Monday, May 30, 2011


Northport Pier, 215 State Hwy. 42, Tip of Door Peninsula -

A Visitor Center has opened within the terminal building at Northport, a space that had operated the previous 25 years as Northport Pier Restaurant.

The dining room tables and chairs have been replaced with display kiosks for photographs, information and literature related to Washington and Rock Islands and the islands of Death's Door.  This shift in direction may surprise some visitors, especially those who recall memorable meals served at the Northport Pier Restaurant over that time period, but according to Hoyt Purinton, Ferry Line President, the new direction in the face of ever-declining restaurant activity is meant to support island tourism as a whole.

"This building had been designed and zoned for use as a seasonal restaurant, and over the 25 year span of operation it had a base of loyal customers," Purinton said.  "But, because it was not economically successful, and because we believe we can do a better job marketing Washington Island, we've decided to be creative, and a visitor center, rather than some other venture, seems the best fit.   This has come after considerable discussion within our company, and with the Washington Island Chamber of Commerce, with whom we work very closely."

The Ferry Line began the transformation process last winter with new paint and new carpet, the addition of display pedestals, new signage, and footpaths for easier access.   The transformation became reality on opening day, Friday May 27.   Marge Frank, representing the Island Chamber, and Christy Davidson of the Ferry Line were hosts, and they answered questions from dozens of curious visitors, some who simply wound up at the northern end of Highway 42 looking about for more information, and those vacationers with weekend travel plans already in hand.  While dining is no longer available, coffee, tea and snack items are, and the atmosphere is intended to invite travelers to stay awhile, to absorb this northern Door County experience, to view the Death's Door Islands and ferry activities with guest binoculars, and to contemplate an island visit at a future date and time.

Island Chamber Hostess Marge Frank 
Several gallery-worthy displays will be featured.  Outstanding island landscape photography by Lucas and Heather Frykman will be the centerpiece.   A 4 x 6 oil painting by Eric Brodersen depicting an island nature scene will occupy the east wall.  And Sievers School of Fiber Arts, Friends of Rock Island, and Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands will each feature their unusual, out-of-the-way experiences.

The Visitor Center intent is to market the island experience in both a direct way such as passing on literature for motels, restaurants and attractions, but also to pique the interests of travelers who might be birders, photographers, or people who are simply curious about natural history found in these islands.  It has been the aim of the Island Chamber of Commerce and the Ferry Line to ensure all information hosts will have earned the Door County Visitor Bureau's Certified Tourism Ambassador qualification, and as such, informed assistance will be offered with any visitor's question, not only those related to Washington Island, but questions relating to our neighboring communities and Door County as a whole.  

Northport Visitor Center hours of operation will be daily until mid-October, 9:30 am to 3:00 pm.  A large, self-help display with literature will always be available after-hours in the ferry terminal lobby, open during daytime hours of ferry operation.  Short-term Visitor Center parking is available near the entrance, and there are more than two-hundred spaces available for general parking for both ferry riders and those who wish to walk out on the pier to observe ferry activity and the Death's Door scene close at hand.

   -  Dick Purinton

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Turtle Frenzy Surveillance

Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

It is springtime.   It is near sunset, and we've had one of those precious few days in mid-May with the sun bright overhead, unblemished by clouds.  The air temperature warmed to 60 degrees by the early afternoon, and what breeze there was settled to a whisper toward twilight.

We walked in silence so as to not scare the wildlife, my wife and I, to the docks of the bayou, a small estuary of Detroit Harbor that is filled with a variety of bird, reptile, and other animal life.   We carried a pair of binoculars to better observe these creatures:  a large muskrat chomping on the roots of rushes along the bank;  eagles, both soaring and perching on trees on Suzie's Island;  a great blue heron stalking the reeds for supper; an egret; a swimming water snake (makes my wife shudder) breaking the calm surface with its wriggling; carp rolling about; and fornicating snapping turtles.

