Down and out in purest Michigan

K.I. SAWYER AIR FORCE BASE – Driving through parts of the K.I. Sawyer community 30 minutes south of Marquette can startle even a jaded city dweller. A rural two-lane highway rimmed by hearty evergreens and far-flung quaint towns spills into neighborhoods of tightly packed, squat houses peppered with graffiti and boarded-up windows.

But Gordie Warchock wants a tour of the former Air Force base to focus more on the winding streets lined by neat houses, monitored by picky homeowners’ associations. Warchock is the chief of the Forsyth Police Department, one of two towns now responsible for Sawyer.

Warchock is out to prove that Sawyer, located in the unincorporated community of Gwinn, is not the dregs of the Upper Peninsula. He cruises his Chevy Tahoe police vehicle past the K.I. Sawyer Community Center and its new playground. He points out a prairie where abandoned houses were demolished, and a clinic that this year hired the area’s only dentist. Then there’s a tiny store, the only one in the entire eight square-mile community, where a package of bacon sells for $8. And an 18-hole golf course.

Among the thriving nooks, the squalor that has helped earn Sawyer its seemingly unshakable reputation as troubled is stark: Acres of abandoned military dorms and vandalized houses sag behind broken windows. A pile of singed wood sits beyond police tape near the Sawyer International Airport, the result of a medical-marijuana operation that blew up, sending its burned worker to the University of Michigan hospital in a helicopter. Garbage spills from garages on one of three streets where locals say drugs can easily be found.

Sawyer emerged in statewide headlines last year after the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team along with local and federal police busted a drug ring that moved heroin from the Detroit area to Sawyer from 2012 to 2015. Five people were sentenced in May – a woman and two men from Gwinn, another man from Ishpemig and one from Detroit – to federal prison terms ranging from 30 to 170 months.

Drugs are not just a Sawyer problem. They’re all over the nation, the state, not to mention the nearby towns of Ishpeming, Negaunee and the city of Marquette. This is the refrain that unites Sawyer residents, the poorest and the working class alike.

But due to its problems with poverty and crime, Sawyer has been called “Little Detroit” and the “‘hood in the woods.” It has been, and still is, considered by some Yoopers to be the Upper Peninsula’s slum, the once orderly and insular military base turned ghetto. To some residents who live on the three streets known for the highest poverty and crime, it’s true. But older residents and homeowners say the reputation is overblown.

On the hunt for the true identity of Sawyer, deep in the forests and blueberry patches, a picture emerges.

By all accounts, Sawyer is carving out a community from a ghost town. More than 20 years after the military left, it is an isolated outpost in need of jobs, transportation, a grocery store, laundromat, more activities for youth, as well as additional drug treatment for adults.

And a new identity. That may be the hardest fix.

“In the last six or seven years, resources have poured in from police, churches, the community center and nonprofits have come to help,” Warchock said. “It’s not the wild, west. It’s not what it used to be.”

Somewhere out of nowhere

K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base was once one of the largest, most densely populated communities in the Upper Peninsula, with about 7,000 residents when the military and their families lived there. Opened in 1955 on a lease with Marquette County, the base was home to the 410th Bomb Wing. It sent crews to fight in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 450 men and women to the first Persian Gulf war in 1990. Everyone there had a job, income, medical care, housing and didn’t rely on the townships for police or fire services.

But in 1995, the military packed up and left. The closure drilled a $100 million hole in the area’s economy. Marquette County soon took over the 5,278-acre base and turned the airport with its 12,000-foot runway into an international commercial hub in 1999.

The county sold the residential housing to developers - some responsible, others not so much.

Today, Sawyer has about 3,000 residents. Gone are the bowling alley, the movie theater, roller rink, bank, hotel, beauty and barber shops, restaurants, as well as goods and services that had made it self-sufficient. About a third of it is vacant buildings. Hundreds of civilian jobs vanished, too.

Sawyer’s poverty rate is estimated as high as 46 percent, compared to about 18 percent in Marquette County, according to 2014 U.S. Census data. Unemployment in the U.P. has been historically higher than the state average, which is about 5 percent today. But unemployment at Sawyer has been estimated as high as 24 percent from 2010 to 2014, the same as in Detroit and nearly five times the unemployment rate for Marquette County, Census data showed.

