A Heritage Tourism Destination
Local support continues to grow for the proposed Lake Michigan national marine sanctuary.
Titus Seilheimer, Sea Grant fisheries specialist, says, “Four public meetings were held in March 2017, and I heard many positive comments about the proposed sanctuary. NOAA received hundreds of comments during the public comment period, which ended March 31. NOAA will now review the comments and make any needed changes, with input from the relevant state agencies.”
Russ Green, University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan, is the regional coordinator for the proposed sanctuary. Before that, he worked as the research coordinator and deputy superintendent for the only other Great Lakes marine sanctuary in Alpena, Mich.
Marine sanctuaries are designed to protect natural and cultural marine resources because healthy water environments are the basis for thriving recreation, tourism and commercial activities in coastal communities. Green explained there are 13 sanctuaries spread out on the U.S. ocean coasts, Hawaii and American Samoa, along with two National Marine Monuments.
Although the sanctuary is not designated yet, the planning process has Green working closely with Manitowoc, Sheboygan and Ozaukee counties, which are within the proposed boundaries. Kewaunee County is also included in an alternative assessment.
“The region has all the pieces you’d want in a marine sanctuary,” Green said. “It has a great breadth of history with nearly 40 shipwrecks and the communities really rallied together to leverage the idea to support heritage tourism and local economies. It’s very much a partnership.”
With the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program (WCMP) and Sea Grant, Green has submitted a grant to a NOAA program called Preserve America to produce a GIS-driven website that would feature an interactive story map of the sanctuary.
“The site would provide a one-stop-shop for people who want to learn what they can do at the sanctuary, such as kayaking and diving, as well as many shore-side attractions. We want something that all the communities can use to market heritage tourism. The proposal is very representative of the future work we want to do with our NOAA, state and community partners,” Green said.
Calling the Bluff
Property owners whose houses occupy bluffs along the coasts of Lake Michigan spent a harrowing summer in 2016, as rising lake levels exacerbated bluff and shoreline erosion issues, putting their homes and garages at serious risk. Working with the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program and the Graham Institute at the University of Michigan, a team of Wisconsin Sea Grant staffers held a series of public meetings in Lake Michigan communities to collect homeowners’ concerns on the issue. (The team included Assistant Director for Extension David Hart, Coastal Engineer Gene Clark, Social Scientist Deidre Peroff and Keillor Coastal Management Fellow Adam Bechtle.)
The preliminary results of this integrated assessment have now been developed into a series of potential response options homeowners and local officials can consider, depending on the severity of their own situation and their communities’ guidelines. The possible options range in scope from structural (creating a revetment or improving groundwater drainage) to community-based (increasing education and outreach on bluff erosion, using data tools) to policy-based (including sediment studies in property permitting, easing approvals on offshore structures). As the discussion continues throughout 2017, Hart expects the number of possible options to grow even larger, as more stakeholders and experts weigh in with concerns. A full report on the project is expected before the end of the year.
“Our ultimate goal in this is to develop a wide-ranging series of recommendations and create a community of practice that can serve as an example for other Great Lakes communities who are struggling with bluff erosion issues,’ said Hart. “The water levels in the Great Lakes are going to continue to fluctuate from year to year, and this is a problem that’s unlikely to go away anytime soon.”
New Ways to Explore Old Ships-Maritime Trails and Geocaches
The Wisconsin Maritime Trail features interpretative signs, websites, public presentations and marked shipwreck moorings. The trails also document, preserve and protect the state’s submerged archaeological sites. Historic markers are featured on the wisconsinshipwrecks.org site under “attractions.”
New in 2017 is a marker for the wooden three-masted schooner Grace Channon, near Oak Creek and in Lake Michigan. The vessel featured a special hull known as a canaller. Canallers were developed on the Great Lakes and designed to transit the Welland Canal (the canal that bypasses Niagara Falls) while carrying the maximum amount of cargo through the locks with only inches to spare.
The Welland Canal allowed grain harvested from farmlands in the Midwest to be transported from ports on Lake Michigan to ports on Lake Ontario. Vessels returning to Lake Michigan were loaded with coal, used for heating Midwestern cities and powering factories.
Another ship struck the Grace Channon in August 1877. It went down in only five minutes and took the life of a seven-year-old passenger traveling to Chicago with his father and brother.
Much less tragic but still related to shipwrecks is the chance to explore the state’s maritime history through geocaching, which is a high-tech version of orienteering that relies on a hand-held GPS instead of a compass. Those who enjoy geocaching begin at a known location and use clues to decipher coordinates of subsequent waypoints such as anchors, buildings, historic markers or other maritime artifacts, ultimately finding a hidden container or cache.
The Wisconsin Historical Society has created geocaches in Manitowoc, Superior, Milwaukee and Door County. To find them, go to wisconsinshipwrecks.org, select the “learn” link and look in the “more resources” section.