The Fate of Apostle Islands' Lighthouses
Early in August I posted some thoughts about the financial plight of the Park Service. In that somewhat lengthy piece, I delved into the problems of some parks, such as Gettysburg and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Apostle Islands is a great example to discuss the financial plight of the agency, as it currently is going through an updating of its General Management Plan, the document that
Early in August I posted some thoughts about the financial plight of the Park Service. In that somewhat lengthy piece, I delved into the problems of some parks, such as Gettysburg and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
Apostle Islands is a great example to discuss the financial plight of the agency, as it currently is going through an updating of its General Management Plan, the document that guides the lakeshore's mission for the next 15 or 20 years. One of the issues in that document concerns the upkeep and operation of the lakeshore's six light stations, all of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
You'd think with such a listing that the Park Service would ensure funding to keep the lighthouses up to snuff, no? Here's what I learned last month during a phone call with Apostle Islands Superintendent Bob Krumenaker:
"We're doing the absolute minimum," Krumenaker told me. "We've been fortunate to get project money to put roofs on and re-do the windows. All six are in at least fair condition in terms of keeping the elements out."
However, all need paint jobs, all but Raspberry Island Light Station need structural stabilization and/or rehabilitation work, and weathering and erosion "have resulted in deterioration of the light stations and associated resources, threatening the long-term structural and historical integrity of these properties."
Fortunately, Superintedent Krumenaker was able to secure $1.5 million to restore Raspberry Light to its "1920s splendor."
However.... "Do I have any more money for staff to maintain it at that level? No, and that's really scary," he quickly added.
Why do I revive this post? Well, apparently quite a few folks are worried about the lighthouses' future.
According to the superintendent, "There have been some email alerts warning that we may be planning to allow the wonderful collection of historic lighthouses at Apostle Islands to slowly degrade, while denying the public access to them."
The truth, Superintendent Krumenaker tells me, is that the Park Service has no plans to let the light stations collapse through neglect and has no plans to deny public access. That said, the superintendent definitely wants the public to weigh in with its opinion on how these venerable light stations should be maintained.
Still, Superintendent Krumenaker also has laid his cards on the table in terms of what he currently can afford.
"We think it's our obligation to discuss the very real funding challenges the park faces and how, in the absence of alternative funding sources or creative solutions, the park and its resources (including the light stations) may degrade, and so may the quality of the visitor experience," he says. "That is not the future we want -- but please don't shoot the messengers here."
At this point in time, Apostle Islands is more than a year away from issuing even a draft of its GMP. Nothing has been decided as to the fate of the light stations, aside from the park's determination "that the NPS will make every effort to keep the lighthouses themselves from deteriorating any further."
What's sad about this statement is that things apparently are so tight, financially, at Apostle Islands that the superintendent is talking about making every effort to keep the light stations "from deteriorating any further." What you'd hope his message would be is that the Park Service is committed to upgrading each and every light station as it has Raspberry Island Light.
But the hand dealt to Superintendent Krumenaker by his superiors shows that the lakeshore has "no preservation funding available to us in the park's operating budget."
"All of the other lighthouses and light stations (other than Raspberry) lack critical Historic Structure Reports and Cultural Landscape Reports needed to properly perform anything other than basic stabilization," he says. "The needs of the collection are enormous, and are far outside the ability of the park's operating budget to even begin to address. Thus the need for frank discussion. A plan that optimistically says the NPS will restore everything -- or even maintain the status quo -- is not a very useful plan if the means to get there are utterly lacking."
As I mentioned right at the top of this post, Apostle Islands is a great poster child for the current plight of the national park system. You easily could replace the lakeshore's name with that of Grand Teton, Acadia, Gettysburg, Olympic and on and on and paint similarly dire pictures.
What's the solution? Should the light stations be privatized -- turned into B&B operations? That's an extreme. Hopefully, the higher ups in the Park Service will recognize the treasures these light stations are and find some funding for their upkeep, just as Fran miraculously found $10 million for a curatorial facility paired with a visitor center at Mesa Verde.
Of course, the concern with that possibility is that the money likely would be diverted from an equally needing park or from park personnel or some other important Park Service budget.
In the case of Apostle Islands and its light stations, check out the Friends of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore's web site to see how that group is trying to aid the lakeshore. Also, if you have any constructive suggestions on how the lakeshore might be able to suitably maintain the light stations, email Superintendent Krumenaker at firstname.lastname@example.org between now and September 25 with your thoughts.
I'd also suggest you contact your congressional representatives to express your concern over the Park Service's inadequate funding levels, and point out the treasures that are in danger, whether it be the light stations at Apostle Islands, the vanishing rock art at Canyonlands National Park, or the cannons at Gettysburg.