Newspaper Archive of
The Ely Echo
Ely, Minnesota
March 29, 2014     The Ely Echo
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March 29, 2014

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Pag 9 Section 1 ECHO/ e Historic 1965 BWCAW Joseph Per,'(o land exchange threatened .... i Editor: The concept of setting aside a large block of road less land in northeast Min- r, esota as public property for wilderness recreation dates back to the early 1900s when writers, scholars, and others first begin to discuss exploita- tion of natural resources and coined the word conservation as it applied to timber, game and other material uses of the land. The campaign to accom- plish the feat of setting aside an area we now know as the Quetico Superior canoe country was one that even- tually reached every major level of government, the courts, individuals and. or- ganizations throughout the nation and presidents of the United States. Across northeast Min- nesota it would set neigh- bor against neighbor, friend against friend in a bitter battle regarding whether the great- est value of the land was for cabins, resorts, hydroelectric utilities, paper mills, logging and other businesses or for public recreational use as a wilderness area. In 1902 Minnesota For- estry Commissioner Chris- topher Andrews persuaded the General land Office to withdraw from sales 500,000 acres of Federal lands in N. E. Minnesota that otherwise could be homesteaded or sold. Next, President Teddy Roosevelt established the Superior National Forest in 1909 and thus began an over 50 year attempt to con- solidate the lands within the Quetico-Superior area into Federal ownership. By this time much of the Quetico-Superior had been stripped of timber and abandoned as tax forfeited property. However, plans were al- ready in place for establish- ing hydroelectric dams on  many of the suitable sire' within the Quetico Superior region. These sites would gen- erate enough electricity to sustain wood fiber and paper mills already in business, as well as multiple other types of businesses yet to come. Ernest Oberholtzer, upon graduating from Harvard in 1908, spent the summer ca- noeing the wilderness area of the border lakes and became a permanent resident ofthe area in 1912. After discovering plans were underway to develop the Quetico-Superior area into hydroelectric dams and paper mills, Oberholtzer soon became a leader of those op- posed to development and created a plan of his own that would preserve a large block of wilderness for public recreation. By the turn of the cen- tury times were changing and people across the nation were beginning to embrace the concept of wilderness preservation. By 1922 the Superior National Forest was well on the way to becoming a desti- nation for tourists, especially those with canoes. The idea of preserving wilderness was on a collision course with the area locals who wanted a road to every town and lake as well as the right to determine their own destiny. It made sense that ad- ditional roads would bring more tourists, more business and generally create eco- nomic opportunities for lake, Cook and St. Louis counties. Although not yet realized, if the plan to set aside wilder- ness was to succeed, three hurdles would be significant obstacles. The area would need to re- main roadless, aircraft would need to be banned from land- ing, and the private property within the Quetico-Superior area would need to be ac- quired. By 1940 several private cabins and resorts had been built on Basswood Lake, Gun Lake, Fourtown Lake as well as other sites within the border lakes roadless area. It was at this time three young men from Ely recog- nized the potential of aircraft serviced resorts in the wilder- ness as profitable business ventures. William Zupancich built a resort at Curtain Falls be- tween Crooked Lake and Iron Lake in 194.0, Joseph Perko built on his Crooked lake property in 1942 and Martin Skala built on Lac la Croix in 1945. These three men and their resorts, located on private land with clear access to the Quetico, turned out to be the most nettlesome of the key parcels necessary to consoli- date the road less area into Federal ownership. For a number of years the resort business flourished and kept a steady stream of"bush pilot" planes coming and going from Ely's Shagawa Lake. William Zupancich stated, "I pray to the good lord that my Fisherman's Paradise will remain roadless." The canoeists seeking a wilderness experience were upset with the pontoon equipped aircraft shuttling guests and supplies back and forth between Ely and the resorts. So after winning the war to keep roads from the wil- derness area, a new conten- tious battle determining how to prevent aircraft from the roadless area was just begin- ning. After years of lobbying politicians, the conservation- ists and