The area’s reputation as a drug den grew out of the late 1990s when some of the first new residents were drug dealers. They hid out in the mostly-empty neighborhoods, cooking methamphetamine and taking advantage of the transitional period when there were few people and even fewer police. Most who moved in since were lured by cheap housing: three- to five-bedroom units rent for less than $400 a month.

The Sawyer directory lists more than 60 businesses, mostly located in the industrial district around the airport and employing about 1,100 workers. Few of the workers live in Sawyer, local officials and residents said.

In 2000, Sawyer was designated a renaissance zone, easing the tax burden for businesses and industries located within its business district, including the Sawyer International Airport. The zone attracted some businesses, but it also left Sawyer “without an adequate tax base to support community development and services,” according to a 2014 report by researchers at Northern Michigan University’s Center for Rural Community and Economic Development.

The report analyzed Sawyer’s assets and surveyed residents about needed improvements. Since the report, of the 11 assets residents said were needed to keep residents safe, just one has materialized – additional medical resources (such as a dentist) were added at the clinic. A gas station was the first of seven services residents said they would support, and one is now operating in Sawyer.

Sawyer’s issues are complicated by the fact it has no single local government to uniformly enforce housing codes or police it. Most of it is located in Forsyth Township and a small portion in West Branch Township.

Marquette County Planning Commissioner Bob Struck is a leader of the Sawyer Community Alliance, which came up with a three-page list of community needs in 2009. A “sense of community” and “positive public relations and image” topped the list along with jobs, social services, recreation, a grocery store, expanded bus service and removal of trash dumped in the woods.

Since then, Forsyth has seen the opening of a polling precinct and community garden as well as the community center with support from Forsyth Township.

Drugs and poverty happen everywhere, Struck said, parroting the unofficial Sawyer slogan. It’s not just Sawyer. It’s also Ishpeming. Negaunee. Marquette.

Perhaps most important, the community needs to believe in its capacity to effect change, Struck said.

“Everybody else is putting them down, saying ‘You’re worthless,’ They need some of these small wins and they’re doing it. They’ve got things going,” he said. “This community needs to know they can make it better. Once they do that, everything else on the list is doable.”

Protect and serve

Basic services have been slow in coming to Sawyer over the past 21 years. But to call Sawyer a slum minimizes the progress it’s seen in recent years.

Ruth Grimsby and Sue Heinz took a break from cooking fried potatoes and parmesan chicken to stand on the front porch of the St. Francis Connection Center last week. The volunteers leaned on the banister and looked off into the distance. The closest supermarket is about seven miles away, assuming residents can afford to shop there. It takes two hours, on three to four buses one-way, to get to the Walmart store in Marquette Township.

Twice a week, the St. Francis Connection Center serves free lunch on real plates. An outreach ministry of St. Anthony Parish in Gwinn, St. Francis opened in 2011 in a townhouse. It is adjacent to the Care Clinic that provides prenatal care. St. Francis also is the place to go for a winter coat or help paying utility bills.

Heinz has lived in Gwinn for 45 years, Grimsby has lived in Sawyer since 2009. Both women married military men and knew the area when it bustled. They remember going to Sawyer to shop. Now they hand out free boxes of groceries on Fridays to Sawyer residents who don’t have money or transportation to go shopping.

“We’re trying to do things like find something for the children to do and bring them things that other people take for granted,” Grimsby said.

On the second floor of the duplex, Catholic Social Services of the Upper Peninsula offers substance abuse counseling at St. Francis.

But it’s not nearly enough.

Garrett Green, one of two health coaches who provide counseling at Upper Great Lakes Family Health Center, the clinic in Sawyer, said when someone comes in for drug counseling it can take weeks to get an appointment. There are no Narcotics Anonymous meetings in Sawyer and residents organized their own Alcoholics Anonymous meeting to support each other through the weekends when drinking and drugging are most common, he said.

Before the clinic opened, some residents who lacked transportation treated their ailments at home or abused substances to treat depression instead of getting help, Garrett said.

“They may not have had a ride to Gwinn to get a tooth pulled, but they had pliers. They had drugs,” he said.

When addicts don’t get help, they could end up being Chief Warchock’s problem.

