Detroit Free Press from Detroit, Michigan on December 28, 1975 · Page 138
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Detroit Free Press from Detroit, Michigan · Page 138

Detroit, Michigan
Issue Date:
Sunday, December 28, 1975
Page 138
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shemjeii CONTINUED North Fox has been Shelden's for 15 years, since he bought it in 1960 from the widow of J.Oi Plank, a Northern Michigan investor who, among other things, helped develop the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. Mrs. Plank, who was 85 in 1960 and living in San Diego, offered to sell the island to the state of Michigan. The state offered her $4 per acre the top price the state was paying at that time for wilderness land. She declined the $3,360 bid. A friend of Shelden's in the state Department of Natural Resources told him about North Fox Island. With his brother, Alger, Shelden purchased North Fox for $20,000 about $23 an acre. He took full control when his brother sold his interest to him eight years ago. Today, the island is appraised at $312,000. And even if you have that kind of money, the island isn't for sale. Shelden, who describes himself as a "private investor," has fallen in love with North Fox. During a day on the island, it was easy to see why. We landed on the airstrip, a green slash running nearly the width of the island, a grassy carpet which is the only break in the dense forest of beech and elm that covers the rest of the island. With us were Don Berlage, an assistant Charlevoix County prosecutor, and his sons Steve, 16, and Clint, 20. It was a bright morning in early November, and they were there to hunt the deer that populate North Fox. Deer season on the mainland wouldn't open for another week. But Shelden has a "breeder permit" which allows him to raise deer on the island, and slaughter them at any time. The Berlages decided to spend the morning hunting north of the airstrip, while we went south to Shelden's cozy, glass-and-timber home, perched high on the west bank of the island, near a stand of birch. At sunset, Shelden says, the white bark of the birch trees turns golden red. We set out to explore the south end of the island. North Fox is two miles long, and almost a mile wide at points. It narrows to a tip at the south end. We clambered down the steep west bank to a beach that is a mixture of sand and gravel. Even on a pleasant day, cloudless, with only a light, invigorating breeze, the waves roll with regularity against this west wall of the island. Along the beach, on this island owned by one man, are reminders that there is a world of millions just over the horizon: Litter. The cast-offs of the waves are diverse. A light bulb. A float from a fisherman's gill net. "Once I found an oar," says Shelden. "I came back sometime later and found another oar, and the whole boat." And pieces of e shipwreck. Shelden points out to the west, toward the looming profile of South Fox Island five miles away. Out there, he said, lies the wreck of the Sunnyside, an iron ore carrier that went down in 1883. Recently, salvage divers dynamited the wreck, and now toose timbers wash ashore on North Fox with regularity. It helps add credibility to the ghost stories told late at night about the skipper of the Sunnyside who restlessly roams the island. At the south tip, the beach turns rocky, the water laps close to the bank, and progress requires climbing under and over the fallen trunks of trees whose roots have been undermined by the waves. Turning inland at the south end, on one of the several narrow dirt roads on the island, there is a sudden silence. The constant crashing of the waves is gone. A few birds. Quiet footsteps on ground covered by leaves that were drenched in a rainstorm the night before. In the brush, a small animal darts away. North Fox has foxes (a few.) Chipmunks. Nocturnal rabbits. An eagle's nest (occupied.) And the deer. Shelden says he took seven deer to the island when he bought it The late DNR director Ralph MacMullan said they would thrive. He was more than right. By 1970, the herd had multiplied incredibly, feeding well on the lush underbrush on the island. "See that hemlock," said Shelden, pointing to the low growing evergreen that covers much of the island. "To a deer, that's steak dinner and caviar appetizers. It sure makes for great tasting deer." But the hemlock has been nibbled away in many sections of the island now, and today, the deer herd is one of Shelden's only regrets about North Fox Island. He began allowing hunting a few years ago to control the herd. In 1974, his friends took 150 does and bucks one buck with a 22-point rack. This fall, they've taken over 50, and Shelden still estimates the remaining herd at 75. And while Shelden enjoys letting his friends visit his island to hunt, and gets great pleasure out of venison stew, he doesn't like to hunt "I just personally don't enjoy it," he said. "I , guess I'm the world's biggest hypocrite. I plan their destruction." Shelden, an amateur botanist who wrote a scholarly article on the vegetation of North Fox for the Michigan Botanist, admits candidly that he prefers the flora to the fauna "green, growing things over the furry things, the hemlock over the deer that feed on it" If he could remove the deer herd today, he would. In the south, center part of the island, the roughly cut road winds up the side of a 200-foot dune. This was the highest part of the island until Shelden and his brother flattened the tip in the 60's. It was to be the site of their "community center," the focal point of a community of cottagers the brothers envisioned on the island. The island was platted, and subdivided. A portion of the roadway was dedicated to the public, and the lots were offered for sale. "We 4iad a lot of interested persons, but we didn't get one firm commitment on any of the lots. The men liked them. But the women saw themselves stuck here with the kids all summer while the husband worked all week. What if Johnny got sick? Where do you go shopping?" Island hideaways are not always resorts. At North Fox, Robinson Crusoe is more like it. "The island? Oh, it makes me feel very kinglike," laughs Shelden. ' X. .-y-'T;v i . ' ',) w m. ' testis 8BW mm1 if ' ' ' '.-ft 'V . . ' M I $. ...... ' f fgzzss Sams?!?, . .At... . . Perched high on the west bank near a stand of birch, Shelden's snug glass and timber home Is the Island's only human habitation. "On a calm day here," says Shelden, "you really learn what silence is. And at night, darkness." "But it takes a peculiar sort of personality to live on an island. You have to put up with the grubbiness. Self-sufficiency, that's what island life is all about "You spend a lot of your time fiddling with malfunctioning equipment, shoveling gravel into a hole in the road, mowing the airstrip, renovating the house, chopping wood and splitting the logs for the fireplace. I maintain about five miles of dirt trails." And he gets no help with all this, even though he pays $4,880 annually in Leelanau County taxes "I get nothing for my tax dollar. That's really my only problem. I've been crucified on taxes." His eyes light up. "If there was any way to declare unilateral independence, and separate myself from the county and the township... I've often wondered about that. I could raise money by selling my own postage stamps." Shelden is appealing a tax-reassessment which resulted in the $312,000 appraisal of his property. He doesn't deny the land has increased in value since he bought it 15 years ago, but he places the price today, with the airstrip, roads, home and other improvements at closer to $140,000. t t V 2 i i a 4 Leelanau township officiab say Shelden's property was assessed the same way as similar mainland property in the township. But that means placing a premium on lake front footage and North Fox Island has 29,474 feet of shoreline, more than bVt miles. Yet, Shelden will no longer consider selling parcels to help finance his expenses on North Fox. He can obviously afford to maintain it without help. And he says: "I hold the island as an investment and use it for business entertainment. I get a tax break there." Shelden says he's not a millionaire. But as a "private investor," he earns enough to rent an office in downtown Detroit, own a condominium in Ann Arbor on the Huron River, a ski lodge near Aspen, Colo., his cars, his plane, and his island. Shelden's family goes back nearly 125 years in Detroit, to Allan Shelden (1832-1905). The. ancestral Shelden came to Michigan from New York State, founded a dry goods store, thrived, and merged with Zacharias Chandler & Co. Allan Shelden ran the business while Chandlef ran for president, unfortunately expiring in Chicago on the eve of a nominating convention that might have picked him to run. Allan Shelden's only son, Henry, married Caroline Alger, one of the nine children of Russell A. Alger. Russell Alger was a U.S. Army hero and general, later a founder of the Edison Electric Light Co. in Detroit, Governor of Michigan (1885-87), Secretary of War during the McKinley administration and the Spanish-American War, and finally, U.S. Senator from v lit Michigan. This was Frank Shelden's great-grandfather. His mother was Frances Pitts Duffield, a nember of another famous Detroit family. Allan Shelden's dry goods fortune was invested in land, and it became Henry Shelden's fortune. Henry's sons formed the Shelden Land Co. after World War I, and subdivided and built one of Detroit's premier subdivisions, Ro-sedale Park, in 1925. The family history has had its effect on Shelden. Born Francis Duffield Shelden, he spent his allowance on classical records as a child. He went to Yale for his B.A., served in the Michigan Air Guard, joined his family in land development after the service, and began getting interested in geology. "One of the reasons was that my family had been involved in petroleum exploration. I walked into Wayne State one day and said, Td like to take a course in Petroleum Geology.' They laughed, and started listing all the courses I'd have to take first as pre-requisites. I started taking them, and I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed the people." He got his masters degree in geology, and began a flirtation with the oil business. "I got in on the St. Clair oil play," he said, when gas and oil was