New Sawyer study should help chart community’s future

If used properly, a new study examining resident viewpoints and other information at K.I. Sawyer, could help pay great dividends for the small community, which has been making diligent strides to improve itself over the past several years.

K.I. Sawyer has 2,624 residents, is unincorporated and the site of a former U.S. Air Force base from the mid-1950s until 1995. Sawyer International Airport opened for passengers in 1999.

The study called “Building Healthy Communities Through Public Engagement and Sense of Place: Community Economic Development at K.I. Sawyer” took place from November 2012 to September 2013 and was a collaborative effort between a research team led by Teresa Bertossi from Northern Michigan University’s Earth, Environmental and Geographical Sciences Department and the Sawyer-experienced non-profit group Community Hand-Up and its director, Lisa Johnson.

The report was funded by and prepared for NMUs Center for Rural Community and Economic Development.

Since the study’s release, Marquette County officials have voiced support for holding meetings with Forsyth and West Branch townships officials – the three entities with K.I. Sawyer jurisdiction – to see what combined efforts can be made to improve the quality of life in the community, based on the results of the study, especially the citizen input.

Researchers went door-to-door to 1,065 houses, and conducted about a dozen interviews, as well as looking through lots of historical data, letters, census and socioeconomic data and other information.

Several key issues were explored in the research including resident perceptions of their community from the inside and out, safety, poverty and other economic indicators, confusion over government jurisdictions, housing and resident input into crafting K.I. Sawyer’s future.

Among its conclusions, the study stated, “Major community development efforts will likely continue to be unsustainable until improvements are made to ‘the social fabric of the community,’ including potential perception and structural organizational challenges and better public engagement to determine what the residents of Sawyer want and need for their community and will support.”

Resident confusion over the governmental jurisdictions at K.I. Sawyer is one problem that needs to be addressed, along with adequate funding for police and provision of other basic services in an improved manner would greatly help the community and perceptions of K.I. Sawyer from within and without. Those perceptions are greatly important to community and economic development.

More abandoned structures need to be razed and more resident housing owners and managers would alleviate a good number of problems, along with continued efforts to improve aesthetics and create a long-term plan for the area.

A greater linkage should also be provided between the business interests at Sawyer and the community, with resident input a vital component of the decision making process.

Johnson has been working with the Sawyer Alliance, a diverse group which has been trying to positively address community problems over the past few years.

“We already are involved in many of these things, but we will continue and we’ll use this information to say, ‘What do people need the most,” Johnson said. “Whether it’s community events or programming for youth, seniors or whatever it happens to be, to continue to do those things and also being an advocate of bridging of the communities and bridging of the resources.”

We think the study has a great deal of information residents and a range of governmental officials can use to the betterment of K.I. Sawyer, if the entities involved will seize this opportunity to help give a big boost to the community improvement efforts which have already taken root.

The success of such efforts, if effectively guided and realized, could produce a seemingly endless amount of progress, not only for K.I. Sawyer, but for the townships involved and Marquette County overall.