Sawyer sits on a sliver of the 200-square miles that Forsyth Township police patrol, but accounts for about 70 percent of calls for the 12-person force. Overdoses, domestic assaults and theft are most common. Warchock tells a story of a 911 call to a man in Sawyer who overdosed. Later the same day, emergency responders answered another call to the same man. He had overdosed, again. Forsyth is considering arming its police with naloxone, an antidote to opiate overdoses the legislature approved for police use last year, Warchock said.

“It all boils down to addiction problems,” Warchock said, summing up the worst of Sawyer’s issues. “Until they figure out how to stop the addiction problem in America, addicts are going to find drugs. Law enforcement is not the solution, it’s going to take a multidiscipline approach,” he said.

Ownership has its privileges

Chuck Truitt, 71, was a renter in Sawyer for about a decade and bought a duplex about nine years ago. His Sawyer is a place where people are living down the stigma, where neighbors don’t lock their doors and have manicured lawns.

A retired salesman with a brusque manner and educated diction, Truitt has not seen the drugs that supposedly haunt three streets about a mile from his.

Drugs don’t define Sawyer. Drugs happen everywhere. Ishpeming. Negaunee. Marquette, he said.

“The only thing we have more than you do in the city is guns,” he said. Truitt has 29. It’s an outdoorsy, U.P. thing.

“Change is coming here. I won’t live to see it,” he said with a chuckle. “Sawyer is an unfinished product.”

Scott Bammert, Truitt’s former property manager, said trash piled in garages, graffiti and unmowed lawns mark the properties owned by bad landlords. Bammert manages Macasu Inc. which owns 207 rental units in Sawyer, including some furnished vacation units. The township needs to step up enforcement of local ordinances to make landlords maintain their units and provide garbage removal to all tenants, he said.

Through it all, Sawyer residents who are both fed up and encouraged are battling the blight. A few weeks ago, Bammert was among a team of volunteers who emptied 14 tons of trash from garages behind vacant row houses. Also, the land bank tore down 102 foreclosed residential units (16 buildings) in the past five years, according to the Marquette County Landbank Authority.

And people like Truitt, the 20 percent who own their homes, are a good sign, Bammert said. Homeowners take care of their property. As taxpaying voters they could put political clout behind residents’ pleas for services.

“What makes me sad is that landlords have authority to do something about (blight) and too many don’t,” Bammert said. “Homeownership is making a difference.”

The county banked on the airport and the industrial area attracting businesses and the affordable housing attracting residents. But there is no demand for 1,600 housing units plopped in the middle of the woods.

So was it worth it for county to take on the base instead of, as some suggested, lobbying for the federal government to level it and let the blueberry patches take over?

Scott Erbisch, the Marquette County administrator, says yes. The airport, 60 businesses and 1,100 jobs are a counterbalance to the blight nobody predicted in Sawyer. Yes, Sawyer needs healthy food at reasonable prices, more bus service, jobs and political power. But that’s what happens when several entities – two townships, a county, state and federal government – are tasked with re-populating a ghost town.

“Nobody knew how to transition a base,” Erbisch said. “There was no rule book.”

Not-so-ghetto

Besides the Sawyer Shoppette store, the K.I. Sawyer Community Center is probably the place where residents are most likely to see their neighbors. In summer, about 100 kids a day get free meals there and get a chance to play in the gym, on the playground and make crafts.

On a slow Friday afternoon Forsyth Police officer Trevor Boudreau stopped by during dinner time. Other than a couple domestic disputes, his past two shifts had been uneventful.

Volunteers at the center and neighbors munched on turkey sandwiches and chatted up Boudreau about the neighborhood goings-on, the rugged cruelty that is part of rural poverty at Sawyer. They talk about stolen bikes and hypodermic needles found at Little Trout Lake, where kids swim and hang out. The neighbors tell Boudreau that one resident was living in a tent in the woods after being kicked out of Sawyer.

Sarah King, 36, who goes by “Twiggy,” moved to Sawyer from Taylor, just south of Detroit, and has lived in sketchy neighborhoods in Detroit-area suburbs. To put Sawyer into perspective, she said it’s a place that has ghetto tendencies, but it’s nowhere near as bad as a big city. In a small community where not much happens, what crime does occur gets blown out of proportion, she said.