It is the mating turtles we've really come to see!

Picture snappers the size of your largest inverted kitchen turkey pan - or maybe the microwave (some appear to be 30 inches across the shell).  Two turkey pans bumping and grinding, changing partners, chasing away suitors or competition.  It has to be an enjoyable moment for them, the turtles, doing what they are meant to do in the springtime.  I am not easily relating to the subtleties of mating in smelly muck and ooze, but I have an idea of how the strength of procreation may overwhelm a pea-sized brain.  For these several weeks, this is all they seem to care to do, with activity levels peaking when it is sunny and warm and calm.

This is the estuary primeval, the Bayou as we call it.  And it is these snapping turtles we've come to appreciate, huge snappers recently emerged from the muck and ooze of this backwater, at first carrying scads of mud and moss on their backs.  For at least the past five months, if not six, they've lain dormant, hibernating beneath the mud, immobile until water temperature warmed enough to stir them.   And then, instead of searching out food for their first activity, they expend energy mating.

If you've seen photos of the Sydney, Australia, Opera House, imagine how it would look down-scaled and brownish-green in color, with perhaps a turtle head or tail stretching outward.  This is the sort of repeated scene we observe in the bayou during the first several warm weeks of spring.  Mating boulders, is how it appears from a distance.  Moving rocks, shell on shell.

Action is everywhere, in the shallows of the muddy bottom and in the warmth of sunny humps of grass.  This activity piques our human curiosity.  We humans have rituals of our own, but turtle mating is far removed from the familiar white sheets covering man-made, cushioned platforms.  How do they know, these creatures submerged in mud, when it is time to emerge, which other turtles are accepting, when enough is enough?  Normally slow-moving creatures, they now roil the waters in their passion, showing quickness and bursts of energy either in pursuit of or escape from one another.  The disturbance of the peace at times resembles carp rolling in the shallows, their backs above water, another activity that will also take place here but at a slightly later time when the water is even warmer.

Finally, after a few weeks have gone by, on another sunny day when I am watching from shore, first one turtle, then two, swim from the estuary, large dark shadows just beneath the surface, heads the size of my shoe occasionally breaking the surface for air and a look-see.  Maybe these turtles are out to find food, but more than likely they are females dispersing to find a place on shore to lay their eggs, where they dig deep pockets in gravel or sand, preferably a "nest" that will benefit from the warmth of sunshine.  Often times, chosen locations are in the middle of graveled drives or roads, where the females (and I would presume their hatched offspring) may be in peril from the tires of passing vehicles.

How to observe this better!

We have a pretty fair pair of binoculars, and we often have them with us when we take our "nature" walk, but then we've had to share the one pair.  So, in advance of Father's Day (always helps to have an excuse) I ordered another, more powerful pair, easy to focus and waterproof.  There are several internet sites that recommend brands and types with user ratings specific to certain activities.    Although I didn't find binoculars specifically manufactured for the purpose of turtle peeping, I thought I would double-up with birding recommendations, and so the type and pair I selected, for $159, are really for birding.  They arrived one day after my order was placed, with free shipping!

From our kitchen table we can now see effortlessly across the harbor.   Watching bird and turtle activity will be much improved with this pair of field glasses.  I attached the neck strap (it also comes with a harness strap to keep them from swinging when running away from snakes or aggressive turtles.)   They are from a company based in Omaha, Nebraska, a state known for its sensible, down-home folks who are not usually known for kidding around.  (Think of Warren Buffett, financial tycoon with a dry sense of humor and stoic bridge player.)

Here are the unabbreviated Warnings listed on page one of the five-page pamphlet:
(reprinted here verbatim) 

   *  Viewing the sun can cause permanent eye damage.  Never look at the sun through your binoculars.
   *  Never use your binoculars while walking amongst obstacles (i.e., rocky fields, wooded areas,  
        children's playrooms).
   *   Inappropriate use due to a lack of common sense may result in product damage or personal injury.
   *   Objects in binoculars may be farther away than they appear.
   *   Not intended for human consumption.
   *   Running with scissors is dangerous.  Never run with scissors while using binoculars.

