Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Forgotten Places of Chatham

Welcome to the page all about places that most local residents take for granted (myself included), and most tourists never see.  It's those forgotten or hidden places that, well, stay hidden!  It is my attempt to bring light to these out-of-the-way places, some historical and some scenic.  This is not a page meant to ridicule anyone for missing these interesting spots, but more or less to spotlight and to shed some light on them.  Maybe someday, when you pass by them, you'll think about them even more.  Enjoy!
Chatham Sewage Lagoons
Probably one of the most forgotten places around Chatham is the Sewage Lagoons.  Actually, it's not really a surprise that they are forgotten, because it is the storage area for much of the village's waste water.  However, it actually is an interesting place to go.  A variety of bird species often use the lagoon as their own private pond.  Geese and ducks are most commonly seen, but it's not uncommon to see some other rare birds, such as swans.  The lagoons are actually surrounded to the south and east by the farming fields of the U.P. Experiment Station (which are fenced off).  To get to the Sewage Lagoons from downtown Chatham, head east on Slapneck Road for about a half-mile.  Right about where the pavement ends, there is a road that takes a right (signed as State Farm Road).  Go on that road, and at the top of the hill, the road will end in a fork.  Take the right road, and you will be led up to the lagoons.  
The Slapneck Creek
Another forgotten treasure around Chatham, and possibly not intentionally, is the Slapneck Creek, which runs just north of the village, and most notably crosses the Rock River Road (and M-94, about 5 miles east of Chatham Corners).  I think for the locals, it's mostly taken for granted than anything else.  The Slapneck has a most unusual name which I think makes it a unique river.  It winds its way through some of the thickest swamps and fields in rural Alger County, and when you're lucky, you can catch some pretty healthy trout, but watch out for those suckers.  It's the biggest water way in the immediate Chatham area (which beats the Bohemian Creek by a rather large margin - and if there's a bigger water way, please let me know!) and can be a pretty exciting river to take a canoe down (you just have to watch out for some of those low bridges!).  I think one of the most unique locations for the Slapneck River is about 2 miles east of town, near the Slapneck and Finn's Spur Road Junction.  From the Slapneck Road, if you take a left on Finn's 
Spur Road (heading north), watch for the Slapneck River Bridge just north of the intersection. Instead of turning right on Slapneck Road just after the bridge, take a left on the small two-rut road.  Now mind you, you probably won't get very far with your vehicle on this road(because it tends to get overgrown a little ways in), but it's only a short walk in anyways.  Heck, you can probably park your car by the road and walk in.  You will come upon a little valley in the trail, and then walk up the steep but small hill.  After that, you will see the abandoned Slapneck River Bridge.  This really is a great place to view the river.  Sometimes the river is so clear; you can look into the water and see some trout swimming and crayfish walking in the bottom of the river.  I have even seen a beaver and ducks near that bridge.  Not too much is known about the bridge and when it served as a vehicular structure, but now it's long been forgotten within the trees and brush in the rural country.  At one time, you could see the date stamped on the bridge (circa early 1900's), but the condition of the structure has deteriorated since.  It's still a safe bridge to walk on, and it will probably stay in place for awhile longer, but it's no longer a useful structure.  That's why it's a pretty forgotten place.
Chatham Lions Recreational Park
The Chatham Lions Park tends to be another forgotten place in Chatham.  It's not really a place that gets visited by a lot of people, although it is meant to be an area for tourists to stop by.  The park is equipped with barbeque grill stands, trash bins, picnic tables, and even men's and women's pit toilets.  There used to be a scenic trail that people could walk along just west of the park, but it has since gotten too overgrown and impossible to navigate.  There is one unique artifact on display at the park, which dates back to the early days of the village.  It is an old snow roller that the township used to pack down the snow on the roads in the winter time.  The roller was pulled by a team of horses, and the roller kept all of the roads within Rock River Township packed for travel.  The history of the roller dates back to 1903, and the township purchased the roller for $550.  This is one item that's worth a visit to the park.  The park is also a great spot to do a little leaf peeping in the fall.  Check it out when you have the chance, located a few hundred feet north of Chatham Corners.
Pine Grove Cemetery
The Pine Grove Cemetery, located a few miles northeast of Chatham, is known pretty well by the locals, but its back within the Hiawatha National Forest, and is not a prime location for people to see.  That probably is a good thing, since it is such a private location, undisturbed by noise or traffic.  It really is a great historical ground for the township, and as you look around the cemetery, you will see that some headstones date back to the middle 1800's.  There is a lot of history within the cemetery, and there are generations and generations of local family members buried in that cemetery.  From Chatham, take the Rock River Road north for about a mile.  Take a right on Nykannen Road, and follow it straight to the cemetery.
Old Soo Line Railroad Grade
I think one of the most interesting trails within the Chatham area is the old Soo Line Railroad Grade, which runs just north of the village.  I am sure not a lot of people really think about this trail as being a forgotten treasure, but I consider it as such.  There is a lot of history involved with that trail, especially with the early days of the railroad.  Just look through the material within the railroad grade, and you will find a few iron ore pellets, old railroad stakes, and even sections of old railroad ties.  But the main reason why I think it is so special is because of the scenic nature of the trail.  It really makes for a great walking and bike path.  However, a lot of ATV's and motor bikes also use the trail, and that may be one deterrent why people do not use the trail more for biking/walking.  It is also a very wooded area, and some of the trail is beginning to be bought out by local landowners and designated as private property.  But immediately around the Chatham area, it's still open to the public, and very accessible.  It is also the main snowmobile trail through Chatham during the winter.  Check it out sometime.
Chatham Airport/Former Rock River Township Landfill
Last but not least, this forgotten destination within the Chatham vicinity is the old Chatham Airport and township landfill.  There is not a lot to see in the area anymore, as it is mostly a grass land, but at one time, the Chatham Airstrip served as a runway for small prop-planes.  There isn't too much information on the airport according to local history books, but some remnants of the old airport remain out there.  The old Rock River Township landfill is located just south of the old airport on Finn's Spur Road northeast of Chatham.  The area is now fenced up and under environmental studies by the Department of Environmental Quality since its closure in the early 1990's.  Under all of the dirt and grass are mounds of decaying debris from township residents of days gone by.  Since the methods of landfills (or dumps) became scrutinized around the late 80's and early 90's, most small landfills like the one located on Finn's Spur Road were forced closed.  At the time, the function of a landfill seemed like a worthwhile and cost-free solution, but as more was learned about the process, it became prevalent that the landfills were very hazardous to the environment and ground water.  It's been two decades since the old landfill was closed and there aren't too many remnants left behind, except for a small sign, listing the fines of littering off the landfill property.

1 comment:

  1. Where can I find information on the Rock River dam right off of State Rd 28? It is one of the fascinating work I have ever seen.