The odds of anyone climbing to the top of a new Eagle Tower anytime soon are getting slimmer.
A second round of bids for the project came in $1 million over budget, leaving the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) scrambling to find additional funds to make up the gap.
When the DNR deconstructed the 84-year-old tower in 2016, it estimated it would cost $750,000 to replace it. When a final design was approved in 2018, the budget was $2.07 million, but when the first round of bids came in in April, the lowest bid was $3.6 million. The DNR sent the project back out to bid in hopes that changing materials and some design elements would bring costs within budget.
The latest bids included changes to the ramp structure that the DNR said is required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The 850-foot ramp was originally designed to meander through the tree canopy and was to be made of a composite material that’s more durable than wood. The new design would use wood and straighten the ramp to save time and materials, but the changes were not nearly enough to bring costs back in line.
The new tower would be about 16 feet shorter than the original tower that was closed in 2015. The DNR cited safety concerns in its decision to close the tower due to structural deterioration of the wood.
“There is still potential to start this fall,” said Missy VanLanduyt, recreation partnership section chief for the DNR. She said the department is working with the Wisconsin Department of Administration to find options for grants, fundraising and other options.
VanLanduyt said that the struggles to fund and replace Eagle Tower have no bearing on decisions regarding Potawatomi Tower, the 75-foot tower in Potawatomi State Park that the DNR announced it would dismantle in 2018.
The DNR cited similar reasons for closing that tower, but the Sturgeon Bay Historical Society has commissioned nationally respected wood experts who reported that Potawatomi Tower can be repaired for about $250,000. A third study is being done to break the tie.
When the DNR closed Eagle Tower it ignited an outpouring of support for the structure that attracted tens of thousands of visitors every year to take in the views from atop Eagle Bluff. Friends of Peninsula State Park launched a fundraising campaign that brought in $750,000 to help replace the tower, and the state allocated $1.25 million to fund the rest.