The last time someone was murdered in Sawyer was 2014. It wasn’t a shooting or drug-related. A man burned his drunk girlfriend to death, police records show.

“It’s not like there’s drive-by shootings,” Twiggy said. “I love it here because it’s much easier than downstate. I don’t fear living here like I did living in the ‘hood.”

The progress toward meeting Sawyer’s needs is like everything else “on base,” she said.

“Everything up here is slow.”

Now on sale, Bridge Magazine’s book on of the Flint water crisis: “Poison on Tap: How Government Failed Flint, and the Heroes Who Fought Back”

About The Author

Chastity Pratt Dawsey

Chastity Pratt Dawsey is a Bridge staff writer, concentrating mainly on Detroit issues. She can be reached here.

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Comments

Tue, 06/21/2016 - 8:50am
"two townships, a county, state and federal government – are tasked with re-populating a ghost town." I didn't bother to read this maudlin bellyache. I would suggest that the writer and various pols involved with the ghost town look around the rest of the UP, or, better yet, west Texas, New Mexico, Nevada and the rest of the arid SW. Mile after mile of abandoned enterprise that were vibrant and productive places before the silver ran out, or sanitoriums closed as tuberculosis responded to Streptomycin, or wh the grass was grazed down to dust. People stuck around for a bit, tried other stuff, but soon enough the young left for California, families relocated to the bigger cities, schools and civic services disappeared leaving the dregs to scratch out diminished livelihoods. Governmental action will not change the economics or improve anyone's life. It will prolong the dying and deepen the misery of places like Sawyer, or closer to home, Detroit and Flint. Think of it as a form of Creative Destruction, the rebirth of lives and fortunes where it makes economic sense.
Mary
Tue, 06/21/2016 - 9:51am
Thanks for this insightful story. I don't think enough is written about rural Michigan, especially the Upper Peninsula, especially about their struggles to live a quality life amongst the greenery that is "Pure Michigan."
Matt
Tue, 06/21/2016 - 10:48am
How realistic is it to expect that this would be any different? Are we just enabling people to stay in these places or move to them where they just spiral to their destruction? I feel sorry for the kids but short of taking them away, what? A fine tale of woe but just what is the point?
Tue, 06/21/2016 - 10:57am
I can understand writing an article about what has happened to towns that once had thriving economies because of government presence, including military bases, prisons, state mental hospitals. WHY must you headline it "purest Michigan" as an affront to Pure Michigan??! In fairness, you are disparaging a successful campaign that is helping to boost tourism in Michigan. What is it that you are trying to achieve from this headline??? Poor choice of words that only mocks Pure Michigan.
Helen
Tue, 08/30/2016 - 1:21pm
Veronica, ever since Michigan poisoned the residents of Flint, I'd say "Pure Michigan" is pretty much a big, sad joke.
Ken Olson
Tue, 09/27/2016 - 10:19pm
The people of Flint poisoned themselves. If they hadn't kept electing idiots to their city council that didn't know how to manage Flint's money correctly they wouldn't have had an EM and the water issue wouldn't have happened.
Kellie
Sun, 01/15/2017 - 10:44am

The water in Flint getting poisoned was a deal done behind the backs of the Council. And it was mayor Stanley that caused the city to slide further into financial ruin after GM started to pull out. I'm not saying the council didn't have some blame, but let's not only point the finger at them.

