Granted, there has been more interest shown in mining in the U.P. in recent years -- Rio Tinto is developing a nickel and copper mine in northern Marquette County, and there are rumors other sites are being explored. This isn't really news; there have been rumors for years that mining is coming back to areas that boomed 100 years ago. Ever since Calumet & Hecla closed its last mine in the Copper County in 1968, there have been rumors that abandoned mines were going to be dewatered and reopened "soon." The same has been true of various played-out iron mines: talk of a possible open pit iron mine in northern Wisconsin has folks in Gogebic County fantasizing that mines will re-open in Jessieville or Ramsey or Wakefield. Lots of people don't seem to understand that copper and iron ores don't grow back; malachite and hematite aren't mushrooms that pop back up if they're left in the dark long enough. Nonetheless, the dreams continue.
And so do the nightmares. A local environmental organization, Friends of the Land of Keweenaw (aka FOLK), has been researching mineral rights in Baraga County and creating a publicly accessible database with the information, an action that was inspired by reports that Rio Tinto has been quietly buying up those rights as they continue to explore possible mining sites. FOLK quite rightly worries about the environmental consequences of mining, particularly for copper sulfides. Still, I'm not sure why FOLK is building its database (most landowners already know whether or not they own the mineral rights) but if they want to pay fees to the county for the privilege of searching land records, I'm sure the county can use the money. The folks at FOLK are rather naive most of the time so it probably hasn't occurred to them that their work could have unintended consequences. The end result of their labor -- a publicly accessible database -- might be more useful to mining companies than it is to individual property owners. It'll save the mining companies the work and expense of having to do title searches themselves for blocks in which they may be interested.
In any case, without much overt fuss, the local community is splitting into two camps: people who fear the environmental damage that inevitably accompanies mining and people who fantasize about jobs that pay more than minimum wage and don't depend on tourism. The Chamber of Commerce as a whole lusts after the flood of dollars mining might bring in or new industries it might spawn; individual Chamber members worry about mining hurting their existing tourism-oriented businesses.
Given the rather weak mining history that Baraga County has compared to surrounding counties in Upper Michigan, I have a hunch both camps are wasting their time imagining a future that's never going to happen. Through some geological fluke, Baraga County manages to fall between the copper range to the west and northwest and the iron ranges to the east and south. There have been mines in Baraga County in the past, but they weren't particularly productive. The Taylor Iron Mine only lasted a few years; the ore body simply wasn't good enough to be economically viable. The Ohio, Webster, and Spurr mines on the eastern edge of the county (and the extreme western end of the Marquette iron range) operated longer, but played out decades ago.
Every so often, though, rumors will start that the trace amounts of mineral found in Baraga County are going to lead to a mining boom. Back around World War I, the discovery of vanadium in Arvon Township had speculators briefly excited. In 1950, there was a uranium boom: a minute amount of uranium was found and suddenly geiger counters and speculators were popping out of the woodwork. Roads were renamed to reflect the coming boom, newspapers as far away as Milwaukee touted L'Anse as the next mining boom town. It never happened. No uranium mines, no sudden wealth. The story of mining in the U.P. has been one of steady decline, and Baraga County's been no exception to that pattern. Where Baraga County is an exception is it never really had a boom to begin with. Ontonagon, Houghton, and Keweenaw Counties all had copper in massive amounts; Gogebic, Iron, Dickinson, and Marquette had iron. Baraga County had fantasies.
Minor piece of trivia: where do I fit into the map? In the general vicinity of the arrrow under the M in Marquette Iron Range..