20 YEARS OF PRESERVING OUR MARITIME HISTORY
On May 28, 1996, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Preservation Society was officially incorporated by the state of Minnesota. It was made up of people that wanted to preserve our underwater history for future generations. Inspired by Ken Merryman, who had seen firsthand how some wrecks had deteriorated over time. Whether they had been stripped for souvenirs or damaged by careless divers. This need was brought into sharp focus in 1991 when the breakwater at Two Harbors MN was rebuilt. The work done by the Corps of Engineers changed the underwater environment and the S.P. Ely was in danger of collapsing. In 1994, volunteers working through the ice, stabilized the hull with rods and plates. After this accomplishment, the consensus was that an organization needed to be formed to continue the stabilization and monitoring of shipwrecks of the Great Lakes.
Through the months leading up to the incorporation, many meetings were held forming bylaws, goals and to discuss the future and growth of the new nonprofit organization. One of these goals was the restoration of the crews quarters of the America wreck off of Isle Royale. Working with the National Park Service and historical agencies, this project was carried out in September 1996. The lessons learned would prove useful in the planning and the feasibility of future projects.
Goals and projects were laid out and implemented over the years. Monitoring of wrecks was started. Annual surveys would be done to determine how to maintain or manage these sites. Several wrecks in Minnesota waters are checked for changes that may occur. The monitoring of wrecks lately has come to include the survey of zebra mussels on the whaleback steamer Thomas Wilson off of Duluth. Counting the number of mussels in a given area each year, their growth or lack of, aids marine biologists in their studies of this invasive species.
Before laws regarding the protection of shipwrecks were in place, some divers would take a part of a wreck as a souvenir or salvage. A Put-It-Back program was started for people that wanted to return artifacts to their rightful place for future divers to enjoy. Pieces would include ship machinery, a boiler and other nautical items.
Diver access and aids are a part of the GLSPS goals. Buoys are maintained and put out on popular dive sites. Steps that lead down to the water access of the Madeira dive site replace the trail through the woods. A 37 ft sailboat was sunk off Beaver Bay for a dive site. A book of drawings of the America shipwreck was published to enhance the divers experience. Diver education has always been an important part of the GLSPS. Whether it is encouraging good shipwreck diving etiquette or offering classes using underwater tools and techniques. First aid and CPR classes are offered in conjunction with area dive shops. A course on boat handling has also been offered. Public education has become a larger role.
Hosting a shipwreck/diving conference in Duluth evolved into the Dive into the Past and later the Upper Midwest Scuba and Travel Show held each year in the Twin Cities. Members also give talks to community clubs or local historical organizations about the history of the Great Lakes and local shipwrecks. 4 As the GLSPS grew, the need for a boat dedicated for use on projects became apparent. Relying on members for the use of their personal boats, restricted the planning of projects. In 2001, a 1960 30 ft steel hulled boat was donated to the organization. Countless hours were put in by many volunteers to get the boat ready for the work they hoped to accomplish. The boat was launched in August of 2006 and fully available for the 2007 season.
The GLSPS has nominated and worked to have several shipwrecks in Minnesota and Wisconsin waters placed on the National Register of Historical Places. This is one further way of protecting them from individuals who do not see the historical significance of them. The biggest ongoing and annual event, is the work weekend on the SS Meteor Museum Ship, located on Barker’s Island. Working with the Superior Public Museums and other organizations, dozens of volunteers spend a weekend getting this one-of-a-kind freighter ready for the tourist season. It might not be underwater, but it is a vital part of our history.
20 years ago, Ken Merryman’s vision on saving and preserving our past, has evolved into an organization that has brought together people from all walks of life, who share a passion to preserve, educate and remember, our invaluable Great Lakes history.
GLSPS Past President
Board of Director