Mark D
Tue, 06/21/2016 - 11:14am
One could be writing about Kincheloe the former airbase 160 miles to the east. However, Kincheloe has prisons, too.
Tue, 06/21/2016 - 11:16am
Is there some resource available to help pinpoint other communities such as KI Sawyer that could be candidates for a revitalization partnership?
***
Tue, 06/21/2016 - 11:26am
Yeah, the Pure Michigan reference did come across as a stab against Michigan being the "heaven on earth" image that Tim Allen likes to talk about on TV and radio.
Richard Burke
Tue, 06/21/2016 - 12:02pm
There once was an effort by Western Michigan U to introduce cranberry bogs in the UP, but it was "shot down." Too bad, Wisconsin did carve out cranberry bogs and has become the largest producer of those precious red berries in the US. An opportunity lost. Could it be reclaimed? Dick from Plymouth
Rich
Tue, 06/21/2016 - 12:16pm
I have flown into all three of the former Air Force bases in Michigan, Sawyer, Kincheloe, and Oscoda. Never could understand why Sawyer had a manned tower. You could have a bowling game on the runway at each of these places and never get interrupted. Oscoda does have the Kalitta aircraft refurbishment facility operating there, and has had some success selling the former quarters as vacation homes. Kincheloe, as said before, has the prison that provides some level of employment. But Sawyer is miles away from anything and doesn't seem to have much in the way of business or tourism to support. Not even sure commercial air service operates there today.
Disgruntled Taxpayer
Wed, 06/22/2016 - 9:31am
Not even sure commercial air service operates there today? Talk about piling on with misleading information. I'd argue it's the commercial air hub of the U.P. (http://www.sawyerairport.com/) I drive two plus hours one-way to fly in and out of Sawyer, as do many others UP here.
Katrina
Tue, 08/30/2016 - 2:13am
My family was stationed at KI Sawyer when I was in high school. I graduated from Gwinn high school in 1987. My father was a security police officer and in charge of most of the security on base and law enforcement. The reason there was a manned tower was because there was a lot of nuclear weapons on KI Sawyer. I always visit Sawyer when I come up to U P to see friends. I always drive by my old house on Fury and we stay at the vacation rentals by the shoppette. I hope Sawyer becomes the wonderful place I know it can be. KI Sawyer was my favorite base growing up.
Yooper Girl
Tue, 08/30/2016 - 5:04pm
Sawyer is miles away from anything? Seriously? Sawyer is a great airport and it's how Yoopers get to other places and back home again. My vacation rental is 15 minutes up the road almost to Marquette. The UP is God's Country, and tourism has shot through the roof in Marquette and in Munising, 40 miles east. During the 911 tragedy when planes were grounded Sawyer sheltered many, many plans, and Marquette and Gwinn residents sheltered the passengers. I just drove by there again today on my way home to Wisconsin where we currently live. Every town has its issues. Wow.
Robin Jeske
Sun, 06/26/2016 - 8:29am
K I Sawyer is our home. Here we go again with another writer trying to get attention. Yes, there have issues with blight, drugs, and low income. Gee, the same issues in every newspaper in every other town everyday. My husband and I choose to live here. We are professional people who have worked hard for many years and traveled extensively throughout the United States. A mining engineer, and a registered nurse. There are a lot of professional people who live here. We have wonderful neighbors. Our police force is great. One must remember the amount of area they have to cover is extensive. Yes, we own guns, we lock our doors, we complain about the blight, and the slum lords. Yes, we have low lifes here, just like every other community. Yes, we are part of Pure Michigan! We are proud people who live here. Don't forget it!
Alpha
Sun, 06/26/2016 - 11:38am
Good for you to defend where you live. So often writers negatively describe a place only to sensationalize and then ruin the reputation of that place forever. I live in Metro Detroit, and I know what it is like.
Nan
Mon, 06/27/2016 - 10:19am
Robin, you are right on. I lived in Kincheloe for over 25 years, and although our property values never increased, neither did the EUP's. Yes, we had the prisons close by, but majority of the employees from them did not live there. What helped Kincheloe was Sault Tribe buying the vacant homes and turning them into ownership programs and rentals. They are the good property owners, not slum lords like the other property managers out there. Many of the residents worked for the various casinos in the surrounding area. I do agree, the townships need to do their part in enforcing the bi-laws, it is the only way to get it cleaned up and get rid of the stigma.
Born Yooper
Thu, 09/01/2016 - 3:32am
AMEN, You hit head on the nail and drove it all the way. Stand, Walk, Talk proud that you are and for that I am grateful to be a Yooper, we as a people are a rare one, and for that I'm proud
