Editor’s note: Brian Kelsey served as host of the Sept. 14 listening session on the fate of Eagle Tower, and provided the following comments at the meeting.
I am here today as a representative of the Fish Creek Civic Association. I also come with a perspective brought to me by my tenure on both the Governor’s Council on Tourism as well as the Wisconsin Arts Board. Most importantly, I speak today as a private citizen who has a deep love of Peninsula State Park and what it has brought me from my childhood to my adulthood.
In 1914 a fire tower was built at the location of the current tower. In 1932 that tower was rebuilt as an observation tower. An observation tower…for the public to access to take in the incredible views and geography of Door County. At that time this stood as one of the only man-built tourism-based attractions. Remember, our lighthouses may be older but their purpose was navigational and not tourism-based.
As the head of an organization that is celebrating its 80th season, I look back to the great vision and craftsmanship of the 208 men of the Civilian Conservation Corps Camp who completed such projects as hiking trails, stone walls, planting trees, etc. They and their leaders saw the great potential of tourism and were a large part of making Peninsula State Park the most complete park in the state.
Peninsula State Park and Devil’s Lake are often called the “crown jewels” of the Wisconsin State Park System…a system which includes 46 state parks, 14 state trails, four recreational areas and two national scenic trails. Eight state forests are funded separately but included as part of the state park system. These crown jewels provide a substantial amount of revenue for the state park system and subsidizes other state parks which do not have adequate user fee funding to remain viable.
As a crown jewel, what we do, or allow to happen or not happen, will have a great impact far beyond our county. As it stands, we need to be finding ways of bringing more user fee revenue into the park system so that we may continue to operate at a level we not only desire, but expect. We all know the saying, “You gotta spend money to make money.” We must spend money in our park system to continue to pay not only for our park and the other four parks in the county, but to those lesser known and frequented parks that other communities so greatly rely upon for public lands.
Tourism in Fish Creek, Door County and Wisconsin on the whole is based on the unique symbiotic relationship of nature, art, great amenities such as the variety of lodging, dining and shopping available. It is not a question to me that the businesses directly bordering the park benefit greatly from those individuals who spend time in the park. Whether that be for a week, a weekend or simply an hour. The tower has been a substantial draw for visitors and locals alike and the reason many individuals purchase short-term park passes is to climb Eagle Tower and to take in its magnificent vista. Any time of year, this view is stunning. But I am certain when folks finish taking in their climb of the tower they visit a shop, restaurant, coffee shop, what have you, to relax and share their experience.
To me, the question isn’t should we restore/rebuild the tower, it is how we get it done. We must restore/rebuild the tower as a symbol to the rest of the state the resilience of the people of Door County (full-time and part-time). I know this is challenging but it is my great hope that we can approach this task without pointing blame. There is no point looking backwards. We must look to the future as those individuals did in 1932 when they rebuilt this tower. Let us stand with them in strong recognition of the importance of such features to our tourism product that they helped to develop more than 83 years ago. Let this be a symbol of the quality of life we so strongly hold on to and why we all call this place home. This is not a Fish Creek issue, this is a Door County and Wisconsin issue. We are Wisconsinites. We are not afraid of a challenge, quite the opposite, we rise to the challenge as I believe a restored/new tower will rise on Eagle Bluff for future generations to climb and with which to be enamored.
There is a quote that is a perfect way to close this up and it goes: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
I have loved every moment, view and feeling standing on the top of Eagle Tower has given me. I hope this shoulder remains a solid platform to inspire individuals in the future.