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Huron Island Lighthouse attracts attention from Congressman Bergman

Joshua Vissers/Daily Mining Gazette (left to right, foreground) Sara Siekierski from the USFWS, Burt Mason from HILPA, and Congressman Jack Bergman talking on the trail back to the dock from the lighthouse. Will Strohschein, who piloted one of the boats to the island, follows behind.

SKANEE — After the recent change in leadership, Huron Island Lighthouse Preservation Association continues to work for funding to staff and preserve the buildings on one of the islands that makes up the Huron National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge consists of a group of islands in Lake Superior, about three miles from the mouth of the Huron River in Baraga County.

This week, they took a trip to the island with U.S. Representative Jack Bergman to show him the buildings and talk about possible ways of securing more funding and staff to keep the lighthouse island safe and secure for visitors, and preserve the history located there for the future. Bergman is being challenged by Dana Ferguson in November’s election. The refuge is currently managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel out of the Seney National Wildlife Refuge, well over three hours away, and the five staff members there manage a total of five refuges across the Upper Peninsula. This is considered to be well below optimum staff levels.

Sara Siekierski, the refuge manager, made the trip to the island with HILPA and Bergman as well.

Currently, USFWS supports the restoration and upkeep of the building exteriors if funding can be secured, but don’t necessarily want to open up the buildings to visitors.

Siekierski said that for her, the boathouse at the dock is the most pressing concern. In bad weather, stranded boaters may think to take shelter there, but the walls and ceiling are coming apart and it isn’t actually safe.

Joshua Vissers/Daily Mining Gazette (right to left) Congressman Jack Bergman, USFWS Refuge Manager Sara Siekierski, HILPA president Burt Mason and Upper Peninsula District Liaison for Bergman’s office Rich Rossway in front of the Huron Island Lighthouse. Original construction was in 1868.

HILPA is hoping to turn the lighthouse into a kind of museum, as well as work on the other structures including the boathouse, Coast Guard barracks, assistant keeper’s house, tram and turntable, and the foghorn building.

“Sara is 140 miles away,” said Jeff Loman, suggesting the situation calls for a cooperative agreement with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community for maintenance and law enforcement on the islands.

Bergman says he expects the future will develop to be a combination of all those hopes. He explained the difficulty in getting representatives from around the country to vote to support an individual project.

“If they don’t feel a sense of value to this in their district, they’re not going to support it,” he said. He was hopeful in finding ways to support the island through public-private partnership, or locating a benefactor to help with the costs. Granite Island, a remote island closer to Marquette with a lighthouse of similar construction, was used as a successful example. He also said that security cameras would probably have to be part of any improvements, not only to protect the public investment into the refuge, but to monitor the safety of visitors, too. Sierkierski and the USFW collected public comment on the future of the buildings on the island and have been reviewing them. They’ve found that many people particularly want to see the foghorn building and tram preserved.

“If we were to keep it,” she said, “There are things that have to be addressed.” The brick chimney on the foghorn building is damaged and needs to be repaired, as well as the roof, and the foundation is beginning to fail as well.

Over the summer, Loman was contracted to remove hazardous materials like asbestos, broken glass and nails from the lighthouse.

“Everything needs paint out here,” said Burt Mason, president of HILPA.

The lighthouse also has lead paint on the interior that needs to be removed before the public could be let inside.

Bergman hiked with the group from the boathouse to the lighthouse and foghorn building, and back to the dock. He left saying the time there had kindled his imagination for how the federal government could partner with other agencies and private organizations to accomplish something that they all know is the right thing to do.

“I think he’s the first member of Congress to set foot on the island,” Loman said. Evelyn Ravindran, Erin Johnston and Dione Price from the KBIC Natural Resources Department met Bergman at Witz Marina as he returned from the island. While the islands are not part of the KBIC reservation, the NRD and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission frequently partner with other groups and works outside the reservation.

“Our concern is for the natural resources on the island,” Ravindran, NRD Director, said. The water surrounding the islands is one of three major areas for lake trout spawning in the Ojibwe home waters. Another of those three is Buffalo Reef, which is in remediation for stamp sand pollution, making the others all the more important.

The NRD staff has been meeting with USFWS and talking about a potential partnership for management. Ravindran said they hope to have signage on the island recognize the tribal history of the island as well.

An article detailing the background of the Huron National Wildlife Refuge will be in a following edition of the Gazette.

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