Perhaps the binocular company was concerned about persons with severe sight impairment using their product, mistaking the eye caps for Oreo cookies, etc., etc., or maybe this is just good Nebraska humor to test if we've read the fine print.   (We have!)

Positives for this product include:  they seem to work very well, and their magnification should provide many pleasurable hours of viewing turtle intimacy;  and, my new pair comes with an almost unheard of 25-year warranty.   If they perform as well as I think they will, I might suggest they consider Turtle Observation as a new marketing niche.

 -  Dick Purinton

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Main Road, Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Remediation work on the Wilson and Carol Trueblood Performing Arts Center, referred to locally as the TPAC, is nearing completion.   The above photo shows installation of the metal water barrier on the west and south sides of the building.  As of this entry, only the topmost portion of the curved wall awaits metal siding.

This week marked a significant juncture for the TPAC facility and for those persons directly involved with remediation work being done:  during a site visit Monday, State of Wisconsin Building Inspector Jane Drager approved all work done thus far.  Red tags that denied occupation of the building since November 2009 were lifted, allowing limited access to the building's interior spaces.  

The TPAC building is now deemed not only safe and sound, but also much improved, owing to the extensive renovations. (See March 15 and March 24 blogs for additional detail.)

Once structural supports had been improved, the obvious changes took place on the building's exterior, first four-inch thick vertical foam panels, then the painted, corrugated steel, exterior wrap.  It is anticipated the project engineer and the State Building Inspector will meet in approximately two weeks to conduct a final inspection of remediation items, and with that a formal close to construction and a welcoming for public use once again.

This past Wednesday evening, May 25th, TPAC Building Committee Chairman Bill Norris and committee member John Chapman addressed an audience of twenty or so specially invited guests that included members of the Town Board, the TPAC Board, and the TPAC Building Committee.

Basic remediation highlights were described for the interior and exterior.  Thorough cleaning - wire brushing and vacuuming - preceded the recent painting of all interior block surfaces by Mike Remke, Tom Jordan and crews.  (These surfaces were previously unpainted.)  Not only has the painting improved appearances both in the audience chamber and backstage, the process helped to further eliminate lingering prospects for mold or mildew.

Building manager Emmet Woods pointed out the two new sets of interior doors with special elongated hinge plates.  These new doors have fire ratings that are fully compliant, and the extra hinge dimensions now permit folding the doors back 180 degrees, against the walls, for easier ingress/egress.

Bill Norris points out new TPAC support columns.
Back stage, a question was asked about the stage floor plywood having been warped and needing repair or replacement.  But the plywood flats that had previously shown a signature waviness had improved, according to John Chapman.  He noted that since water runoff at the building's perimeter had been addressed, seepage into underground ventilation ducts had been eliminated.  The result is that the atmosphere inside the TPAC has greatly reduced in humidity, and the stage floor has gradually leveled on its own.

The difficulty of covering a curved outer wall with linear "super-rib econolap" was described by Chapman, and we were shown the patented, seamless corner pieces supplied by the manufacturer to ensure a total waterproofing characteristic.   This special metal siding comes with guarantees for both paint and for waterproofing.

The tour of construction highlights moved outdoors to observe details of the completed east, north and south walls, where numerous supportive comments were overheard regarding the job well done by the Building Committee and the contractors involved.

TPAC Board Members present were, L to R:  Joan Kuhn; John Chapman; Bill Norris; Mary Andersen;
Doug Straus, President; Jackie Rader; Jim Morris

TPAC Building Committee Members present were (L to R):  Dick Clancy;
Terry Foster; John Chapman;Bill Norris; Doug Straus;
Julian Hagen; Mike Berger.    