their allies succeeded in bringing about enough political pressure to convince Washington that banning air- ct'iff fro/n ,hnding within or flying below 4,000 feet over the wilderness area was the only way the area could be preserved. On December 17,1949, the forty-sixth anniversary of the Wright Brothers' flight at Kitty Hawk, President Harry Truman signed an Executive Order creating an Air Space Ban over much of the road less area. By shutting off the air access, the resorts were des- perate to find ways to keep business profitable. Perko and the other resorters vision of profitable, long term tour- ist resort business ownership was threatened by the lack of access to their properties. Perko, Zupancich, Skala and pilot Elwyn West repeat- edly violated the air space ban. In 1952 these men re- ceived an order from district court judge Gunnar Nordbye forbidding them from further flights into the road less area, except for the protection of their private property. In the spring of 1953, un- der the guise of "protection of private property" these men, again were back in business. Between June 30 and July 2, game wardens, forest rang- ers, FBI agents, and federal marshals laid a plan to arrest Perko, West, Skala, and Zu- pancich. West's planes were seized and chained. After the arrests, the con- servationist had hoped the resorters would fold. Perko came close to selling several times but they all continued to operate with a long spec- tacular boat ride from Crane Lake, across the Dawson Por- tage, weaving in and out of the islands of Lac La Croix, widening the Bottle Portage into a jeep road and on to the destination resorts. Perko, who owned con- siderable acreage at various locations in the roadless area, was the key. Perko wavered in August of 1953 and con- sidered selling for $100,000. Even though the federal government reasoned that if Perko sold the others would follow suit, negotiations failed and the resorters turned to another possibility ..... A ROAD. While all of this was go- ing on, these men had sued the federal government and took their access denial case though the lower court sys- tem, all the way to the Su- preme Court where, in Oc- tober of 1953, an appeal was refused to be heard. A railroad bed abandoned in 1944, ran from the town of Winton to Gun Lake, three miles inside of the roadless zone. In the summer of 1954, Perko and Zupancich drove a bulldozer and a tractor down the Gun Lake Grade to Gun Lake where, in a week's time proceeded to gouge several miles of rough road to Perko's Crooked Lake Resort on Friday Bay. In the spring of 1955, Perko and Zupancich filed suit against the Northwest Paper Company and the Su- perior National Forest claim- ing the Gun Lake Grade to be a public road as well as their only means of ingress and egress to their places of business. While this was in court Perko and Zupancich con- tinued their road trespasses. When confronted by rangers, these men broke the locks on the gates and continued to daily service the resorts. On June 24 the Forest Service, backed by the justice department, sued the two men and ask the district court for a restraining order. Judge Dennis Donovan heard the case against Perko and Zupancich from July 11 to 15 in Minneapolis and then moved the trial to Duluth on July 21 and 22. The judge's ruling on May 31, 1956 granted a permanent injunction against the men. Perko, once again con- sidered selling but the final terms of the agreement, in- cluding a land exchange, were not completed until 1965 at which time Congress authorized the necessary funding. Shortly after Perko had agreed to sell, Skala sold out, but, Zupancich stubbornly held on until 1963 when the Forest Service condemned, acquired, and removed his resort. The lessons leamed from years of consolidating the wilderness into federal own- ership were further strength- ened by the Wilderness Act of 1964. Perko's land exchange agreement with the Forest Service consisted of 91 acres of his land that no longer had meaningful access, to be traded for 3.75 acres of Fed- eral land within the Superior National Forest. The 3.75 acre parcel of- fered to Perko was surround- ed by Federal land and it too did not have vehicle access. Without access the 3.75 acres did not have enough value required for a fairly balanced agreement. Eager to come to terms, the Forest Ser- vice made sure that an access road and electric power line easements were included in the land exchange agreement. In 1962, the access road and electric power line were built crossing through Fed- eral property and leading directly to what would be- come Perko's property once the agreement was finally consummated. The actual exchange of properties was completed in 1965, and Perko was then issued a Special Use Permit from the Forest Service for his access road. So it seemed, finally, the