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Grassy Island Range Lights on the move!

photo courtesy of Chris Rand

They look like lighthouses, but they’re actually called range lights, used to point the way for ship navigators to enter a harbor or other narrow pathway. And now these two two historic Grassy Island Range Lights in Green Bay are being saved from sinking into the shifting ground, thanks to one of the first grants awarded from the David L and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund.

We’ve put together a video of photos taken last week as the range lights were being moved to firmer ground at the Green Bay Yachting Club parking lot so that the ground foundation can be repaired.

Below is a report from our Community Engagement Manager Martha Ahrendt:

By Martha Ahrendt, Community Engagement Manager

Grassy Island Range Lights, Inc., celebrated a groundbreaking several weeks ago and is preparing for the rebuilding and restoration of the current site of the two historic Grassy Island Range Lighthouses, situated at the southern end of Green Bay, near the mouth of the Fox River.

Originally these structures, built in 1872, were located on Grassy Island, about a mile and a half from the mouth of the Fox River, along with a light keeper’s house, a boathouse and pier, and other structures.  When coming into harbor from up to 12 miles away in the bay, boat captains would position their vessels so that one light appeared above the other, indicating the centerline of the Green Bay channel.

David Nelson (left) by the range lights

These lights continued to be used until 1966, when they were scheduled to be destroyed because of dredging needed to widen the channel. At that time, members of the Green Bay Yacht Club rescued the lights and moved them to the yacht club grounds. Due to the efforts of a small group of dedicated lighthouse keepers, the lights were permanently placed at their waterfront location in 1992 and have been refurbished and restored to their current state. The lights are on the National Register of Historic Places and Wisconsin’s State Register of Historic Places.

Unfortunately, the ground the Range Lights stand on has been slowly sinking and shifting, potentially leading to their destruction.  The David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund provided a $2.62 million grant for the project. Combined with earlier funding from David and Rita Nelson as well as other donors, the project will ensure the stability of the lighthouses for generations to come. Corrugated sheet pile will be installed around the perimeter, with fill added to increase the footprint area of the lighthouses. A new museum building and landscaping will create a memorial park to honor of Dave and Rita Nelson.

As of last week, both lighthouses have been moved to the Green Bay Yachting Club parking lot and site reparation has begun. The project is expected to be completed in 2019.


Read more about David Nelson’s passion for the Grassy Island Range Lights here.

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