WMUP Co-chairs John Hanson and Debbie Chase are all smiles from the September 2012 official State designation of the West Michigan Underwater Preserve. The poster is a fundraiser showing the wrecks, geological sites, and the Hamilton Reef, a fish habitat.
The perserverance of area divers has resulted in the dedication of an Underwater Preserve in Lake Michigan.
In 1999, a group of West Michigan divers organized a group with the mission to locally sink a tug as a skin diving attraction and fish habitat. In 2001, they submitted a permit request that the MDEQ rejected. An appeal was also denied. In 2004 they changed the name to the Michigan Artificial Reef Society, organized under a 501.c.3 to request a permit. Again the permit request was denied, appealed and denied.
Not discouraged, in 2006 the divers began working with the Grand Traverse Underwater Preserve and used their organizational pattern to base their research and revision as the West Michigan Underwater Preserve, using the non-profit status of 501.c.3 to cover the Muskegon/West Shore communities.
Of critical importance was adding advisor positions for NOAA at Grand Valley State University, Fishery Biologist Tom Hamilton, and State Senator Gerald Van Woerkom to the Board of Directors. The current Board officers are Co-Chairs John Hanson and Debbie Chase, vice-chair Donna Wilson, and Treasurer Alan Lowe, plus five other members.
In 2010, the mission statement/proposal of establishing dive attractions and fish habitat was presented to several committees of the State of Michigan DNR. It took another three years, but submission went through committees and the legislature.
Thirteen years later, success!
On Sept. 13, there was: “. . . added to the Michigan Administrative Code R 299.6013 the West Michigan Great Lakes state bottomland preserve . . . containing 345 square miles, more or less.”
In terms of location, the West Michigan Preserve extends from Big Point Sable (north of Pentwater), and southerly, almost to Holland.
The Sept. 13, ruling then established the West Michigan Underwater Preserve (WMUP) as the 13th Michigan Underwater Preserve of the Michigan Underwater Preserve Council. Incorporated in 1989, the MUPC is a private, non-profit, volunteer-driven organization. Its mission includes the preservation and protection of Great Lakes shipwrecks, historical and geological site education, and eventually, placement of mooring sites to spare shipwrecks from harm.
It was no contest as to what sustained WMUP Co-chairs John Hanson of Whitehall and Debbie Chase of Walkerville, dedicated divers, in this seemingly unending quest for certification.
Hanson says, “We are pioneers in earth’s last frontier.” And the frontier that is revealed are sights that no one has seen for decades, shipwrecks, and geological formations, some thousands of years old.
Chase adds, “it is awesome, like being in a museum and seeing things for the first time that were part of history long ago. We Preserve members are like museum curators; we discover and preserve. And in Lake Michigan fresh water artifacts are better preserved than in salt water. Aiding water clarity has been the zebra mussels. That is the good side, the other, is the invasive species.”
A listing of all 13 underwater preserves is available in “A Diver’s Guide to Michigan Underwater Preserves,” (2011) published by the Michigan Underwater Preserve council (available at 1-800-970-8717 or www.michiganpreserves.org)
This 60-page guide has a listing of all 13 preserves along with absolutely necessary information including wreck name its brief history and wreck condition, depth, GPS, date sunk, diving level, and special fishing information.
While the guide does not provide a total number of wrecks (that is a movable number as wrecks are discovered and then recorded), each of the 13 preserves has a listing of at least 10 and sometimes many more. For instance, WMUP Co-chair Hanson notes that “there are 60 wrecks alone at Little Sable Point, 20 should be ‘findable.’”
But that is not all. There is ancillary information about local areas including housing, marinas, diver services, recreational possibilities, and local advertisements.
There are 12 listings for the newest addition, West Michigan Underwater Preserve (pages 52-54), starting with a brief general history of the shoreline.
Of special interest for WMUP is the Hamilton Reef, named after Board Advisor Fishery Biologist Tom Hamilton of Montague. “It is a snake-like formation of broken cement rubble just south of the Muskegon Channel in about 30 feet of water. It provides a home for interesting game fish.”
The future is just as exciting as the past for WMUP. The divers will work with the general Michigan Preserve organization on wreck locations and information, providing museums with pictures and talks, monitoring and education to prevent stealing from wrecks, encouraging safe diving techniques and education of all ages in museums, schools, churches, organizations.
The WMUP welcomes everyone to a free Shipwrecks and Technology event on Saturday Oct. 20, at the Silversides Museum in Muskegon, in conjunction with the Muskegon County Sheriff’s Department. This is an educational event for all ages, with demonstrations, activities with hands-on equipment, and a lot of experienced divers talk.
For full information on the Oct. 20 event, and all aspects of West Michigan Underwater Preserve, the website is www.shipwrecksandtechnology.org