The Treasures of Plum Island

October 2015 - Friends Forward
A Maintenance Action Team spent nine days on Plum Island stabilizing the Coast Guard lifesaving station.
Credit: USFWS

When the Coast Guard lifesaving station was built on Plum Island in 1896, such facilities were common on the Great Lakes. Today, this may be the only one left.

Little wonder then that the Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands was established in 2007 to help restore, preserve and manage the islands’ historic and cultural resources. A year later, Plum and Pilot Islands were added to Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin.

This summer, a five-member Service Maintenance Action Team (MAT) spent nine days stabilizing the lifesaving station. The team removed barrels of lead paint and deteriorated decking and installed vents to prevent mold and moisture on the interior while the refuge and Friends decide if and how to restore the station – and how it would be paid for.

 Eleven-year-old Nathan Nelson found a message in a bottle while cleaning up the Plum Island shoreline. He mailed a package of stories and mementos back to the family that originally launched the bottle.
Credit: Mary Beth Volmer/Friends of Plum and Pilot Island
“We will be working with James to identify which buildings we should focus our efforts on first, and what types of challenges we’re in for,” says Friends volunteer Mary Beth Volmer. She had already started Women in Preservation to teach women the nuts, bolts and hammers of restoring historic maritime structures.

A busy ferry passes Plum Island every day, so “there is a lot of interest in what’s happening,” says James Myster, historic preservation officer in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest Region.

“Friends are our main partner in figuring out what to do,” says Myster, “with regard to planning, implementation and fundraising.” The Friends has committed $22,000 to repairs on Plum Island. A public meeting about the future of the island’s historic structures is tentatively planned for next spring.

Treasures on the Beach In the meantime, Friends work projects and clean-up days still yield treasures. “When your refuge is made up of islands,” says Volmer, “you never know what might wash ashore. ”

During one beach clean-up, Friends volunteers Manny Volmer (age 18) and Nathan Nelson (age 11) spied a bottle containing four notes written by a family describing their adventures in Manistee, MI, across Lake Michigan from Plum Island. The bottle had been found by the family while picking up trash along the Michigan lakeshore. It was ‘mailed’ in June 2014.

Nathan and his sister, Kiersten, mailed a package back to the family, including some mementos from Plum Island, and they launched the bottle again.

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