-  Photos and article by Dick Purinton

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Several times this winter a sheet summarizing Washington Island weather data appeared at our Ferry Line office front desk, delivered, I later learned, by John Delwiche.

Interested in following up on what constitutes an official weather observer, I later learned that both John and his wife Anne have the title Weather Cooperative Observers, meaning they have officially been recognized and given responsibilities in observations by the National Weather Bureau office in Green Bay. Their data is captured by computer at the Green Bay office, which then feeds in to a much larger national data bank of weather observations.

Becoming a National Weather Service Cooperative observer volunteer requires the following, according to the Cooperative Observer Program website:
  * Dedication to public service
  * Attention to detail
  * Ability to learn and perform daily duties
  * Willingness to allow NWS to place measuring instruments on your property
  *  Willingness to allow at least one visit per year from a NWS representative

I had briefly met Anne and John once or twice in the past several years, but I took this opportunity to learn more about them and their role as volunteer weather observers.

John is a retired mechanical engineer who began with Larson Canning in Green Bay, but spent much of his career at one of the paper mills.  He and Anne live in a very comfortable, recently constructed home along the island's East Side Road.  Through ample window openings in all rooms they're able to pursue their hobby of birding (and many birds were about while I was there) while enjoying the fantastic views of surrounding fields and sky.  A number of bird feeders were on poles a short distance from their home, and near the top of the rise at the far end of the field was a metal tower.

Birding and weather observations are related pursuits, and the Delwiches had in the past participated in recording weather observations using a basic home weather set as volunteers for Project Feeder Watch, in which their bird count and type and weather data contributed to a larger collection of data.

But it was the new and different environment with its temperature swings and winds that captured John's interest, combined with the chance opportunity in late 2008 to take over duties from retiring Observer, Don Cunningham.

A significant nudge toward observing weather an official capacity was the fact that Anne's father, Herbert H. Bomalaski, was a meteorologist for the National Weather Bureau for 41 years and head of the Green Bay Weather Bureau office for many of those years.  Fifty years ago this March, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette, Mr. Bomalaski received the Meritorious Service Award from the Secretary of Commerce for his studies in "Growing Degree Days."  His contribution codified temperatures during the growing period for vegetables, providing a system of predictability for both canners and growers, and his work was credited with saving the industry here and abroad thousands of dollars.

It is fair to say, then, that both Anne and John take great pride in their role as official Weather Cooperative Observers.

Viewing web postings for National Weather Cooperative Observers across the nation (some are institutions, but many are generational family members) I found that the appointment of a local weather observer often leads to decades of volunteer reporting.  While this may not always be the case, the record speaks to the general class of people who become observers for reasons of occupational interest, hobby, or curiosity about the environment, and then dedicate time and effort toward capturing numbers for our federal weather agency.  

John's tower was originally intended as a future base for his amateur radio station antenna, but it currently supports several weather instruments.

"I wanted a much higher tower for my radio station," John said, pointing to several tower sections lying in the field near the house, "but the government standards for recording wind are very specific.  Instruments must be 33 feet above ground for the anemometer, no more, no less."

Other recording instruments such as rain gauge and temperature gauge are mounted on pedestals nearer the ground, within one hundred feet or so of the back door.  The siting of these instruments had to meet approval by the Green Bay field office for the National Weather Bureau.

Neat, hand entries into a log of weather data, and the installation of two indoor analog gauges for wind direction and speed in a vintage upright radio cabinet, further revealed the meticulous nature of these two weather observers.

An exception to "meticulous" might be the wire Anne pointed out, laughing, that John strung from the the rear of the radio cabinet gauges to a bedroom loft above one end of the room.

"I wanted wind instruments badly, and I pestered the hell out of them," John said.  "The National Weather Service has gone digital with gauges at their offices, so these analog gauges became a surplus set. They were formerly at the Rapid City, SD weather station."

