Thursday, January 17, 2013

New Breakwater in Grand Marais, MI

A copy of the fine publication, 'The Great Lakes Pilot' showed up in the house over the holidays.  The headline story was the celebration in Grand Marais, MI when the final rock showed up to complete the long awaited breakwater in the harbor, the only decent harbor of refuge along the 'shipwreck coast' between Sault St. Marie and Munising.  As usual the GLP did not pull any punches with the story lead, "Finally!  Five decades and hundreds of thousands of wasted bureaucratic US Army Corp of Engineers dollars later; the people of Grand Marais never gave up".  The story of the town attempting to get funding for this necessary project, the tragedy that jump started this successful effort, and the national campaign to make people aware of the issue have been publicized in many places, including this blog.

All of us that attended the 2009 Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium in Grand Marais will recall Jack Hubbard's impassioned speech at the pasty dinner, the kind of passion and committment that only a guy that lost three friends as a result of the deteriorated harbor can bring to the table.  In the end a combination of the Readers Digest grant and some heat from the states elected officials caused the Feds to do the right thing and restore the harbor.  Relentless and steady pressure, pretty much since the last time the harbor was upgraded during the Roosevelt administration, was what it took to turn the vast ore freighter that is the Federal bureaucracy.

This summer after the chaos and fun filled days of the GLSKS in July, a bunch of us rented a place in Munising to kick back and enjoy the week after the sympsosium.  Sometime midweek the BadHatter and I, along with his empathetic spouse StHollyOfAssisi, headed up to Grand Marais to see what the town was like without a couple hundred kayakers milling around, and to play in the anticipated 5-7 footers out of the northeast.  We also had a chance to check out the progress on the breakwater up close and personal.  It was instructive checking out all the heavy equipment and the gigantic rocks that they were piling into the lake.  The crew was not working that day because of the very thing that we drove up there for, wind and waves.  St Holly decided to stay in the harbor and the BadHatter and I paddled out past the end of the breakwater into the open lake.  5-7' was an optimistic forecast and the biggest stuff we saw was around 5' or so.  When these waves hit he end of the new breakwater however, they would steepen, get higher, and afford us some outstanding surf rides.  On one of them the BadHatter took a relatively spectacular endo that yanked him right out of the boat.  We executed a relatively decent rescue as we were washed into the harbor and immediately headed out for more.  Old guys like us only have a finite amount of runs into the wind though, and there is no tow rope or chairlift like there is at the ski hill to ease our 'uphill' struggles.  Once we were happily exhausted we collected St Holly and headed directly for the Dunes Saloon where we met the rest of the crew that had biked up part of the new blacktop road from Munising to Grand Marais.  Fresh Lake Superior Whitefish and a couple pints of Cabin Fever ESB made for a really nice end to a great afternoon.  We all agreed that we were anxious to see the completed breakwater when we head up for the 2013 GLSKS.  If Bill Thompson, GLSKS Grand Poobah, or the often inscrutable, sometimes sadistic Mr. Kelly Blades are reading this, I would suggest 'Breakwater Surfing 101' as a possible course offering.  Heck, I'll bet Keith Wikle and Ray Boucher would be happy to teach the thing!

The moral of the story of course, is that after years of lobbying, begging, cajoling, and finally a national campaign via Readers Digest to publicize the issue, the deal got done in Grand Marais harbor.  Sadly, it also took at least three lives to punctuate the situation.  One might extrapolate this tenacious public effort to our ongoing wolf hunting with dogs debate.  I guess a person of group just needs to keep on 'em.  In any event the harbor of refuge has been restored in Grand Marais and a safe place to land on that 90 mile long shipwreck coast is in place.  Nicely done, strong work by the folks up in Grand Marais.  I can't wait for July.


Silbs said...

Did I miss it? Will they dredge the harbor (of refuge) so big boats can tuck in when it storms?

DaveO said...

I'm guessing there is no way they could get a thousand footer in there since it would be a bit tough to turn around without a tug. But deeper draft coast guard and other large boats should be fine. As far as dredging, my guess is that as soon as USCGS Form 1911A1A, Dredging, Harbor is properly filled out and notarized in triplicate, something might happen.