Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wawatam Lighthouse, St. Ignace, MI

This classic lighthouse started life in 1998 as a Michigan Welcome Center travel icon at Monroe, Michigan. In 2004, the Monroe Welcome Center was being revamped and the lighthouse was put up for relocation. The City of St. Ignace was the lucky recipient and the structure was trucked north in five pieces. It stayed on the Chief Wawatam Dock for a time, awaiting the construction of its new platform.

The red, white and green lighthouse was repainted in bright white with red accents. In June 2006, a crane reassembled the tower on its new site. Everything was in readiness, just waiting for U.S. Coast Guard certification.

Wawatam Lighthouse takes its name from the late railroad ferry Chief Wawatam, which used this same dock from 1911 through the mid-1980's. When you visit the lighthouse, you will pass right by the Chief's old lift gate. Wawatam Lighthouse's beacon was first lit on August 20, 2006. Visible for more than 13 miles out over Lake Huron, it is now an official aid-to-navigation. The 250 millimeter Fresnel lens casts its light in a 152 degree arc.

Though the lighthouse's GPS location is 45-051-19.700 N by 084-42-09.000 W, it will most likely be easier for you to find it straight out east of McCann Street. The Coast Guard assigned the beacon to be a white light flashing every five seconds. The tower is 52 feet tall, but the Coast Guard looks at it in a different way. They rate it as 62 feet tall from the water to the focal plane (the beacon). This lighthouse stays lit even in winter – to be a guide to snowmobiles crossing the ice bridge from Mackinac Island.

The new lighthouse in St. Ignace has been named Wawatam Lighthouse and its navigational light could be operational later this month, pending approval by the U.S. Coast Guard. Standing at the end of the old Railroad Dock, home to the rail ferry Chief Wawatam, the beacon defines the harbor and marks the entrance to the City Marina. Once lit, Wawatam Lighthouse also will serve as an aid to navigation.

A permit to turn on the light has been filed with Ninth District Coast Guard in Cleveland, said Eugene Elmer, St. Ignace marina director, who hopes to have approval to flip on the light switch by the end of the month. The Coast Guard required that the lighthouse be named before the application for the light could be processed.

To keep the process moving, a poll quickly was taken with people at St. Ignace City Hall. Wawatam was the first choice and it provided a tie to the dock's history, said Mr. Elmer. Built in the late 1800s by the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railroad, the railroad dock once served as a port for the 338-foot railcar ferry Chief Wawatam. The track elevator used to align the railroad tracks on the dock with the deck on the Wawatam still stands at the base of the dock and serve as a reminder of the area's railroad and ferry history.

As the city awaits the permit approval to make the lighthouse operational, a project to extend the existing boardwalk to the lighthouse is about to go out for bids. The project will include a fishing pier on the south side of the dock near the lighthouse and a railing around the light.

Once operational, Wawatam Lighthouse will remain lit yeararound and during winters, when an ice bridge is in place between St. Ignace and Mackinac Island, the Wawatam's light may aid snowmobilers coming into St. Ignace, said Mr. Elmer.

On a clear night, the light will be visible from 13.2 miles away. Mackinac Island is approximately three miles to the east of the beacon.

Wawatam Lighthouse, St. Ignace, MI :

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