After months of deciding what to do about the disrepair at Eagle Tower, state park officials and representatives of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have decided to take the tower down.
“Nothing has been finalized yet. What we do know is that it will most likely be taken down this fall,” said Erin Brown, assistant superintendent at Peninsula State Park. “The state of disrepair is just too much to be able to repair it at this point and so for safety reasons, our best option is really to tear it down.”
Brown shared the news at the annual meeting of the Friends of Peninsula State Park, a nonprofit organization that provides volunteer and financial support for the park’s programs and facilities.
The tower was closed on May 20 after an engineer’s inspection citing several structural deficiencies. The report cited cracks in the wood throughout the structure, loose tie rod X-bracing between columns that allowed excessive movement, and supports that are split down the middle and rotted.
Concerning rebuilding the tower, someone in attendance at the Friends meeting called out to Brown, “Is there funding for it?”
Brown responded that there is no funding for it at this point.
Governor Scott Walker furthered this lack of funding in his 2015-17 state budget that removed state tax dollars from state park funds. His goal is to encourage the state parks to become self-sustaining by increasing revenue through user fees.
While rebuilding the tower is still several steps ahead when considering cost, tearing down a 75-foot tower comes with a price tag as well.
“We’re looking right now at a couple different cost estimates,” said Peninsula State Park Superintendent Kelli Bruns.
Missy VanLanduyt, capital development coordinator for the DNR, was in Door County visiting several of the state parks including Peninsula this week. VanLanduyt will determine where the funding for razing the tower will come from. A good candidate is the emergency fund in the capital development budget, set aside for unforeseen problems that come up at the state parks.
Moving forward, park officials still don’t know what is going to take the tower’s place on Eagle Bluff.
“We do have the intent of providing some other scenic opportunity in that general location but we don’t know exactly what that is going to look like,” said Brown.
A murmur of private donations to rebuild the tower circulated around the room, but the Friends group remains focused on their current capital development project of expanding the Nature Center in the park.
Yet in the future, any hopes in reconstructing the tower may fall on the Friends group and other private donations.
The Friends have been involved in filling many of the park’s financial gaps, from paying seasonal employees to renovating the Nature Center. At the annual meeting members of the Friends group stated they have gotten calls about large sum donations to rebuild the tower.
“The Friends can always provide financial assistance to Peninsula State Park,” said Bruns. “They work with the park supervisor and they look at the projects in the park and they allocate funds to projects that we support at the property level.”
But before they begin raising funds, should the group choose to do so, Bruns believes they will wait for a cost estimate.
“If there is the ability to rebuild a structure and there is not state funding available, I’m sure the Friends would be happy to be that avenue and raise funds for the tower,” said Bruns. “It’s a little premature for them to start raising funds for something when we don’t know what it’s going to cost.”
Bruns and the DNR need to assess the site location for possible improvements before building a new tower and determine accessibility issues such as requirements with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). “Until you have all those factors figured out, it’s kind of hard to start accepting money for those projects,” said Bruns. “When we do, that opens up the door for private donations.”