Nikki
Mon, 08/29/2016 - 11:19pm
I just love when they come in and point out the worst of the worst. Jeez the building pictured isn't even in the housing area. And should have been torn down a long time ago. A majority of the homes are now privately owned and are nicely kept. There are just as many hard working people living here as there are unemployed or underemployed if not more. The drugs, crime and poverty is just as bad in Gwinn proper. As a matter of fact 4 out of the last 5 major drug busts were in "Gwinn". Articles like this piss me off. We work hard to own our home and we live in a nice clean well maintained neighborhood. I've had the opportunity to move to Gwinn and I wouldn't want to. I have a huge home and a nice big fenced in yard. I have friends and neighbors who are nurses, business owners, college professors, business managers and retirees. Everyone always tries to say how bad it is. But none of these people live here. Or those who might have at one time, haven't in a long time. Things have changed since the big crash in 2005 when a majority of the home owners lost their homes and trash had taken over. Those people are long gone and responsible home owners have taken their place. We do have slumlords. Every town does. But they do not dominate the base anymore. There are still a few that complain about the drugs in sawyer. The funny thing is those who are doing most of the complaining are genuinely part of that drug culture. And that is rampant everywhere. I see more drug busts in ishpeming, Escanaba, and surrounding areas than I do here. We are not perfect. But we are a community that cares for one another. And we deserve better than the people around here's stigma of us.
Born Yooper
Thu, 09/01/2016 - 3:25am
Amen Nikki, I think we might've met in Esky back in 2003 This article is like a "Pandora's" box, but I'm proud of you for standing and defending, there is so much potential in K.I., only the fools don't see what it is becoming again; a place that will prosper again, a place that people will visit and keep visiting, a place that makes you happy and want to be a part of.
Karen Swan
Thu, 09/15/2016 - 10:49pm
Writers come here periodicly to see our "ghetto" and inevitability they mention the three short streets owned by slum lords. If local government cared to enforce existing landlord tenent law, prosecute and/or fine owners who allow trash to build up those streets might improve. As for the.poverty when a slum lord offers rentals with no deposits, no references needed, first month rent free to absolutely any one, especially if that prospective tenet gets rent vouchers. What these writers ALWAYS overlook is the very responsible job the Ojibwa tribe does managing many, many rentals. I live in one of the Sawyer Village townhouses and FAR from putting up with substandard conditions, this is what I get for $370 a month: Three bedrooms, a bath and a half, with hardwood floors through out, a basement with washer/dryer hookups, a one car garage, lawn mowing and snow removal by the landlord, garbage removal of course, prompt and courteous maintenance service. Every three months Sawyer Village draws a name from tenets who pay rent promptly and the prizes are desirable things like a decent sized flat screen TV or a nice gas grill, etc. I am retired and travel in winter. When I am ready to leave I call the office and after I drive away maintenance comes in and sets the thermostat, wiresnin a trouble light that hands in a window (any problem with my furnace a red light can be seen from the street so any issue will be promptly fixed). They shut off the water lines to my upstairs, turn off my gas hot water heater. When I am ready to come home I call the office again and tell them when I will arrive. The day or so before I get home they reverse all of the above and turn up my heat so I don't walk into a cold apartment. This costs me exactly zero, it's part of the benefit of renting from Sawyer Village. My neighbors are primarily retired professionals or working with good jobs. The article mentioned Little Trout Lake (someone found needles). For the last three years I've been taking a little grandson for a hike on the trail around the lake. We've gone there in spring, summer, and fall. It is a beautiful place. I hate to see this lovely lake mentioned only in a negative context. Yes, when a drive up to the airport I pass the old barracks. I noticed the photo featured in the article was taken away from the housing area, probably at the barracks where a broken window could be found. I wish I could upload photos here because the article was so slanted. Though the writer made a show of being impartial, the over all affect was just another cheap shot that feeds negative and largely uninformed opinions of WHERE WE LIVE.
Mel
Tue, 08/30/2016 - 6:22pm
