Area residents see community and outdoors as key to quality of life
Marshall Helmberger

REGIONAL—An in-depth study of four Ely-area townships reveals both permanent and seasonal residents who are highly engaged in their local community, and who overwhelming value their ready access to the outdoors.

The study— of Morse, Fall Lake, Eagles Nest, and Stony River townships— was conducted by the Center for Small Towns at the University of Minnesota-Morris, in part to assist area officials in better understanding their local residents and their desires for the future. The results were released in January and will be the subject of an upcoming Tuesday Group presentation in May.

“This kind of information is helpful in providing a sense of direction,” said Kelly Asche, program coordinator for the center, who helped oversee the study.

The data was gathered through a detailed survey mailed out to over 3,500 property owners in the four townships, centered around Ely. A total of 832 returned the surveys, representing a surprisingly high percentage, according to Asche. “It was huge,” he said. “I was impressed. It was a long survey, much longer than is usually recommended.”

While the results were not randomized (64 percent of respondents were male), and so do not provide a purely representative sample, Asche said they do provide a valuable snapshot of the townships and their residents.

Of survey respondents, 49 percent identified themselves as seasonal residents, 37 percent indicated they were permanent residents, with the remainder identifying as non-resident landowners. Just over half (51 percent) identified as retired, with the rest employed in a variety of fields. Of those who were employed, 47 percent worked in a white collar profession, such as health care, education, or financial or legal services. Fourteen percent worked in either outdoor recreation or hospitality, while eight percent worked in construction and another eight percent were employed in manufacturing. Five percent worked in forestry, another five percent worked in mining.

A total of 59 respondents indicated they owned their own businesses, and the vast majority were engaged in some aspect of tourism. Twenty-four percent reported operating a resort or other type of lodging facility, 17 percent were outfitters or guides, while another 19 percent were artists or writers.

The survey found that residents of the four townships were doing well financially, with median personal incomes well above the statewide average. Fall Lake residents reported the highest median personal income, at $60,833, while Stony River had the lowest, at $41,000.

When asked what characteristics most contributed to their quality of life, respondents overwhelmingly agreed that recreational opportunities and family were the two most important contributors. Other factors cited in descending order included environmental connection, solitude, friendship, freedom, spirituality, social connections, and a peaceful and trusting community.

While most expressed contentment with the services available locally, 44 percent stated they’d like to see more technological services, while 38 percent said they want fiber optics. Twenty-nine percent indicated fire protection as another area needing improvement, followed by health services (25 percent), and educational opportunities (21 percent).

While township residents generally shared views on most topics, the survey did reveal some divisions, particular on the subject of mining. When asked what types of development they supported, nearly two-thirds of respondents favored a variety of development alternatives offered, including more residential development, other types of industrial development, as well as commercial development. That support fell to 45 percent when it came to mining, although only 41 percent said they opposed mining.

At the same time, 35 percent of respondents indicated they would like to see more mining jobs in the region, while 23 percent indicated that mining would likely prompt them to leave the area, which was the highest percentage of any factor identified as a reason to leave. Rising taxes was second, at 22 percent, while pollution was a close third, at 21 percent.

Overall, the survey revealed a high degree of contentment among residents, even as they identified room for improvement. The study also found strong support (94 percent) for shopping locally, and found that both permanent and seasonal residents spend roughly equal amounts of their annual income in the local area.

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