being found in the southeast end of the same geological formation the Niagaran reef that is the subject of so much exploration in the northwest Lower Peninsula today. He actually retained a company to drill two holes, and struck on one. Mostly, he bought mineral rights from landowners, and leased them to oil companies in return for royalties from successful wells. He had been able to do all this starting with a trust fund he inherited when he came of age. One of the first things he did was buy a Cessna 140 when he was 21 for $1,750, and learned to fly. "My father was convinced I was ' going to go to the dogs, if I didn't kill myself first"But he didn't squander his inheritance, and has flown thousands of miles safely since. Today he works in an office in his Ann Arbor home, and when he has to, he drives downtown to the family office in the Buhl building, a drab, efficient office with functional furniture and file cabinets, a bookkeeper and receptionist, and a tile floor. On the door, a hand-painted sign says, simply, "Shelden." Frank Shelden says he does a bit of consulting work in the oil field, invests, tends to other affairs, and teaches undergraduate geology now and then when a local university needs him. He went as far as his oral preliminaries toward his Ph. D. in geology, but never finished his dissertation. Now, he says, his academic and ecological interest in geology remains, but he has no plans to finish his degree. Shelden gained some attention in 1972 when he and a partner drafted plans to damn the Monroe Creek, near Charlevoix, and build 1,-300 vacation homes around the 400:acre lake that would result The plan was halted while Shelden fought citizens' lawsuits. Shelden, defended by attorney Berlage among others, won the lawsuits. But he never developed the project because of changing economic conditions and the death of his partner, he says. He backpacks, and skis. "Ever since I was a little boy. I've been a real outdoors type of person," he says. "I feel very, very close to real conservation movements. But I have to say, I've found the new environmental movement disappointing. It's become a religious type thing, and some of the people are pretty narrow. They speak in a cant. Dams, per se, are bad. Pipelines, per se, are bad. All developments are bad. All swamps are good. There are too many lawyers involved, and not enough scientists and outdoorsmen. "A lot of people call themselves ecologists because they get a pitter-patter in their heart when they see a sunset" Shelden serves on the board of directors of Cranbrook, and devotes much of his free time to Big Brother, the organization under which volunteers act as big brothers to children. Many weekends he takes young friends along to North Fox Island, as well as his adult friends. He rarely goes to the island alone, despite the fact that he says, "I guess you could call me a semi-recluse." He says he goes to Fox Island "more than I should, and not as much as I'd Uke to." Several months of the year, when deep snow covers the airstrip at North Fox, he does not visit the island at all. He's never been married. "I don't have any reason why. I was close to being married once. I'm not what you'd call a woman hater. It's lonely sometimes, but I think a lot of married people have lonely periods, too. And a man has a pretty good shake being single, more so than a woman." At a social gathering some time ago, Shelden ran into an old girlfriend. They talked, and the subject of North Fox Island came up. He told her about the island, about the beauty and the isolation. "She looked at me as if I was absolutely mad, as if to say, 'Thank God, I didn't marry Shelden.'" Island life is not for everyone. But sitting in the calm of the east, lee shore of North Fox Island, it is hard to conceive of any better way to exist. The east beach is less sandy than the west. It is lined with round, smooth golf-ball sized stones, arranged in a long row by the waves and the tide. They sit undisturbed until a larger wave on a stormier day rearranges them. Here, sitting on the sun-warmed stones, the view to the right is along the wide shoreline, back to the south tip. This is the white outline that surrounds the green splotch and makes it look so tidy from the air. Across the water it should be possible to see Charlevoix, but a slight haze on an otherwise clear day is in the way. "On a calm day here," says Shelden, "you really learn what silence is. And at night, darkness." It is lunchtime. At the house, the hunters have returned empty-handed. Neither they, nor we, would see a deer all day. In the afternoon, Shelden works, cutting up an immense tree that has fallen across one of the dirt roads. He performs his chores with a calm sort of pleasure, and it is clear that Shelden is happy. He is no youngster proving himself. He is not a nouveau riche executive creating a life where others do his chores while he escapes. Frank Shelden is in touch with his island, its plants and animals, and one would venture, himself. Leaving this island comes too soon, but one has peeked in the window long enough. B Detroit Free PressDecember 28, 1975

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