As far as John was aware, few Co-op Observers are issued wind instruments, but in this case, the U.S. Coast Guard had first chance for such equipment and they expressed interest in capturing additional wind speed data in this part of the lake.  Had those gauges been digital, according to John, both high and low speeds could then be automatically recorded.  However, since they are analog (with dial indicators similar to an old auto speedometer) John ran that wire from the radio cabinet to a second gauge set in their bedroom loft, one way to monitor peak wind gusts at night during a storm while lying in bed.

 John showed me a stack of old Washington Island weather logs passed along to him, noting the names of several island observers who preceded him:  Don Cunningham;  Gabrielle Daniels;  Marvin Andersen.  There may have been others.

How did he and Anne happen to find their way to Washington Island for retirement?

John pointed across the field toward Island Camping, the privately owned campground on the adjacent 40 acres.

"We came to the island one weekend in July for a HAM radio round-up, and I was so impressed with the capabilities of my small radio from this location.  I could get a signal out to just about anywhere."

It may have been as important that Anne had been enrolled in classes at Sievers School, creating another strong island connection.

Is it the limestone bedrock, or the fact we are located in a large body of water with little outside interference, that makes it such a good place for transmitting radio signals, I wondered?  

"It could be," he replied.  "I'm not sure what it is, but with this little set, it's amazing the reach it has.  I suppose relative isolation may also have something to do with our choosing this location."   

He pointed to the radio set on his living room table, a deceptively small package not much larger than a thick book, maybe 10 x 6 x 3 inches, with a retractable antenna.

John said that he became a licensed radio operator at age 11, but because his voice had not yet changed, when he spoke over the airwaves listeners thought they were talking to a girl.  That caused John to learn code so he could communicate without speaking, and he claims to have used code for his radio communications ever since.  His call sign is K9IY.

John heads to Dayton, OH, this week for a radio operator conference, the largest in the nation, at which both commercial and amateur operators will be present.   While he is absent, Anne will take over weather reporting duties.

 - Dick Purinton

Saturday, May 14, 2011


Detroit Harbor, Washington Island, Wisconsin -

If one didn't know the anticipation for a new fire truck was the cause of all the cars out at the ferry dock Wednesday morning, May 12, the audience might have been credited for watching the ferry land amid a squall of wind and rain.   But recently, including several days this mid-week, heavy rains with wind squalls that spring on eastern winds have been too commonplace to catch islander attention - although I found it hard not to sympathize with ferry captain Ken Berggren as he brought the Eyrarbakki to position despite channel currents and gusts at the end of our island ferry pier during the moment of peak winds.

[Note:  Not having my camera at hand, I grabbed a small video camera to capture the event, then had to learn how to download and process the video and place it in blog format.  For the past two days Google's Blogger site has been interrupted for repairs, this being my first opportunity to try the video posting.]

The Eyrarbakki landed safely, and with several lines secured to shore and diesels thrumming at elevated power to hold the bow in place, the 1985 Pierce fire truck was driven ashore.  This truck is a new acquisition for the Washington Island Volunteer Fire Department, coming from the neighboring Sister Bay-Liberty Grove Fire Department on the peninsula to our south, purchased with $45,000 in donated funds.  

A campaign that began in early October drummed up both political and financial support for a truck that will boost the island's potential to fight fires. Since funds were not budgeted by the Town for that purchase, and given a limited window of availability - a "special neighbor" offer from the Sister Bay-Liberty Grove Fire Department - willing donors met the challenge in a few month's time.   

Specifically, this truck's ladder and snorkel will help to fight fires in structures having metal roofs, structures situated on properties dotted with adjacent trees, sometimes accessed by snaking, narrow drives, and it will offer increased reach above the newer, multi-level seasonal homes that have eclipsed the old time, single-bedroom cottage-by-the-lake.      

This fire truck, designated Engine No. 21 by its previous owner, will retain the same unit number out of superstition and tradition as it enters service on Washington Island.

  -  Dick Purinton