Digest>Archives> Jan/Feb 2005

Cleanup Completed at Wisconsin's Plum Island

By Jeremy D’Entremont

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Pilot Island Lighthouse.
Photo by: Doug Henderson

With an 1897 lighthouse, keeper’s house and a Coast Guard station, Wisconsin’s 296-acre Plum Island is regarded as a jewel of Door County and the Great Lakes. As reported in Lighthouse Digest in October 2003 (“Islands at Death’s Door”), the abandoned historic buildings have been allowed to deteriorate as concerned parties waited for a cleanup of contaminated areas on the island. In 2000, the Wisconsin Trust for Historic Preservation named the Plum Island Light Station one of the state’s Ten Most Endangered Historic Properties. There’s now some long-awaited good news, as the U.S. Coast Guard has completed an $863,000 cleanup.

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The keeper’s house at Plum Island during the ...
Photo by: Doug Henderson

According to Lynn Keller, environmental engineer with the Coast Guard in Cleveland, MWH Americas, Inc. sifted 1,000 cubic yards of soil on the island. They removed almost 600 cubic yards for offsite disposal in a landfill. The soil contamination was from fuel and lead paint. The lead paint has not been removed from the lighthouse and other buildings, however.

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Plum Island Rear Range Lighthouse, built in 1897.
Photo by: Tim Sweet

Plum Island has been under the stewardship of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in recent years. The cleanup clears the way for the island to be transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The tentative plan is for the island to become part of the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge. USFWS would like to partner with the Door County Maritime Museum, who could become the stewards of the historic buildings on the island.

Before they make that commitment, officials of the museum are working to ascertain if the buildings can still be salvaged.

If the museum does agree to maintain and interpret the site, they will eventually offer regular public boat trips to the island.

Pilot Island, also in Door County, would be included in this potential conveyance along with its boarded-up 1858 cream city brick lighthouse. The roof of a fog signal building on Pilot Island has collapsed in recent years, but Door County Maritime Museum officials are hopeful that the buildings there can at least be stabilized. Unlike Plum Island there is no possibility of public tours to Pilot Island, as the island is difficult to access and serves as a bird sanctuary.

In related news, in November the BLM decided that Cana Island Lighthouse should be conveyed to Door County, pending agreement by the County Board. The site draws about 40,000 people annually and has been managed by the Door County Maritime Museum for 33 years. Museum officials are hopeful that this conveyance will take place during the Lighthouse Walk in May.

This story appeared in the Jan/Feb 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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