Lighthouses hold a special appeal for lots of people, and a rare opportunity for an autumn visit to the Au Sable Lighthouse at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is coming up on September 24.
The Au Sable Lighthouse is normally open for tours only during the summer season, but the annual "Au Sable Day" provides a nice bonus. The event, which runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, September 24 coincides with National Public Lands Day.
"This is a special opportunity for area residents to visit Au Sable on a beautiful fall color day," remarked David Kronk, Education Park Ranger. "The maritime museum and Eastern National bookstore will also be open, and there will be special games for children. Plan to visit and learn more about the beautiful Au Sable Light Station, the fascinating maritime history of the area and how you could help out with projects at the light station."
There's been a lighthouse at this location since 1874, and for good reason. A shallow sandstone reef extends nearly a mile into Lake Superior off Au Sable Point, and in places the reef lies only a few feet below the surface of the water. To make matters worse, the area was infamous for thick fog caused by the interaction of cool lake air with warmer currents rising from the Grand Sable Dunes.
Originally called Big Sable Light Station, the life-saving beacon was renamed Au Sable Light Station in 1910 to conform to its geographic location on Lake Superior. Modern lighthouse buffs may recognize the design of the tower, which used the same plan as the Outer Island Light built the same year in Wisconsin's Apostle Islands.
The structure is a substantial one. According to a park publication, the light tower is 86 feet high measured from its base to the ventilator ball of the lantern, and at the tower base, the walls are over 4 feet thick. The tower foundation consists of rubble masonry 23 feet below the surface on bedrock.
There are plenty of good reasons for that sturdy construction. One example is found in a description of the weather on December 8, 1876, by Napoleon Beedon, the second keeper to be assigned to the station. A “light brees” from the south, he wrote, had been replaced at 5 p.m. by a “frightful storm” that “blew down 50 trees or more close by the lighthouse” and caused him to fear that “the lighthouse and tower would blow down as they shook like a leafe …it was the worst storm I ever saw on Lake Superior.”
We'll anticipate much better weather on September 24 for the special event. A park spokesperson notes, "The day includes a free Altran shuttle to the lighthouse from the Hurricane River Campground, free tours of the light station, tower, and facility photovoltaic system. Complimentary cider and donuts will be available."
"To reach the Au Sable Light Station, enjoy a beautiful drive on Alger County Road H-58 to the Hurricane River Campground. The drive is 11 miles from Grand Marais and 41 miles from Munising. For those who would like to hike to the lighthouse, it is 1-1/2 miles one-way from the campground.
If you need more information about the Au Sable Day event, you can contact the Interagency Visitor Center at 906-387-3700.