Monday, November 01, 2004


Center will preserve Great Lakes' treasures

Associated Press

Museum will highlight the area's maritime heritage and shipwrecks, double as a research site

ALPENA - Ground has been broken for a visitors center at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve.

The 20,000-square-foot facility will preserve and highlight the maritime heritage of the Great Lakes and the shipwrecks of Lake Huron's Thunder Bay, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

It will feature a "discovery center" with more than 8,000 square feet of exhibits on the Great Lakes, shipwrecks, archaeology and maritime history.

The center also will have an auditorium for showing films and live video feeds from Thunder Bay shipwrecks, an archaeological conservation laboratory and an education resource room, the federal agency said.

The center is expected to draw 70,000 visitors a year.

"The new center will be a national destination that will allow people of all ages to share in the discovery, exploration and preservation of the Great Lakes' historic shipwrecks and rich maritime past," sanctuary manager Jefferson Gray said in a news release.

"In addition, the laboratories, archives, dockage for research vessels and a field station for visiting scientists will make the center a regional research facility, not just for historians and archaeologists, but for other scientists working to ensure the health of the Great Lakes," he said.

The center is located in a former paper mill undergoing renovations with an initial investment of $2.5 million from the NOAA. The agency signed a 20-year lease with the building's owner in September.

The 448-square-mile Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve was established in 2000 to protect an estimated 200 historically significant shipwrecks ranging from 19th-century wooden side-wheelers to 20th-century steel-hulled steamers. It is managed by the federal agency and Michigan.

Thunder Bay is one of 13 national marine sanctuaries that encompass more than 150,000 square miles of ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources.

The NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program, which also includes one coral reef ecosystem reserve, seeks to increase public awareness of America's maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration and educational programs.

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