EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Lighthouse enthusiast Skip Heckel peers up the stairs of the Menominee North Pier Lighthouse, which underwent a total renovation last year.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard

Lighthouse enthusiast Skip Heckel peers up the stairs of the Menominee North Pier Lighthouse, which underwent a total renovation last year.

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MENOMINEE — It may be one of Menominee’s most famous structures, and with tours starting for the summer Memorial Day weekend, it is likely to be a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.

The Menominee North Pier Lighthouse underwent a total renovation in 2017, thanks to the funding from a local anonymous donor, and the doors opened to the public for the first time in August.

Mike Kaufman, executive director of the Menominee County Historical Society, which has taken the reins of caring for the striking red-and-black building, said Menominee native Skip Heckel donated his time to run tours last year.

“More than a 1,000 people visited after it opened in August,” Kaufman said.

He approached Heckel, who is a regular visitor to the pier and the lighthouse, to capture breathtaking photographs of the structure constructed in 1877. When Heckel was handed the opportunity to become involved in overseeing visitors, he was also handed a set of keys.

This year, Heckel is joined by fellow volunteers and lighthouse enthusiasts Bill Sorenson, Lyle Johnson and Marlene Williams, who will greet visitors after the quarter-mile walk from the parking lot to the lighthouse. Tours are offered Thursdays and Fridays from noon to 3 p.m.; Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m.; and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m.

Kaufman said the lighthouse tours are free of charge, but visitors can place a freewill donation inside a large lighthouse display, which sounds a foghorn when it receives money.

The money will go toward maintenance of the building and other costs to produce pamphlets, postcards and other supplies.

“We are working on some new brochures,” Kaufman said, “Skip provided some photos for postcards we are going to sell.”

Even though the bayflies have been wreaking havoc on the lighthouse pier this week, Heckel had about 100 people show up for self-guided tours Memorial Day weekend. Once inside the structure, which doesn’t have electricity, people can climb from the first level to the second, where a door allows them access to the flat roof viewing deck. Another smaller set of stairs takes visitors to the third level and and old ladder allows people to peek at the solar-powered main light. Visitors are not allowed on the fourth level.

Inside the structure, which has a small bathroom and what once served as living quarters, are a number of historic prints provided by the donor.

The funds also allowed the City of Menominee, which took possession of the lighthouse in the earlier 2000s, to upgrade a bike and pedestrian path and parking from 1st Street along Harbor Drive. The walk from the parking area off 1st Street to the concrete pier is about a half-mile. Those people parking in the lot near the DNR boat launch, still have another quarter-mile to walk to the lighthouse itself.

Kaufman said the city has provided several park benches for people to sit and rest after the long walk.

The tours do not take long, five to 10 minutes tops, and only about 15-20 people can enter at the same time. While there are no current restrictions requiring teens to be accompanied by an adult, they may become necessary in the future, as there have been instances of young people jumping from the lighthouse deck and the pier into the river, which is prohibited by state law, Kaufman said.

Signs along the pedestrian/bike path tell the story of the lighthouse that was moved from its 1877 location two times, once in 1881 and again in 1886.

The U.S. Coast Guard took over the duties of caring for the lighthouse in 1939, but in 2002, it announced it would tear down the lighthouse and replace it with a lighted pole. The city was approached by the State of Michigan with a request to take over the historic structure to retain it for future generations.

While the light still functions, Kaufman said it is not used for navigational purposes, having been replaced by channel markers and GPS.

Still, the bright red, black-and-white tower can be seen for miles by boaters approaching the mouth of the Menominee River from Green Bay, and welcomes them now with new windows, a new roof and a bright coat of paint.

“People come from all over,” Kaufman said. “We recently added a registry book, so people can sign in when they visit.”

The lighthouse tours will be offered until September.