STATEMENT OF DR. STEVE BELKO, MANAGER OF THE MICHIGAN LIGHTHOUSE PROJECT, BEFORE THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE, CONCERNING S. 1346, TO DIRECT THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR TO CONDUCT A STUDY OF MARITIME SITES IN THE STATE OF MICHIGAN.
JULY 28, 2005
Mr. Chairman and fellow subcommittee members, I want to thank you for the opportunity to present the position of Michigan's lighthouse interests, both governmental and nonprofit, regarding S. 1346, entitled the "Michigan Lighthouse and Maritime Heritage Act," a bill to direct the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a study of maritime sites in the state of Michigan.
I must emphasize from the very start of my testimony, that Sen. Stabenow's bill is the most important piece of legislation to date aiding and facilitating the preservation of Michigan's rich maritime heritage and providing an unparalleled opportunity for continued economic growth in our state. As an expert both on lighthouse preservation efforts and on comprehensive heritage studies, such as proposed under S. 1346, I cannot express enough how critical this bill is to the people of our state, to our maritime heritage, and to our local economies.
It is no secret that the state of Michigan -- the Great Lakes state -- is one of this nation's premier maritime destinations, with a rich maritime heritage and culture stretching back long before European colonization and settlement. From Native American fishermen and French fur traders, to Great Lakes shipping supporting the great copper, iron ore, and lumber legacy of Michigan, to pristine and rugged shorelines, the people of Michigan have indeed a maritime heritage worthy of treasuring and exhibiting for all to enjoy. The state contains twelve maritime-related national landmarks, two extensive national lakeshores, and the only fresh water national maritime sanctuary. Our state's history -- its settlement, its development, its economy, and its culture -- cannot be told without emphasizing first and foremost our extensive maritime legacy.
It is also no secret that the cornerstone of Michigan's maritime heritage are the numerous historic lighthouses stretched across our great state. The state of Michigan has over 120 historic lighthouses -- more than any other state. Many reside along the extensive 3,200 miles of Michigan’s shoreline; some stand miles offshore on remote islands or isolated shoals. All have historical and architectural significance and are either listed or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. These architectural wonders once served as crucial beacons to Great Lakes shipping, but now they have yielded to the advance of technology. The era of global positioning has made the Fresnel lens antiquated to all but recreational boaters and lighthouse enthusiasts. Simple metal poles supporting computerized navigation instruments have replaced the brick and steel towers with their adjacent keeper’s dwellings and ancillary outbuildings.
Yet these historic structures still attest to the rich maritime history of the state. Their very presence still commands awe from those who catch sight of them and lighthouse lore never fails to capture the attention of all who pass their way. Michigan’s lighthouses, many in a state of disrepair and in danger of disintegrating, stand witness to the great age of the lighthouse keepers and their isolated lives struggling to keep the shipping lanes of the Great Lakes safe. Dedicated groups endeavoring to save this integral part of the state’s history have restored some of Michigan’s lighthouses. Several of these lighthouses now house museums devoted to lighthouse history and maritime culture, and are open to the public for their pleasure and education. Many more lighthouses, however, are in dire need of restoration. Without quality stewards to preserve, maintain, and exhibit these ailing structures, they will certainly vanish from the landscape, only to exist in our collective memory, in old photographs, or in dusty log books.
Michigan’s lighthouses have become the state’s most identifiable icon, gracing tourism guides, welcome centers, city logos, and countless marquees, billboards, business publications, and storefronts. Travel Michigan, the state's "tourism bureau," has as its logo, a lighthouse, and the State of Michigan's official website likewise sports a lighthouse, the beautifully restored Big Sable Point Light Station residing along the blue waters of Lake Michigan. Rescuing these historic structures and maintaining them for public enjoyment has obviously emerged as one of Michigan’s most popular endeavors.
S. 1346 provides the people of Michigan with a comprehensive plan for rescuing and restoring our lighthouses and other maritime structures and landscapes. The study will assess the needs and outline the costs of preserving our historic lighthouses and maritime resources; it will identify funding sources critical to a successful campaign for restoring and exhibiting our maritime history; and, it will provide the necessary and much-needed direction for implementing preservation projects, for establishing methods of interpreting our rich maritime heritage, and for laying out a long-term strategy for future restoration efforts. And I must add, that this bill will not only benefit Michigan and the Great Lakes region, it will also provide a model for other states to follow as they, too, preserve their own heritage and historical resources.
As important, this study will generate a centralized and complete inventory of our state's maritime resources, by bringing together the knowledge of local, regional, state, and national entities interested in saving Michigan's maritime resources. The bill will further establish and facilitate healthy partnerships among all levels of government and throughout all the communities lying along our shoreline, and combine their talents and skills in creating a network of organizations and individuals dedicated to preserving and exhibiting Michigan's abundant maritime resources. The creation of the Michigan Maritime Heritage Destination Network will undoubtedly link all maritime interests and resources in our state into a working cooperative, providing shared information and technical expertise, mapping out future preservation efforts, and guaranteeing the successful exhibition of Michigan's lighthouses and maritime heritage for generations to come.
Passage of S. 1346 is not only imperative for preserving our state's maritime heritage, it is equally critical for boosting the future economic potential of our state. Tourism is the second largest industry in Michigan, and with our largest industry (the automotive industry) currently facing hard times, we must invest in the state's ability to attract substantial numbers of tourists. Our maritime heritage can indeed draw great numbers of tourists, and our maritime heritage and resources are indeed the foundation for increasing our tourism base. As such, S. 1346 will help guide the state of Michigan in implementing a strong and effective plan of action for expanding and capitalizing on the tourist-oriented sector of our state's economy. Preservation of the state's lighthouses and other maritime structures and resources will bring much-needed dollars into local communities, directly affecting other segments of the local economies, from restaurants, hotels, and gas stations, to retail shops and local attractions. In short, this bill is imperative for the economic growth and vitality of the local communities directly affected by this legislation, and it will yield significant economic dividends for the state of Michigan and for the Great Lakes region in general.
In closing, the lighthouse and maritime interests within the state of Michigan vigorously support passage of S. 1346, providing the people of Michigan and of the Great Lakes overall with a comprehensive plan for emphasizing the importance of the maritime heritage of the region and for augmenting the economic development of the local communities residing along the extensive Great Lakes shoreline.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my remarks. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of your committee may have.