Wow horrible story and way to make KI sawyer look like a drug strewn, low poverty trailer park. Did you think of maybe talking to residents who live here? Like the ones who care for their houses and take care of everything? Or the the communities that have beautiful gardens in the front yard ? KI SAWYER just like every community in America has issues or kids that cause problems your story makes this place seem worse than it really and this why this place has such a bad name because of horrible writer like this. Funny how the writer forgot to mention that most of the drug problems are in ishpeming and Marquette, that most people that have been arresst d actually come from there not here or how people from southern states brought drugs up here got caught and arrested funny where's all that in this story? Make sure you get ALL the facts before you write a story this. Not everyone out is on government assistant me and my husband , like a lot of people, work, my husband works 40+ hours a week, I work 32 hours a week plus go to school full time and. I'm a mom
Jamie
Tue, 08/30/2016 - 9:53pm
I live in the KI Sawyer area and I don't think it's as bad as people say because there are a lot more people who live here than when I first moved out here 14 years ago.
Linda
Tue, 08/30/2016 - 10:49pm
We lived at Sawyer for four years and were delighted with the spacious, clean, and affordable townhouse apartment we rented from Macasu. Nothing close to it in quality and cost in Marquette - and they even accepted pets! For those who like living in a suburban residential area, yet still being close to the woods and waters that make living in the U.P. so great, Sawyer is a good choice. We prefer country living, but did find a lot that was enjoyable at Sawyer. There's a nice mix of people at Sawyer, and they have some good basketball/tennis courts and a small library. I think a laundromat and a movie theatre are badly needed.. Our one concern was the fact that it was an Air Force base and that there were nuclear weapons there. Sawyer is located in beautiful sandy, pine-oak country - but did the military leave wastes in the area that we don't yet know about?
Carol Haggard
Tue, 08/30/2016 - 11:27pm
What an excellent article! Living on Sawyer as I do I'm aware of all it's good points and it's low points. The writer has it spot on. Thank you very much for the truthful unexagerated view of what Sawyer is. The people here are some of the kindest I've ever met. Maybe someday things will change as it has the potential to be the ideal community.
Carol Haggard
Tue, 08/30/2016 - 11:43pm
To the comments by Sawyer residents who are offended by this article. Did you read the full article? This is tame compared to what's said about us everywhere else! You must have missed all the good things that were said. I was surprised and pleased the writer defended us and gave blame where blame is due... some uncooperative landlords and local business people who don't want competition. I'm happy to see the truth laid out saying it's not as bad as people think and it's fixable. Sawyer is a beautiful, one of a kind community where people do amazingly kind gestures for strangers every day. But we will die if these problems are not fixed. You can't get anything fixed with your heads buried in the sand saying, "Everything is fine! There's nothing wrong here!" You have to admit there's a problem and face it.
Born Yooper
Thu, 09/01/2016 - 3:44am
AMEN, SOME PEOPLE ONLY LOOK AT THE NEGATIVE AND DON'T LOOK OR WANNA ACCEPT THE POSITIVES, THIS LIKE I STATED IN A PREVIOUS REPLY IS LIKE A PANDORA'S BOX, ITS A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE, I RECENTLY HAVE BEEN CONSIDERING MOVING THERE WITH MY WIFE DO TO THE FACT HOUSING IS AFFORDABLE AND THE COMMUNITY IS GROWING TO BE A GREAT ONE AND THAT IS SOMETHING I WOULD LOVE TO BE A PART OF. I STILL VISIT THERE EVERY NOW AND THEN AND I HAVE SEEN WHAT IT WAS AFTER THE GOVERNMENT LEFT TO WHAT IT IS NOW, AND THE BEST THING IS ITS ONLY GOING TO GET BETTER. PEOPLE JUST HAVE TO KEEP PUSHING FORWARD AND THAT IS WHAT IS HAPPENING, THAT IS A YOOPER THING, EVEN IF YOU WEREN'T BORN HERE, IF YOUR A PART OF THIS MOVEMENT I WILL SAY YOU HAVE BECOME A TRUE YOOPER
bill lullo
Thu, 09/01/2016 - 12:37pm
I bought out here in 2002 in the Wood View Estates Condo land. I have been very active with our association and have been meetinged out with KISCA at the start and the Alliance with Bob Struck. It's the same thing over and over again. You know what the problem is? The Slum lords that rent to anyone with no vetting. I have a Les Thatcher rental across the street from me that has had the police there 4 times. I was attacked by three dogs from this place and called 911.Trevor from Forsyth PD came out and asked if I had a picture of the dogs attacking. I said no and that my neighbor saw the whole thing out the front window. Not good enough. My name is Bill Lullo and I live at 513 Stratocruiser and if you really want the truth, stop by for an ear full.
Bill
Fri, 09/02/2016 - 12:13pm
