Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Proposing to Preserve Five Light Stations

Sand Island Lighthouse and the Michigan Lighthouse at Apostle Islands are among five light stations that the National Park Service would like to preserve. NPS photos.

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.

Comments

There are other places where lighthouses, fire lookouts, and similar places have become very popular places for people to spend a night or a few while visiting. Is there a chance this could happen here? Could some kind of agreement be arranged with a concessionaire to turn these into a kind of bed and do-it-yourself breakfast?

Lee, when I talked to the superintendent back in 2009 about the lighthouses and their restoration, he said B&Bs were not in the mix. Things might change, but that's what he said at the time.

Lee,

The NPS did consider B&Bs early in our planning for the park's General Management Plan, a process which started before the current lighthouse project and guided it. Unfortunately, we found that B&Bs might only be feasible if the NPS did all of the renovations up front prior to turning over the facilities to concessionaires to operate -- and this didn't factor in the very short season of the local tourist economy, the difficulty of access to most of the lights (some don't even have docks), and the cost of boat transportation. If we still have to front the capital costs (which would include not just historic restoration but meeting health and safety codes for public accommodations), the financial benefits to the NPS all but evaporate. We had concerns, too, about the loss of interpretive opportunities that might be the inevitable result of restricting access to the lights, or parts of them, to paying guests -- who would probably be paying A LOT.

So -- good idea, considered and rejected as infeasible.

By the way, the FINAL GMP is expected to be released later this month.

Bob Krumenaker
Superintendent
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

This site is awesome. if true (and I believe it is), how cool is it that the Sup from Apostle Islands is on here and commenting. Visited your place 3 years ago and was really impressed Bob. Looking forward to spending some more time there when I can do a little kayaking back to the caves.

Also must get some more of that fabulous wine bread in town.

Jon,

Thanks for the kind words. Apostle Islands really is an incredible place and the park staff are grateful for the support from visitors and the people and businesses of Bayfield, our gateway community. Stop in and say hi when you are back in the area. And Kurt, thanks for great coverage of the Apostle Islands and the rest of the NPS system.

Bob Krumenaker

Thank you for your response, Bob. Someday, I'm gonna have to get up to visit APIS -- even if I can't stay in a lighthouse.

Hmmm. Do you need any volunteer lighthouse keepers?

Lee,
We need volunteer lightkeepers every summer. See http://www.nps.gov/apis/supportyourpark/volunteer.htm. Most, if not all, of our slots are taken this summer but unexpected vacancies do occur, so if you're interested for this summer, I suggest you call.

Bob Krumenaker

Really!?

Wow.

This summer is pretty well planned, but next summer . . . . ? Hmm.

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