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. . Lead paint was removed from the 1939 Roosevelt-type boathouse’s exterior and it was repainted in 2010. work was performed on the 200 foot long pier and the breakwall so that supplies and materials can be landed at the station safely. This project was funded by donations to the friends group. The porch of the Duluth-type station has also been completely restored.
The Wisconsin Coastal Management Program and FOPPI funded a Historic Structures Report for all of the buildings on Plum and Pilot Islands. This has been completed and will serve as a guide for further restoration projects.
The USFWS hired a contractor to put a new roof on the Plum Island Life-Saving Station. When work on this project began in the fall of 2017, it was discovered that there was extensive water damage to the underlying support structures caused by removal of the previous roof drainage system at some point in the past. The added cost of repairing the damage and replacing the drainage system was $6,500. FOPPI received a grant for $5,000 from the USLSS Heritage Association. The roof and wall project has been completed.
In 2019, the exterior paint was removed, along with any siding or fascia that showed signs of rot. The station and the paint shed behind were then painted. This paint should last another 10 years. New gutters will be added in the fall of 2019 or 2020. Attention will next be directed to restoration of the windows.
Ultimately, plans are for the boathouse to be used as a visitor’s center. As to the 1986 Duluth-type station, when interior work is completed and the Visitor Services Plan is approved, it will be used for “researchers, explorers, naturalists, writers and dreamers” per FOPPI President Mary Beth Volmer.
Plum Island is now open to the public during daylight hours from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. Plum Island station is the last of fifteen Duluth-style stations remaining in 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/
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