State Park and they can't do that just because and the
property doesn't have anything like an endangered wildflower on the
premises, etc; plus they don't have the money or the manpower to take on
more property at this point. Rich Hill (P & R) DID say that "we hear you."
He finally acknowledged that Parks & Rec does need to step up to the plate
and play more of a leadership role in assisting our community with Pathway
improvements. I believe this is a direct result of our efforts to press the
issue that we felt like P & R wasn't pulling their weight on this issue for
us. I believe that message has been received and P & R understands that
they have to start being more helpful. So all in all I think we can
consider that a win.

As for the "no cutting" questions it was more difficult to get a straight
answer. Basically, state forest land is managed for timber harvest.
Something we all knew but had never heard anyone from DNR forestry
outwardly admit. It was stated that "sale of timber is always an objective
of state forest land management plans. That is part of what state forest
lands are for."

After much discussion the topic was thoroughly exhausted. The surprising
part about this discussion is that it did not include badgering or an
overly defensive attitude on the DNR Forestry side of things. It was fairly
respectful and they genuinely did listen.

We continued to stand by our position but at about 2 p.m. everyone in the
room agreed that some cutting may happen.

But also as part of this discussion, the aesthetics of the trail
(surrounding forest) and care for the trails themselves and real forest
health issues (not the previous ones we were told) were given the full
credit they had been deserving. Everyone in the room agreed that the
recreational value of the Pathway should be the top priority. Side note:
Eric, the Grouse Society rep turned into a great advocate for us and helped
prove our point that small cuts in a random/checkered fashion is best for
grouse habitat .... not the large sweeping cuts that the former plan

So what's next? The DNR is reviewing all of our concerns and considerations
and will re-write the harvest plan (which is being referred to as a
variance). They suggested that the harvest could be reduced by more than
half and there would be opportunities to further negotiate specific details
about not only cutting areas, but specs for the loggers to follow and
timelines and so forth.

In short, we did not agree to anything. We left with an understanding that
we will work together to continue to evaluate potential resolutions. The
first part of this process will be reviewing some alternative suggestions
the DNR will compile. It is a starting point for further negotiations. I
don't forsee this process to happen immediately. If anything, further
negotiations will draw the plan out longer.

At the end of the day, this should be considered a BIG win for us. We
started out on this journey 6 months ago with two options: The cut would go
ahead as planned; or, the DNR would "show us who's boss" and make a much
more severe cut.

But by teaming up and working together we have been able to:
1) Get a hold placed on the cutting
2) Get Parks & Rec to pay attention to our decade's old call for help to
improve the trail system.
3) Finally got the DNR to stop talking trying to pacify us with a PR spin,
jargon, and mumbo-jumbo discussions that we KNEW were not authentic.
4) We raised the bar on public opinion and brought enough public attention
to the matter that if the DNR does not do exactly what they say they are
going to do ... they will have hell to pay as many, many people are now
holding them accountable.
5) And while the jury is still out on what the final answer will be - we
have been successful in changing the course of a plan that would have
completely obliterated one of our most sacred outdoor spaces. That's like
stopping a freight train!

I really felt like most everyone in the room (except the Timberman's
Association guy) was trying to figure out how they could help us make our
position work. I did not feel that this was a "make us bow down to the DNR
plan" session; I believe it was a "how can we make this work for the
community" session.

Char and Randy, do you guys have anything else to add?


Mary Beth Stutzman
Inspiring A-Town: A Community Building Crusade