Thanks to Mlive for this:
ROUND ISLAND, MI – The excitement and anticipation that enveloped the Straits of Mackinac this week was almost palpable.
After a successful fundraising effort to purchase loads of big riprap rock to protect the iconic Round Island Lighthouse from damaging ice and wave action, the only nail-biting questions left was could the work be done before winter closed in?
Lighthouse fans and preservationists were thrilled to find out Tuesday night that the contractor’s barge carrying 1,500 tons of big rock had left its dock in northern Lake Michigan and was headed toward the lighthouse, which sits just off the coast of Mackinac Island.
Matt McMullen, chairman of the Round Island Lighthouse Preservation Society, said people in the area and others close to the project were using a marine traffic app to track the progress of the 220-foot barge and its tugboat as it came across the Straits, where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan meet.
“When they got to the Mackinac Bridge, everyone was watching the bridge cams. Then photos started pouring in from the residents of the Mackinac community. People are just excited to see this project come to fruition,” said McMullen, whose group acts as caretakers and fundraisers for the historic lighthouse.
“It’s just truly amazing to me still how many people were involved with this. From the biggest parts to the littlest parts, everything came together to pull this off this season.”
Built in 1895, the red and white Round Island Lighthouse is the one hundreds of thousands of visitors see each year as they ride the ferries to and from the Mackinac Island docks. But recent high-water years on the Great Lakes have been a concern.
The small, uninhabited Round Island is overseen by the U.S. Forest Service, but the nonprofit society acts as lighthouse caretakers, handling maintenance projects large and small each season. For several months, they’ve worried that next spring’s thaw and ice break-up could mean a repeat of the 1972 damage when storms and high waves washed away a side of the lighthouse building, exposing it to the elements. That damage was later repaired.
That turned out to be this week. “They immediately began work on Wednesday morning and continued working into the night until weather conditions worsened,” McMullen said. “Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry graciously provided dockage on Mackinac Island until weather conditions improved, and they continued to work on Thursday.”
The crew was able to complete the job late Thursday. Strong winds and 10-foot swells on the lake meant they had to spend another night, but the barge and tug workers today are on their way back to their home port in Escanaba, according to the lighthouse group.
The work attracted a lot of attention in an area that’s mostly just known for big freighters cruising by this time of year.
“It’s awesome watching their crane barge and tugboat work in unison to place nearly 1,500 tons of rip-rap around the island,” McMullen said. “Our social media pages have been blowing up.”
The nonprofit gave a big hat-tip to Nick Kobasic, the project manager from North Shore Marine Terminal. “He has been awesome this entire time, keeping the society up to date, and he along with his company has just been a person that wanted to see us succeed – see the community succeed – and was willing to help make this happen.
“Someone had commented on our social media that you could write a book about this story. My thought was somebody already has. It was ‘The Little Engine That Could.’ As long as you get a group of people that keep thinking and dedicating themselves to that theory of ‘I think I can,’ you can accomplish anything.”
Round Island Lighthouse Preservation Society