U.S. Government and Jo- seph Perko had both agreed to something and could lay aside their differences. Each party had bargained what they had ask for and were happy with the outcome. In 1962, the U.S. Forest Service designed, inspected, surveyed, "signed off" on documents, and allowed the construction of the access road connecting to the federal property soon to be disposed into Perko's ownership. Anxious to "seal the deal," considering that Perko might somehow "back out," the Federal Government, in 1963, authorized the con- struction of a cabin on the property still in federal own- ership. In 1965, with the terms of the agreement firmly estab- lished and federal funds au- thorized, Perko and the Fed- eral Government consum- mated the mutually agreed upon terms of the contract. The documents provided to Perko at the time of, and since the closing of this land exchange agreement in 1965, are now being compromised in a campaign to relocate the property boundary such that the access road as depicted on the original documents no longer connects or pro- vides access to the land as it was disposed by the federal government. These documents include "Exhibit A," an as built plat drawing establishing a survey" line, a section comer (the east property boundary) and the access road as it connects to the property. The premise of the "new 2010" survey is that the road was constructed in the wrong location and the section cor- ner established in the plat drawing was incorrectly lo- cated. The allegations are that the "new 2010" survey of the section line is married to the property boundary in commonality, one being the same as the other. In other words, the "Ex- hibit A" has errors. However, "Exhibit A" establishes the property boundary as it was disposed and agreed upon by the Fed- eral Government and Joseph Perko in 1965. For 48 years there were no mistakes on the document and, for that matter, in 2010 there are no mistakes on any of the documents. They are what they are, exactly what the government intended. The three documents that established the property boundary on the parcel dis- posed to Perko are factual, honest, historic, honorable and binding. The Perko investment was based on the terms of the document agreements, and it is beyond doubt he was provided with deceitful and misleading documents to enhance the completion of the land exchange agreement with the intent to deny legal rights of those documents 48 years later. However, if the "new 2010" survey is upheld, then Perko was deceitfully and fraudulently mislead into the land exchange contract with the federal government. The historic and "sacred" land exchange between Jo- seph Perko and the federal government must stand as agreed to in 1965. The devaluation of the Perko parcel by relocating the property boundary is ap- proximately $40,000. At this time the refusal by government to examine the documents in the presence of an unbiased panel will not be allowed. In addition to the facts of the dispute, there is a moral obligation to get this right. It seems to me those indi- viduals and organizations that fought so hard to acquire the private land of Joseph Perko, all of which has now become a "gift" of public land to be enjoyed by all Americans need to respond to this threat of a good land exchange gone bad. The absolute facts of the Perko/Federal Government historical land exchange should ne'er be doubted, they are documented. The Perko land exchange is as iconic as the Tank Man in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on June 4th of 1989 when a .man of tiny stature, stopped a column of Chinese military tanks during the government crackdown on protesters. Equally a hero that day was the government driver in that lead tank. Will the Perko land ex- change be crushed or will i the driver and crew blow tha ; whistle and stop the tank. ', Copies of the Perko/gov: i emment 1965 land exchang documents can be vieweO at the Ely Winton Histori- cal Society Museum in Ely i Minnesota. All information is from the Minnesota Histori- i cal Library. Lawrence Thomforde i Zumbrota, MN i Editor's Note: Thomforde. is the current owner of the referenced Perko property, and has lost the ability to drive to his property due to actions by the U.S. Forest Service. He has gone so far i as to petition U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar for relief. As of i Tuesday, his cries for justice have gone unheard. NOW HIRIN Steger Mukluks Factory has permanent, full-time production positions available for bright, motivated persons who are team players! Applicants must have a great eye for detail and quality. You must be responsible, energetic and able to take direction. Will train. Apply in person at 100 Miners Drive, Ely MN 55731. 8:00 - 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday Equal Opportunity Employer ) t