Digest>Archives> November 1997


By Jerry Biggs


Timber wolves are known to inhabit Lake Superior's Michigan shoreline. Their trails are often the same as the patrol routes of the life-savers and lighthouse keepers of Crisp Point and Vermilion. The area is Superior's "Shipwreck Coast." One surfman called Vermilion "The Alcatraz of the U.S Life-Saving Service" because of its hostile isolation. Shipwreck victims could expect to survive in Superior's frigid waters for about five minutes before freezing to death, especially during the gales of November.

We are not crying wolf when we state that the Crisp Point Lighthouse tower will topple into the lake... if it hasn't already. The forces of nature at Crisp Point are merciless. Wind and water erosion at the tower's base has gnawed away the earthen works like a giant rat. The entrance building that was attached to the tower fell victim last year to Superior's sadistic storms.

Pros and laymen alike agree that the preservation solutions are not that difficult to determine: riprap, sandbags, seawalls, timbers and other manmade materials. But "The Establishment" has a laundry list of reasons why the government can't intercede.

The road to Crisp Point is a county road but near the lighthouse it becomes no more than a two-track in the boonies. The Ho Chi Minh Trail was better than this "road." Not too many taxpayers (voters) live near Crisp Point. Reality dictates that the county road commission spends its budget where the most people will benefit. However, there is a Catch-22 in the stew. The lighthouse road does not meet county requirements to allow heavy equipment to use the road. The other alternative is to bring in barges to do the work but that is very costly and requires a multitude of permits to be allowed to perform any modifications to the shoreline. The National Guard's engineer battalions are not allowed to compete with private enterprise on any type of projects and lighthouse preservation is not similar to the Guard's training criteria.

So, who does that leave to get the job done? Nellie and Don Ross, who formed a Crisp Point preservation organization, have been proselytizing to anybody who will listen, as well as fund raising attempts. Their efforts have received moral support but not an overabundance of money. The "cons" have been very helpful, but their manual labors are akin to bailing out Lake Superior with a bucket. To be politically correct; cons are "Correctional Facility Inmates." These guys have been doing the grunt work around the lighthouse, but they can't carry boulders on their backs. They have volunteered to do the restoration work, but they need the aid of heavy equipment. You might raise your eyebrows if we told how many lighthouses, especially in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, have been restored by state prisoners. They usually do the initial gutting and labor intensive work. These projects provide meaningful rehabilitation and the lighthouses receive the benefits of their labors.

In the grand scheme of life, the possible demise of Crisp Point Lighthouse would not be earth shattering. There are national and international problems that are far worse. but the folks at this lighthouse aren't asking for a million dollars. The possibility does not require rocket science. If two mammoth lighthouses in New England could be moved and saved, and the potential movement of the gigantic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse; why can't this 58-foot tower be saved?

Crisp Point Lighthouse was built in 1904 adjacent to the 1876 U.S. Life-Saving Station. The light was decommissioned in 1930. The keeper's residence was demolished in 1965. Last year the fog building fell into Lake Superior. As a footnote: the nearby Vermilion Life-Saving Station, the only Lake Superior-type surviving, is rotting away and is a candidate to be part of a bonfire.

We have a couple of dubious distinctions here. Most of the hands-on work at Crisp Point has been performed by cons, correctional facility inmates. The pros have restricted access. If this lighthouse tower topples into the lake; the Great Lakes will have had the dubious distinction of having lost two lights in recent times. Those are the pros and cons.

For additional information, contact: Crisp Point Light Historical Society, Nellie and Don Ross, P.O. Box 229, Paradise, MI., 49768. Phone #(906)492-3206.

There's an old adage that claims that the pen is mightier than the sword. That may be true... unless you happen to be in a sword fight. Crisp Point is in a sword fight for survival.

This story appeared in the November 1997 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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