Volunteers work to preserve idyllic Sleeping Bear park
Yet Bryd has done all that and more as one of about 30 work-project volunteers with the group dedicated to preserving the historic structures and cultural landscapes of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
The group is gearing up for another summer of projects, from removing invasive black locust trees on old farmsteads to repairing the porch on the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Blossom Cottage on North Manitou. And it’s looking for more volunteers.
“People come and go with different interests and different time availability,” said David Watt, project committee chairman. “We try to look at the park agenda, what we have time to work on, what they don’t have time to work on, what’s falling apart, and what interests our volunteers.”
Recruits range from summer residents to retired seniors to those, like Byrd, who carve out a few hours around their full-time work schedules. Others are contractors who lend a hand in their spare time. Together they work with park officials to stabilize, rehabilitate or restore some of the park’s 366 historic structures and cultural landscape features, including barns, farms, corncribs, schoolhouses, life-saving stations, meadows, inns and a lighthouse.
Byrd is a licensed builder who now works in the oil and gas industry. But volunteers don’t need professional experience to help, Watt said. A range of tasks almost always needs doing, from straightforward scraping and painting or hammering nails, to jacking up a building or replacing sills. All that’s required is a love of history and an interest in preserving structures with historic accuracy, using salvageable materials whenever possible.
This summer volunteers will continue work on the 1880 Treat farmhouse and outbuildings south of Empire and on the exhibit at the 1918 Charles and Hattie Olsen House, which serves as the Preserve group’s office and an interpretive center. They’ll also tackle a variety of smaller projects in the Port Oneida Rural Historic District.
The 3,400-acre district, representative of 19th-and early 20th-century farms in the Midwest, is one of the largest intact agricultural districts in the nationwide National Park system and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Volunteers also will continue work on the Katie Shepherd Hotel called The Beeches. Built in 1895 as part of North Manitou’s Cottage Row, the bluff-top building served as a dining hall and inn through the 1930s. Now the goal is to restore it to usefulness, perhaps even as alternative lodging for visitors to the uninhabited island.
This will be the third year the group has worked on North Manitou, which had been a “dream” of members for years, said Watt, a retired high school physics teacher with an interest in woodworking. Volunteers arrive on the island by public ferry or park boat and live in tents or the ranger house, complete with kitchen and running water. They spend their free time swimming, hiking, socializing and reveling in the island’s quiet and natural beauty.
“There’s certain people, the thought of being away from searching the Internet, it’s too much,” Watt said. “There’s another group that says, ‘That’s cool,’ especially when they’re standing looking over Lake Michigan and looking east over Leland.”
Byrd, of Traverse City, is among the latter. Working amid some of the park’s most idyllic landscapes “is a way for me to get away from the hustle and bustle of my life,” she said. “It allows me to rest.”
Camaraderie and adventure is the draw for other volunteers, like Watt.
“We’re opening up the buildings for the first time in years. We see things people never see, and it’s fun imagining history,” Watt said. “There’s always a discovery. Sometimes it’s rotten wood, sometimes it’s something else, like the surprisingly ornamental hinges found on the hotel doors.
Information from: Traverse City Record-Eagle, http://www.record-eagle.com
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