Using a community-based process, four cities in three counties, Port Washington, Sheboygan, Manitowoc and Two Rivers are making an application to NOAA for designation of their off-shore waters as a National Marine Sanctuary. This area has formerly been identified by the Wisconsin Historical Society as important. The nomination process is complete and the Initial Review has either just happened or is about to happen. The entire process going from being added to the inventory to formal designation is expected to take several years.
The area of application covers 875 square miles. There are thirty-three known wrecks in the area including the two oldest in Wisconsin, fourteen that are intact and four with standing masts. Twelve of these wrecks are on the national register. This is the highest concentration in the entire area. Most of these ships were constructed between 1833 and 1918. Ten of the thirty-three wrecks are close to Port Washington.
There are fourteen national marine sanctuaries in the country and, to date, only one on the Great Lakes, - the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, Michigan on Lake Huron.
Alpena has fared well after receiving this designation. In 2013, they hosted over eighty-two thousand visitors. Visitor numbers have greatly increased since the days before the marine sanctuary came to be. Visitors are often asked “have you come to dive the wrecks?” as residents are now very aware of the treasures lying under their waters.
Community pride has grown. The economy has benefitted. It has been calculated that visitors to the city spend an average of five hundred eighty-three dollars per trip. Two hotels were built, (There was one already in place.) Alpena now boasts a glass-bottom boat attraction for non-diving visitors who wish to see the wrecks.
NOAA research vessels are often on site and accompanying studies are being done.
NOAA provides a buoy program for Alpena. Buoy markers and moorings are set over ten to twelve wrecks each year. They not only provide easy sighting, but lines to the wrecks for divers so they do not need to attach to the wreck, possibly damaging it in the process. They are set early in the season and removed before the ice has a chance to come in.
The local community college has added a Marine Tech Program. Educational efforts in the area transmit the value of the lake to both residents and visitors.
information source: notes from a presentation by Tom Mlada and Kathy Tank, December 2014
Just look at what the college is offering! It is impressive.
Link to the NOAA research here.