Friday, August 22, 2014


Thor Purinton and friends visited Plum Island Saturday, August 16,
on the first of two special days when the public was welcomed
to visit and hike trails.  Shown near the forward range light, L to R:
Dr. John Buckley and his wife, Susan, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama;
Jamie Kornacker, Charlevoix; and Jess Brown, a Van Dam Woodcraft
craftsman who works with Thor in the Boyne City,
Michigan, boat shop.  (photo by Thor)
Plum Island, Death's Door, Wisconsin -

When they returned from their trip on the "family yacht" Moby Dick from Plum Island last Saturday, August 16, I asked youngest son, Thor, how it went.  "Terrific!  We had a great time."

This comes from Thor, who's been on Plum Island numerous times in years past, hiking, hunting, and swimming along a southern beach.  But that was during BLM ownership, after the Coast Guard moved their search and rescue operations to Washington Island, and prior to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) taking over and closing down the island to visitors.   In recent years, unless you had specific permission, such as research or as a work party member under Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands (FOPPI), partner with USFWS, you were not welcome to set foot on the Plum Island shores.

This is about to change, although in a carefully controlled way, starting with two special visitation Saturdays, August 16 and August 23.   One hitch for potential visitors, at least on day one, was that you needed your own watercraft for transportation.

Returning to the old Coast Guard station, near
boathouse and pier.  All structures, except the boathouse which has
already had a once-over,
await major repairs and restoration. 

Plum Island's first official guests for day one included Thor and friends who visited from Alabama and the Boyne City/Charlevoix area.  Dr. John Buckley and Susan are frequent travelers to the Van Dam workshop where they built a beautiful boat several years back, Susan C, and they're now partway along on their second project, Victoria Z.  Through the process of designing and building and observing, sometimes hands-on with suggested changes in details, they've become very close to the Van Dam craftsmen in what seems to be both an extraordinary and respectful relationship.  This past weekend the Buckleys traveled a long way to join Thor, Jess and Jamie on Washington Island, visiting Plum and Rock Islands also during their stay.

Thor's group was greeted near the boathouse by FOPPI president and volunteer, Tim Sweet, and two USFWS personnel who gave them a basic introduction that included a trail map and a sheet of guidelines, as follows:

  *  Refuge open during daylight hours only
  *  Foot travel only on the island
  *  Access for wildlife observation/photography hiking are limited to the established hiking trails
  *  Boats are required to moor at boathouse; dock space available on first-dome-first-served basis
  *  Kayaks / canoes must use designated launch / landing areas
  *  Dogs are welcome but must be leashed
  *  fishing from the dock and beach not allowed
  *  NOT PERMITTED on the refuge:  collection of plants, berries, seeds, mushrooms, rocks, fossils, lantern, or other artifacts; fireworks; camping; campfires; geocaches

Those restrictions aside, several fine options are available in hiking trails, the longest one being the Island View Trail (3 miles) that loops the island, more or less paralleling the beach.

From my own past experiences there, both in hunting and searching out trees with Roy and Charlotte Lukes, crossing the interior on any route other than a maintained trail would not be advisable anyway, under any circumstances, due to wind fallen trees, nettle plants that are six feet tall, and a parsnip plant that can deliver a nasty chemical burn.  From the maintained trails you will have ample opportunity to see Plum Island's varied shoreline and habitat, amazing for such a small island.   In addition, there are the several, interesting former government lighthouse and life saving structures found there.

It is for this second reason many will want to visit Plum Island and absorb the rich and fascinating maritime history of the Death's Door area, with Plum Island at the center of that activity.   The opportunity to view the range light structures up close, along with the old, original Death's Door 1849 lighthouse remains, is reason enough to visit Plum Island.  This old foundation was recently examined by archeologists, and their future reports will help to fill in blanks regarding this early Plum Island navigational aid.

Tomorrow, Saturday, August 23, will be day #2 for public visitation, coinciding with the Death's Door BBQ competition taking place on Washington Island's airport grounds.

-  Dick Purinton

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