I picked up a friend at the airport there this summer and was a bit shocked. I hadn't been out there since the KI Sawyer days. I also saw the tremendous potential that's there. The resurrection in Detroit all started as a grassroots movement by people working together. That's what I see going on here, but it takes years.
Silvia Ryan
Tue, 09/13/2016 - 12:13pm
Wow! This is a really thorough, well written piece. Journalism like this is rare any more.
Randy Martin
Thu, 09/15/2016 - 4:01pm
I was stationed at K.I.Sawyer from 1975 to 1977 and have many great memories there! I worked in the Sage building and lived in the dorms. It is saddening to read what has happened since it was closed but it also sounds like through the care of others things are headed in the right direction. Would love to see it again someday!
Ben Stanley
Sun, 09/18/2016 - 10:16am
I lived on base and in Gwinn (GHS '76). I now live in Los Angeles. It saddens me to read that the "City" has finally tainted a truly magical place. The base that I lived on had trout lakes, a beaver dam, and unspoiled wilderness in every direction. I have returned a few times since leaving. I have seen the decline of areas economy. I still have friends who were born, raised, and died in Gwinn. I would like to think that future generations will make a real effort keep the areas charm. It's going to take time and money--somethings are just too valuable to lose. I will always be a "Yooper" at heart.
John I.
Thu, 09/22/2016 - 9:37pm
I remember when I was knee high to a grasshopper playing in the yard where I lived, I would look up and see the Bombers flying above me heading to the base for final approach. Then when I was about fifteen or sixteen that's when the base was silenced forever. After the base finally closed up and was a ghost town I would hear on the local news about the police busted a bunch of kinds breaking into the buildings and vandalized them. One day me and my fiancé wanted to make a small trip just to see the old base. When I was there I was horrified of the current state. The buildings were in state of disrepair that it ticked me off. Since my being prior service I thought to myself that it would be easy to repurpose the old worn out barracks and turn them into housing for low income or for that fact any income. The old PX facility had potential of being a excellent way to breathe small business into that area is now but a fantasy. One day I was at a car/air show and at the same time it was an anniversary reunion for one of the old bomber wings and one vet that was part of it was in tears seeing his old base being destroyed by Father Time, he told me of the good old days of when he was in. I wish some land developer or developers do something there to bring back life into that area.
Thu, 10/06/2016 - 5:52pm
Total mismanagement since day one. No vision. Worchalk only interested in drug busts because of federal reimbursement. Sawyer would have made a stellar retirement village Very unfortunate. Probably beyond repair. Would have been a pperfect DelWeb community.
Maria
Fri, 10/14/2016 - 10:38am
Down and out? First, HORRIBLE headline. K. I. Sawyer is not just about the drugs on three streets of this community. (Where are they in the surrounding cities??) It's about families, moving in, meeting neighbors, and starting to move on. Take the stigma off of KI! This was a painful article for me to read. The author clearly had a negative attitude towards this community to begin with. As a renter on KI, I can personally say that I adore living here, I know my neighbors, and I don't feel like I need to triple lock my doors at night and hide behind a couch so the bad guys won't get me. Give me a break. (Ok, so they didn't say exactly that, but the article isn't exactly a positive read.) Major eye roll. �
Douglas
Sat, 01/07/2017 - 4:21pm

I am a resident and home owner in the Sawyer Subdivision of Gwinn, (formally known as K.I. Sawyer AFB) I must say this article is a bit offensive, I personally like my home and neighbors, this story was written way to dark, we all work hard to make it shine! It's a great place to retire, it's a great place to begin homeownership and start a family, yes it is true that not all the industrial/ commercial buildings have been repurposed, but that will come. As for drugs, they are an epidemic in all Communities, rich or poor, urban or rural.

Wed, 01/11/2017 - 6:03pm

The United States department of defense abandoned its responsibility when it left.

Frank
Fri, 01/13/2017 - 10:50am

My business partner and I were one of the original five businesses that opened at Sawyer in 1995. We loved our time at Sawyer and it was a very positive experience. There are a lot of good things going on at Sawyer and a lot of people who work hard to make it a good place to work and live. The positives far out weigh the negatives. Keep up the great work.

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 11:13am

With 50000 homeless Vets, screw the immigrants coming here and being paid, let's set up these unused units for vets