Tours to North Manitou lighthouse crib begin
From Staff Reports
Five years ago, when four couples—Todd and Natalie Buckley, Jake and Suzanne Kaberle, Dave and Sherry McWilliam, and Daniel and Anna Oginsky—won the bid to acquire the North Manitou Shoal Lighthouse, commonly referred to as “the crib,” they set an ambitious goal to restore the lighthouse and begin to offer tours by July 4 of this year. The group accomplished their goal with two weeks to spare.
On June 19, 2021, two team members led four tourists on the first official tour of the crib. A larger group will visit on July 3 and on most Saturdays through the summer. Trips leave from Leland harbor on a charter fishing boat, captained by Jim Muñoz. At this point, tours are open to members who have signed up to support the North Manitou Light Keepers’ restoration effort.
The North Manitou Shoal Light Station is an offshore lighthouse in Lake Michigan that was completed in 1935. It marks a shallow shoal in the Manitou Passage, an important maritime channel. First operated by the United States Lighthouse Service and later by the United States Coast Guard, which manned it until 1980, the light station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. However, the structure stood vacant and relatively uncared for until 2016, when it was purchased at auction by North Manitou Light Keepers, a nonprofit organization, after being deemed surplus by the Federal Government. It remains an active aid to navigation with automated solar-powered equipment, maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard.
“Tours this year are pretty well filled up,” says Dan Oginsky, Light Keepers board president. “We’re offering them to existing members: the tours are what people have been waiting for.”
The Light Keepers will offer a special tour to the crib aboard the Mishe-Mokwa—the ferry which transports travelers to the Manitou islands—on Friday, July 23, at 6:30 p.m., following the group’s annual rally and information session at 4 p.m. at Leland’s Main Street Gallery. That cruise costs $25 per person.
According to Oginsky, the typical tour lasts about two to three hours and includes approximately 60 minutes at the crib. Visitors climb out of the boat and scale a 20-foot vertical ladder to the lighthouse deck. The tour includes a description of the lighthouse and its history, plus a trip to the lantern house, which sits 60 feet above the water level and offers tremendous views of Lake Michigan and the mainland shoreline.
“I’d encourage people to join and become a member,” Oginsky says. “When you become a member, we like to say, ‘You own a lighthouse.’ You get t-shirts. You support the effort. You get direct messages and mailings from us. And it’s easier to get on our list to do tours.”
Earlier this year, the Light Keepers received a Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program grant from the State Historical Preservation Office to replace the old decking and stop water intrusion and structural damage to the crib, the group reported in a March press release.
“Phase 1 of our restoration includes making the lighthouse safe, clean, and suitable to visit,” Oginsky says. “We cleaned up 30 years of bird guano, gave it a fresh paint job, took out and restored all 22 rectangular windows, and replaced all glass in lantern houses.”
The next step is to replace the Level 3 top deck, where steel plates covering the deck are corroded and water damaged. The third step is to replace the sea doors, which are welded shut at the water level. Lower lake levels allow boats to one day pull up to the door and walk straight into the lighthouse basement.
Phase 2 of the restoration will include installing mechanical systems inside, so the Light Keepers can offer overnight and weekend stays in the future; their hope is to ultimately turn the lighthouse into an inn that offers overnight lodging. The crib already contains four guestrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a common area.
“Someday, it’s going to be a really comfortable place to go stay for a weekend in America’s most beautiful place,” Oginsky says.
To become a member, visit NorthManitouLightKeepers.org online. Follow the group at “North Manitou Light Keepers” on Facebook and @northmanitoulight on Instagram.
A version of this article first published in the Glen Arbor Sun, a Leelanau County-based semi-sister publication to The Betsie Current.
Featured Photo Caption: The North Manitou Shoal Light Station was completed in 1935. First operated by the United States Lighthouse Service and later by the United States Coast Guard, which manned it until 1980, the light station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. However, the structure stood vacant and relatively uncared for until 2016 (left photo), when it was purchased at auction by North Manitou Light Keepers, a nonprofit organization, after being deemed surplus by the Federal Government. Over the past five years, the Light Keepers have worked to restore the structure, and tours began in June 2021 (right photo). Photos courtesy of North Manitou Light Keepers.