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Saint Helena Island

Stephen D. Wise
Boy Scout Troop 4
110 Crest
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
tel: (313) 994-5865
fax: (313) 5594-2268
No Internet Link Currently Available


Saint Helena is a 240-acre island that lies two miles off the south coast of Michigan's Upper Peninsula and has been uninhabited since the early 1930's. Once the site of a busy nineteenth-century fishing community and home to a still-functioning lighthouse, the island had become something of a community eyesore until recently.

Suffering years of abandonment, the island had become a garbage dump for unthinking individuals. The island's beaches were littered with debris, and the lighthouse structure had all but been destroyed. Campers had started two bonfires on the upstairs wooden floor of the lighthouse, causing significant damage, and vandals had removed doors, shutters and windows from various structures. More than 1,400 bricks had been pried from the oil house and hauled away.

"The Coast Guard had already declared all St. Helena light station buildings except the light tower attractive nuisances and was thinking of razing all but the tower," says Dick Moehl, president of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association (GLLKA). All that changed when the GLLKA teamed up with local Boy Scout Troop 4 to reverse the island's fortunes.

Six years and thousands of hours of labor later, the island has been restored to its formerly pristine condition, osprey platforms and bat houses have been constructed and censuses of the island's birds and mammals have been conducted to help the Michigan Department of Natural Resources monitor the island's environmental health.

In working on this project, not only has a historic site been saved while preserving habitat for osprey, heron, bats and numerous other wildlife, but the Boy Scouts have participated in demonstrating a conservation ethic: young people are preserving and caring for something that is more than one hundred years old, and they are seeing how doing so can energize a community. They've even discovered that environmental preservation is good for the economy.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is developing an Island Explorer Waterways network for recreational boaters. Communities participating in this network will benefit from the tourism dollars such an enterprise will generate. St. Helena Island, with its light station, heron rookery, and rich historical significance, has been suggested as an ideal destination for inclusion in this network.

Jack Edwards, Boy Scout Troop 4's troop leader, when describing the project often encounters disbelief from people who are convinced that the work being performed on St. Helena Island couldn't possibly be done by boys. "On the contrary: the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association had a lighthouse and needed free labor," says Edwards. "The Scouts had no lighthouse, but many willing hands. Together the Scouts and GLLKA have demonstrated how two groups, with quite different charters, can work together to accomplish something in which everyone can take pride."

Program Highlights

Structural Revitalization

  • More than 900 cubic yards of debris were removed from the site, which was then beautified by planting ornamental flowers and landscaping with crushed limestone. Marine debris has been catalogued to examine debris patterns on the island.
  • Construction of a visitors' center has begun. The center will offer a history of the lighthouse, the island, and its flora and fauna.
  • Some aspects of the project, such as re-roofing the keeper's dwelling and laying bricks to restore the double-walled oil house, required experienced craftsmen. Other aspects, such as site cleanups, construction of the bat houses, construction of the osprey platforms and the construction of the visitor's center were accomplished with Scout and volunteer labor.
  • Scout labor was used as an in-kind donation to provide the matching funds required by the Bicentennial Lighthouse Fund.
Environmental Initiatives

  • Osprey platforms, constructed according to Michigan Department of Natural Resource plans, have been installed to provide alternative habitat for these large fish-eating birds that were evicted when the windows and roof were re-installed on the light tower.
  • Bat houses have been placed on the keeper's dwelling and nearby trees to provide homes for bats displaced by the installation of windows and doors.
  • The light station was landscaped with indigenous limestone and plants to avoid the use of herbicides in order to protect the herons that come to St. Helena Island each spring to bear and raise their young.
  • Small mammal and bird censuses have been conducted. As a result of the bird census, a Birds of St. Helena Indentification Guide was prepared for island visitors. A total of sixty-four species of birds has been identified on the island including warblers, loons and other water birds, herons, ospreys and eagles.
  • More than 299 species of plants have been catalogued on the island.
  • Vital Statistics

    *Program Management/Partnerships: The Saint Helena Island program is managed by the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association (GLLKA) with the majority of labor provided by Boy Scout Troop 4. GLLKA and the Troop work with the School of Natural Resources at the University of Michigan, the Museum of Natural History, Bat Conservation International, and local residents.

    *Budget: Initial funding for the project was obtained from private donations of money and materials by GLLKA members and residents of neighboring communities. Grants, donations and in-kind gifts to the project have exceeded $100,000.

    *Community Served: Boy Scout Troop 4 and the local community.

    *Measures of Success:

  • Volunteers have contributed more than 4,000 hours worth of labor to the project.
  • Each member of Boy Scout Troop 4 earned an Environmental Science and American Heritage Merit Badge working on the project.
  • Four members of Boy Scout Troop 4 won Eagle Scout Badges based on their work on the project.
  • The program has received numerous other awards, including top honors from Keep Michigan Beautiful, and the Take Pride in America National Awards Program.
  • Success stories designed by Mark Nowak

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