This Duluth-type station began operations April 1, 1896, serving the Portes des Morts Passage (more commonly called “Death’s Door”) at the entrance to Green Bay. In 1939 a boathouse was added at the end of a 200 foot pier. In 1990 the U.S. Coast Guard abandoned the station and moved the crew to nearby Washington Island. The island fell under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management, which decided in 2007 that control should fall under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Before the USFWS obtained ownership, the USCG conducted a cleanup of lead and fuel contamination at a cost of $863,000. The station received little if any maintenance during the seventeen year management by the BLM. Plum Island is now part of the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge, whose comprehensive plan for preservation was approved in January 2013. The plan calls for public access to Plum Island in addition to preserving the natural resources there.
A nonprofit corporation, the Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands, was formed in 2008 to establish a partnership with USFWS to help preserve the historic structures on the islands. Through volunteer efforts, several projects have been completed. The 1939 Roosevelt-type boathouse’s exterior has been recently restored and work was performed on the 200 foot long pier so that supplies and materials can be landed at the station safely. The porch of the Duluth-type station has also been completely restored.
Several projects were completed by Friends volunteers in 2014. Protective coverings were installed over the windows of the life-saving station and an Information kiosk, a condition required to open the island to public use, was completed and installed at the dock site. Trails around the island were improved, and trail signs and benches were installed. Roof repairs were performed by a contractor in the fall.
An application was submitted in September of 2014 to the National Parks Service for a National Maritime Heritage grant in the amount of $62,232. If awarded this will fund a historic structures report covering the life-saving station, boathouse and an outbuilding, as well as the lighthouse keeper’s dwelling and fog signal building. In addition the grant will fund additional repairs to the dock and breakwater. The Friends group has a current fundraising goal of $300,000 to be raised by the end of 2017. This will be used to further stabilize the historic structures on Plum Island.
With the exception of two Saturdays in August of 2014, the island has not been open for public access. Currently it is planned to open the island for daytime recreation during the 2015 summer season, from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.
Long term, the Friends group plans to stabilize all buildings, and then restore the exteriors, then interiors, as funding permits. The boathouse will be addressed first, and the hope is to use it as the visitor’s center for the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge, housing interpretive and educational displays on the island’s history and wildlife.
The Plum Island station is the last of fifteen Duluth-type stations remaining on the Great Lakes. Both the station and the boathouse were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.
Friends of Plum and Pilot Island’s website: www.plumandpilot.org/
Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge website: www.fws.gov/refuge/green_bay/