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Boreal Community Media

Public meets to discuss what should be done about Hovland dock

Nov 17, 2017 08:22AM ● By Editor
By Brian Larsen from the Cook County News Herald - November 17, 2017

The inside of a Siberian snowball is warmer than the Hovland townhall was on Thursday, November 9, when about two dozen winter coat wearing hardy Hovland residents showed up to discuss what could be—or should be—done to save the crumbling Hovland dock.

Actually, the building wasn’t too cold until the loud blower for the heater had to be shut off. With the heat on, it was hard to hear Cook County Land Commissioner/Parks and Trails Director Lisa Kerr’s presentation, let alone have a discussion after that. So the heat was shut down, and while the building got colder as temperatures fell to 8F outside, the debate inside certainly heated things up. 

Some history

Built in 1905, the Chicago Bay Hovland Dock was a hub of community activity as local fishermen used it and it became the site of delivery from the steamship America.

Today the Hovland Dock is in need of repair. Owned by Cook County, it is the only known commercial dock still fully intact on Lake Superior’s North Shore. 

In 1999 the Lake Superior Coastal Program, who provides technical and financial assistance to local communities to balance protection of the coastal resource, worked with community members on a plan to restore and preserve the dock. Those efforts failed primarily because money couldn’t be found to finance the improvements.

A project sponsored by the North Shore Scenic Drive Council (NSSDC) in 2016 spearheaded the drive to re-make the wayside rest at the dock. And last year the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission (ARDC) planners met with citizens of Hovland to discuss the failing dock and talked about improving the wayside rest. Again, there wasn’t money or enough interest shown by locals who live along the road to fix the landing area because it would attract tourists.

Today there is an existing hardscrabble gravel parking lot and weedy area next to the dock. Some wild flowers do grow there, but it was said when the county did mow, they were cut down.

With most of the wood rotting away on the cribs, there is a general concern for the integrity of the structure.

The only thing done lately is that the county placed boulders in front of the dock to keep motorists from driving on it. 

The meeting

It seemed like Christmas. People were handed out red and green cards at the beginning of the session. The people receiving the cards were instructed to hold one card or another overhead to show agreement or disagreement with a speaker’s point of view or suggestion. Red meant you didn’t agree with the viewpoint expressed.

In her presentation Kerr said judging from the first meeting held in early fall, quite a few people were in favor building a trail from the community center that would cross Highway 61 and through the woods to the dock. The Hovland townhall would also serve as an informational site for the dock, with a kiosk or some form of signage providing history.

However, once Kerr finished her presentation, it was clear that while everyone liked the dock, most were in favor of shoring up the structure to stabilize it, but they didn’t want the area around the dock enhanced or anything that would encourage tourists to stop and visit.

As Robin Penner noted, even a trail leading to the dock would draw attention to the area, and as a neighbor to the Hovland dock, she was in favor of leaving well enough alone, except maybe stabilizing the structure.

A lot of green cards went up over people’s heads when Robin finished speaking.

Hovland resident Cedar Adams, in her early twenties, read a letter signed by several young adults who grew up and still live in Hovland that seemed to capture the majority viewpoint.

Her opening statement was, “Please leave the Hovland dock alone.

“We are a group of young people who grew up in the Hovland area. We went to local schools, and many of us now work at local businesses. We chose to stay here instead of leave, like so many of our peers. We are writing to you today because we are concerned that what the county thinks is “preserving the past” may happen at the expense of harming the future. We would like you to think about that before you destroy the things that make us love this place and call it home.

“We only know the Hovland dock as a beautiful, lonely, broken relic. We love it as it is. We swim off it, have bonfires, meet up with friends, walk our dogs, eat lunch, enjoy the peace, and sun ourselves on the broken end when we get those lucky rare hot days. We stop to watch the moon come up, and run down there as fast as we can when we hear there are northern lights. When we were young it was our “safe space,” and it still is for the younger kids, where you rarely meet up with anyone you don’t know but where you often run into community members and old friends.

“The dock has been broken since the storm of 1995, so most of us only know it that way. No boat has docked there for almost 90 years! We even love the broken end. It gives us a way into the water and a safe way out. It is dark, it is quiet, and it is one of the loveliest places we can even imagine. It is one of the hearts of our community, and we are grateful for it.

“As far as we know, nobody has ever been hurt on the dock, and nobody has ever asked for anything to be changed. We understand that it is deteriorating and that it is unsafe to drive on. Although the county could have used local rocks to block off the dock and could have consulted with the community first, the boulders they put there make sure that only pedestrian traffic is allowed. That seems to take care of any worries the county has about the danger. 

“However, every year lately we are being approached with plans to ‘improve the dock for the community.’ First, it was to build a rest stop, which we objected to and which is impossible because of traffic issues. Now there are a series of meetings to get us to agree to rehabilitation, trails, historical markers, and unspecified other developments and improvements.

“We don’t understand why we are now being told that “doing nothing isn’t an option,” or why we keep having to go to meetings to ask that our tax dollars not be wasted on something we don’t want and which would hurt our community. We are also concerned that, given the neglect, the dock has suffered, whether there would be money to maintain it after spending up to a million dollars to “fix” it.

“We are fine with stabilizing it, so it doesn’t deteriorate further (or not — and let it continue to decay in dignity), even though it seems like there are lots of better ways to spend that kind of money. But—we are very opposed to anything that changes the character of the dock as it is now. And we very much object to anything that makes it more attractive to tourists. We work serving tourists and welcome all who stumble upon our lovely spot, but we need a place to escape to at the end of the day that belongs to us.

“As the hopeful future of Hovland, we ask whoever has authority to make these decisions to think about us and take our feelings seriously. We grew up here. This is our home. The Hovland dock is our history. We hope it will last forever and be our children’s history, too. But if it doesn’t last forever, that’s ok too. We love it and respect it, and none of us who live here and use it every day want you to change a thing. We humbly but strongly request that you leave it alone, and let our community continue to enjoy it in peace.”

A roomful of green cards went up when Cedar finished speaking.

Kerr noted that there was no budget for these Hovland dock meetings. She said she was gathering information on her time and at meetings end, she offered a link to “the survey that will help determine whether this project has majority support and will move forward or not be pursued any further at this time by Cook County.”

Kerr added two questions to the survey form from the information she gathered at the town hall. The survey, which ends December 31, is:

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