No one place in the country harbors the rich diversity in lighthouses as that which resides at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on the shores of Lake Superior. Preserving those historic buildings is neither easy nor inexpensive, but it is something the Park Service would like to do.
Through April 29 lakeshore officials are seeking public input on an Environmental Assessment that details their plans for preserving the Michigan, Sand, Devils, Outer, and Long islands light stations. Not too many years ago the Park Service spent $1.3 million to restore the Raspberry Island light, a project that included a new roof and foundation repairs. When it reopened to the public in June 2007, visitors quickly saw that the interior of the lighthouse had been restored to much the way it looked in the early 1920s when Lee Benton was its keeper.
Unfortunately, the Park Service doesn't have the funding to do exactly the same for the other five lights.
"The preferred alternative lays out the desired future conditions for all the lights, but none are proposed for work as extensive as Raspberry," says Apostle Islands Superintendent Bob Krumenaker. "All would be maintained, and all would have their condition significantly upgraded from current status.
"The Michigan Island light station is proposed for the most significant work, whereby the old lighthouse would be rehabilitated and opened for public use with exhibits but not furnishings," he said. "We didn't elect to restore all the lights like Raspberry because it simply isn't realistic considering the operating and maintenance costs, challenges of access, and level of visitation. So all lights will be better, secure for the future, but none beyond Raspberry are proposed to be 'house museums' like the showcase Raspberry."
The EA analyzes three proposed alternatives for rehabilitation of historic structures and landscapes at the light stations. Typical treatments for all of the alternatives include repairing structural features such as windows, roofs, and ventilation; removing hazardous materials; and removing trees and tall shrubs that have encroached into once-cleared areas.
The NPS preferred alternative would allow for repairs, alterations and additions to preserve the historical character of the light stations as well as rehabilitating individual historic structures to improve visitor access and use. The preferred alternative identifies the "desired future condition" of the five light stations considering their historical significance, location, feasibility of visitor access, and existing condition. Funding provided by Congress in the 2009 and 2010 federal budgets for lighthouse restoration at the Apostle Islands has been used to do this planning and is expected to facilitate the highest priority work identified in the preferred alternative to be completed in the next few years.
A public open house on the proposed work is scheduled for April 12 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the lakeshore's headquarters at 415 Washington Avenue in Bayfiel, Wisconsin. At that meeting you'll have an opportunity to review proposal drawings and engage in informal discussion about the project with park staff.
If you can't make the meeting, you can comment on the EA on the Park Service's Planning, Environment, and Public Comment webpage. Links to the entire EA are found there, as well. If you're a history buff, you might find sections of the documents interesting, as they trace the histories of each of the lighthouses.