Preserving the Huron Islands

Group dedicated to improving a special refuge

Jeffery Loman, a member of the Huron Islands Lighthouse Preservation Association, stands by the lighthouse the group wants to preserve. It also wants to repair other structures that are part of the Huron National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

SKANEE — A “keep out” sign is supposed to do just that: keep people out. Unfortunately, a sign recently installed at the boathouse on one of the Huron Islands was found cut in half as the result of vandalism.

Jeffery Loman, a member of the Huron Islands Lighthouse Preservation Association, discovered the broken sign on a trip earlier this month to Lighthouse Island, also known as West Huron Island.

“It had to be done on purpose,” Loman said.

HILPA is trying to stop acts like this from happening, as well as maintain the eight-island chain, located in Lake Superior about three miles off the mouth of the Huron River in northwestern Marquette County.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Seney National Wildlife Refuge is responsible for stewarding the eight islands that make up the Huron National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness, including the historic lighthouse station on Lighthouse Island.

This is the lighthouse on Lighthouse Island, which is part of the Huron National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness. The Huron Islands Lighthouse Preservation Association wants to preserve that and other structures in the refuge. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

The Huron National Wildlife Refuge was stablished in 1905 and is only 147 acres in total.

The USFWS works with partners and stakeholders to conserve and protect wildlife and the natural environment, provide limited wilderness recreational experiences and preserve the historic lighthouse station, refuge manager Sara Siekierski said in an email.

Lighthouse Island is open to visitors only during daylight hours. All other islands are closed to the public.

“In recent years, the service has put forth a more concerted effort to leverage partnerships and resources to address the historic lighthouse station as well as the natural plant communities on the island,” Siekierski said.

It’s been a slow process, she said, but the USFWS is starting to gain some momentum.

Because of the refuge’s federal wilderness status, historic structures and stakeholder interest, the Huron National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness has received $330,000 over the past two years, which the USFWS is investing in critical projects to remove lead and asbestos from the exterior of the buildings as well as hire professional services to assess the structural integrity of the historic buildings that are to remain in place on the island, Siekierski said.

“This fall we anticipate having a prioritized work plan of maintenance projects the buildings require, and anticipate next summer visitors will start to see changes to the conditions of the buildings as contractors will be getting to work,” she said.

“In addition, the refuge was included in a larger project to address invasive species on our Great Lakes island refuges. We are cooperating with Michigan Natural Features Inventory to conduct invasive and rare plant surveys, which will be carried out next year.”

On his recent trip, Loman noted the beautiful fauna on the island, but also noticed litter and other damage to buildings such as graffiti, breaking of windows and shooting through roofs.

That has concerned other people in the past, with the current HILPA taking over for the original group that collected enough funds to put a new roof on the lighthouse and make minor repairs, but “not much more,” he said.

The historic structures on Lighthouse Island, he said, include the lighthouse, assistant keeper’s quarters, small brick buildings, an oil house, a privy and a fog signal building.

“All of those structures have been deemed appropriate to restore and preserve,” he said.

However, he acknowledged it’s a daunting task for Siekierski, who also manages the Seney National Wildlife Refuge, and her crew.

The new HILPA group, according to Loman, is just in the beginning stages of trying to restore the structures.

“The organization will work to preserve them — and we really want to do more than what has been done in the past,” Loman said. “For example, if you look at the lighthouse, it’s almost like a castle. It’s made out of rock, rock that was taken here.”

The lighthouse, he said, was built in 1868, but is a working light that runs on a battery charged by a solar panel on the building. The Coast Guard is responsible just for the light.

Loman said HILPA wants to restore the lighthouse as close as possible to its condition when used by various lighthouse keepers over the years, with people able to look at its rooms through plexiglass and getting a sense of the place’s history.

“Because these people came out to this place and operated this light, they avoided many shipwrecks and saved many lives,” he said.

It won’t be cheap.

Loman said $500,000 easily could be spent getting the lighthouse in better condition.

“The inside of this building is atrocious,” he said. “It’s not safe to go in there. I’ve been in there. You could fall through the floor.”

Loman mentioned security cameras and a compost toilet as other improvements that could be made to Lighthouse Island.

How to help

HILPA is holding a benefit from 6 p.m. to midnight Sept. 25 in the Banquet Room at the Landmark Inn in Marquette. The cost is $50 for dinner or $25 for just “music and fun.” Award-winning poet Kathleen Heidemann, author Loren Graham and entrepreneur Scott Holman will be at the event, which will feature music by Michael Waite, an awards ceremony, a silent auction and a cash bar.

Tickets are available at Camp Coffee in L’Anse or by calling 907-720-8680. For details, visit https://m.facebook.com/HuronIslands/.

For more information about Huron National Wildlife Refuge, www.fws.gov/ refuge/huron or contact the office at 906-586-9851.

“We want to restore these structures, and we want to preserve them and we want to improve the ability to visitors to gain an appreciation of the history of this place,” Loman said.


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