New: Door County towers, National Marine Sanctuary, Kohler Art Preserve

What’s old seems new, especially when we’re able to adjust our perspective. On my mind are these examples.

The fight to save Sturgeon Bay’s historic steel bridge from demolition was fervent when the structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008, and we have a new way to easily admire this once-endangered, now-restored passageway.

Also known as Michigan Street Bridge, it is special because of the bascule design (a reference to the mechanics of raising and lowering, for boats to pass underneath). No other bascule bridge remains in Wisconsin, and this one was the lone vehicular link to northern Door County when completed 90 years ago.

An annual Steel Bridge Songfest raises money and awareness to preserve and promote the framework, with pop rocker Jackson Browne among the repeat star performers. (The 2021 event was virtual.)

We can appreciate the bridge while driving across it or walking, but a new observation tower adds fresh, panoramic views. The 10-story Door County Maritime Museum Lighthouse Tower shows off other stunning waterfront too, and no building in Door County is taller.

The tower is the newest addition to Door County Maritime Museum in Sturgeon Bay, and access is a part of museum admission ($12, less for children, senior citizens, military and museum members).

An elevator whisks visitors to the tower’s top, after the showing of a short video. Under development for each floor are interactive exhibits about local maritime work and history. That includes a second-floor explanation of the area’s 275-some shipwrecks – well preserved because they rest in cold freshwater. (Salt water is more damaging to sunken debris.)

We are about to become more well-known for our shipwrecks because 962 square miles of Lake Michigan this summer was designated the Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary, to protect 36 historically significant shipwrecks (roughly between Two Rivers and Port Washington).

The Wisconsin Historical Society’s underwater archeologists continue to research and document shipwrecks in Lake Michigan. Many suspected shipwrecks remain undiscovered, for now.

“As the state agency that preserves and shares our state’s history, this sanctuary will be an important way to help teach visitors about the maritime history of our state, including the shipwrecks off of the coast,” says Christian Overland, the society’s CEO.

“With only 14 current national marine sanctuaries, this designation will help build on the importance of preserving Wisconsin’s maritime legacy.”

Almost all the other national marine sanctuaries are in an ocean. That includes the Florida Keys and California’s Monterey Bay.

Farther north in Door County, the rebuilt Eagle Tower in Peninsula State Park, near Fish Creek, takes us 230 feet above ground. The old tower was closed in 2015 because of safety concerns, then dismantled.

Walk 100 steps up to the top or follow the zigzag and gentle slope of an 850-foot-long, wooden ramp that is wide enough for wheelchairs and strollers. Wish I would have brought binoculars to study a bald eagle perched on a tree branch – about all my naked eyes could see was that white head.

Art environments immerse us into the life, dreams, fears and philosophies of the people who create these often-obsessive works. A new, $40 million museum on 38 acres near Sheboygan is devoted to such endeavors from as far away as India, and Wisconsin is well represented too.

The Art Preserve, a satellite campus for John Michael Kohler Art Center (three miles away), is the world’s first museum devoted to artist-built environments. Most of the works were created by people with little or no art training.

Much of this eclectic assortment of artwork was simply kept in storage until now. Art Preserve allows more to be shown: Around 20,000 objects will be rotated in and out of dark storage.

Sam Gappmayer, director, describes the Art Preserve as “open museum storage that the public can visit for free.”

In Wisconsin are several examples of art environments created by people with no formal art training. For starters:

Fred Smith, a retired lumberjack, used concrete and discarded materials to create 230-some sculptures that turned into Wisconsin Concrete Park near Phillips.

The Rev. Matthias Wernerus in the 1930s used shells, marbles, baubles and more to create Dickeyville Grotto, shrines and other structures on the grounds and gardens of Holy Ghost Church in Dickeyville.

Want more? Kohler Foundation – a global leader in identifying, preserving and finding long-term stewards for art environments – lists its projects at