In a move fitting for the start-and-stop journey to rebuild Eagle Tower, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources announced Wednesday that the planned April 30 opening of the tower will be delayed for an unspecified length of time.
That means folks will have to wait a little longer to climb to the top and take in one of Door County’s most awe-inspiring views. But after a six-year wait, what’s a few more weeks?
“First we wondered if we were going to be able to raise the last $150,000 to reach our goal,” said Friends of Peninsula State Park (FOPSP) business manager Steve Strucely. “Then there were a couple years of delay. You start to question if this thing is really ever going to happen. So for me, to get to this day, it’s a tremendous sense of accomplishment for this organization and the park.”
Whenever it does open, the new tower won’t look like the old one, which was built in 1932 and closed in May of 2015 after an engineer’s report determined it was unsafe and must come down. It will stand 60 feet tall – about 15 feet shorter than the original – and it includes an 850-foot ramp that winds its way through the tree canopy and up to the top platform. For the first time, individuals in wheelchairs and those with other mobility issues will be able to make their way to the top of the tower to take in the view.
“Obviously we’re very excited to finally share this with the public, and have them enjoy the canopy walk in the treetops,” Strucely said. The Friends group raised $750,000 for tower reconstruction. “It’s been a five-year process to get here, starting with the demolition of the tower in 2016, then raising funding.”
Though costs for reconstruction have ballooned far past early estimates, Strucely said the $750,000 raised early on by the Friends organization demonstrated a high level of public support for rebuilding the tower.
“I don’t know that the state would have just done this on its own,” he said.
When the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) deconstructed the 84-year-old tower in 2016, the department estimated it would cost $750,000 to replace it. When a final design was approved in 2018, the budget was $2.07 million, and when the final plan came in, the costs added up to nearly $3.4 million. By October of 2019, the Wisconsin State Building Commission approved $2.65 million in public funds for the project in addition to public donations.
Costs were driven up in part because the DNR determined that a new tower must meet the accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, so a ramp was added to the design. For Chris Holicek, who has served as president of the Friends of Peninsula State Park for 13 years, that cost will be more than worth it when new people see the view from the top for the first time.
“When it started, I think everyone wanted the tower to be replaced,” Holicek said. “It took a change with the accessibility question. As a former classroom teacher, I feel very strongly that accessibility be a part of it. Now you can go up the ramp and into the tree canopy, where you see different wildlife and see the trees and layers in a different light. Nature is for everyone and should be accessible to everyone.”
Holicek said a strong partnership with the Department of Natural Resources helped to push the project to completion.
“Both the DNR and the Friends group, when it was decided they were going to do it, it was very important that we approached it as a partnership and a team,” she said.