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Great Lakes Lighthouse Conference in Traverse City, Michigan

Posted by: Rick Cain in From the Lens Room

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I recently traveled to Traverse City, Michigan for the Great Lakes Lighthouse Conference presented by the Michigan Lighthouse Alliance. I was pretty excited since it had been four years since I last set foot in the north woods.

It was held at the Park Place Hotel just a couple of blocks off the waterfront. Note the lighthouse lantern on the top of the hotel. They have a nice clubhouse up there with views of the Bay.

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I met up with Joe Cocking when I got there and we attended several sessions together. I also was able to become reaquainted with Dick Moehl from the Great Lakes Lighthhouse Keepers Association who gave the address at lunch on Thursday. His presentation was about their utilization of Boy Scout volunteers in their preservation efforts at the St. Helena Island Lighthouse. I had met him once before in St. Augustine and was very impressed with his energy and enthusiasm for historic preservation. His hard work was pivotal in saving the old Coast Guard Ice Breaker Mackinaw from the scrap yard. It is now a maritime museum in Mackinaw City, Michigan.

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Joe told me that the Great Lakes Maritime Academy had a fouth order Fresnel Lens that he wanted to see, and I needed to get into the woods for an hour or two, so we took some free time and headed over to the school. It was just down the beach from the conference center.

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Joe found the lens on display on the second floor of the lobby and I found a beautiful wooden boat inside the front door that I had to take pictures of for our boat builders back in St. Augustine. It was named the "Loon Feather."

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The Academy was very impressive. If you want to learn to drive boats, this would be a great place to come, besides the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT. Their floating classroom was very impressive.

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Later we headed to the Vasa Trail outside of town to take a stroll in the north woods. I grew up in the Ozark Mountains and though Florida is my adopted second home, I miss the woods. Florida's green spaces, while unique in their own beauty, just don't do it for me like the hardwood forests of the midwest US.

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Yeah... that's me...the fat guy leaning against the tree.

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We heard other presentations, from surface coatings, to lightning protection for your lighthouse. One of the best talks was on non-destructive testing of wood presented by the Forest Products Laboratory, a Divison of the US Forest Service.

The other great part of this conference was that I got to see some friends of mine from Minnesota. Lee Radzak has been the head keeper up at Split Rock Lighthouse on the north shore of Lake Superior for many years (he works for the Minnesota Historical Society) . When I started working at the St. Augustine Light Station I made it a point to get to know him since it was a favorite family vacation spot when my kids were growing up in Wisconsin. I have been harassing he and his wife Jane ever since and they have been gracious enough to put up with me. Split Rock is one of the most beautiful lights in the country, but if you choose to live up there you better invest in some warm clothes and like making your own fun. They have serious winter! If, however, you get there in early to mid June it is spectacular and the bugs haven't had a chance to get up to full steam yet. Lee can even tell you where to see a moose!

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The three of us spent the last night on the beach to watch the sunset. It was a beautiful end to a great conference and time to reconnect with old friends. Lighthouse folks are some of the best in the world.

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Comments (2)

What great photos. I sure wish I could have been there. Thanks for sharing the experience. I'd have loved to hear the talk about using the Boy Scouts presented by Dick Moehl. I've heard from a lighthouse group that tried the same thing and were rebuffed by the leaders for "liability issues." Same problem with technical and trade schools. The teachers and students are excited, but the administration says no. :(

I am a first year cadet at the maritime academy. It is a great school with a great program. It offers a 4 year business degree through ferris state university, 3 semesters at sea on commercial vessels, and boasts 100% employment upon graduating.

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