Tuesday, October 25, 2005


State eyes shipwrecks as tourism draw


Big News Network
October 23, 2005

'Trailway' maps would pinpoint Lake Erie's historic sunken vessels
KELLEYS ISLAND - It's an ideal day for a sightseeing trip on Lake Erie - the sky is a sparkling clear blue and the water is calm - but Steve Galbreth and Constance Livchak aren't watching birds or checking out the lush island coastline from their 25-foot boat.

Instead, the state researchers have put sheets of black fabric over the craft's cabin windows, trying to block the sun so they can get a clearer view of two orange-tinted computer screens.
As they peer at the monitors in the darkened cabin, a seemingly endless stream of wiggly gray lines suddenly parts, and an item shaped like a cigar materializes in front of them.

They've reached the F.H. Prince, a 230-foot freighter converted to a sand dredge that caught fire in 1911 off the east end of Kelleys Island and sunk. It rests in three to 18 feet of water.

"That's the wreck, coming up on the starboard side," said Mr. Galbreth, a research vessel operator for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Geological Survey.

"This is a real popular one to dive on because it's in such shallow water."

Ms. Livchak, supervisor of the Division of Geological Survey, says the geological survey division is using its side-scan sonar equipment to learn more about the hundreds of shipwrecks at the bottom of Ohio's Lake Erie waters.

The state hopes, in turn, to promote interest in the wrecks among divers and history buffs by making the information it gleans from the sunken ships more readily available.

ODNR officials tried to do that by establishing a shipwreck preserve including the Prince and other sunken vessels near Kelleys Island.

But opposition from island property owners, who feared restrictions on their land-use rights, killed the proposal two years ago.

So state officials, lake historians, and underwater archeologists are taking another tack. They hope to designate an area east of Kelleys Island and three other Lake Erie zones as Ohio's first "underwater trailways" - virtual routes mapped in brochures and Web pages that would guide divers to historic submerged structures.

Other routes would be mapped between Vermilion and Lorain, off Cleveland, and off Fairport Harbor in Lake County.

ODNR has applied for a three-year $220,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to help fund the first phase of the trailways plan. The state will chip in $63,000 if the grant application is successful, Ms. Livchak said.

"The trailways idea is to promote Lake Erie, hopefully without making people uncomfortable," she said.

"It's not a boundary, where there's a box. A trailway is more a guide to go from one shipwreck to the next."

Dave Kelch, an associate professor and district specialist with Ohio State University's Sea Grant Extension program, is the lead planner on the project, which includes the Great Lakes Historical Society in Vermilion, Ohio.

If NOAA approves the grant application, Mr. Kelch plans to publish a 16 to 20-page, four-color brochure with information about shipwrecks in all four zones, including photographs, historical information, and global-positioning satellite coordinates that divers can use to locate the sites.
He also envisions a Web site where "you'll be able to go on a virtual dive trip through these wrecks."

He added: "For every person that likes to put on scuba gear and go see these wrecks, there are 100 people who have no desire to do that, but they're interested in learning about them."

Ohio's plans for underwater trails are modeled after a 4-year-old program in Wisconsin that features a Web site, www.maritimetrails.org, with information on dozens of shipwrecks in Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. The site includes video footage taken during dives of some of the wrecks.

The Wisconsin program also features "maritime trail" signs posted along shoreline locations near some of the wrecks.

Keith Meverden, state underwater archeologist for Wisconsin, said the program is popular with divers, historians, and genealogy buffs. "There's a lot of support and a lot of interest in the maritime history of the Great Lakes," he said.

Lake Erie has at least 1,500 shipwrecks, with about 600 of those in Ohio waters, according to Chris Gillchrist, executive director of the Great Lakes Historical Society.

Many of those date to Lake Erie's shipping heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The expense and time it takes to document the location of a shipwreck and catalogue its remains make a comprehensive database practically impossible, Mr. Gillchrist said.

"What we're striving for is a representation of the diversity of boats ... so that as people go through these trails they understand that passenger boats and other work boats were subject to the same forces of nature and struggled with what is considered one of the most dangerous Great Lakes," he said.

Much of the shipwreck exploration and documentation in the state's Lake Erie waters is being done by ODNR's Division of Geological Survey and the Maritime Archeological Survey Team, a nonprofit corporation associated with the Great Lakes Historical Society.

The survey team this summer used a $10,000 grant from ODNR to place mooring buoys above six shipwrecks off the Lake Erie coast between Avon and Fairport Harbor. It was the first time such marking devices have been used in Ohio waters to alert boaters to the presence of shipwrecks.

"The purpose behind buoying the wrecks is to preserve them from anchor damage and incidental damage," said Georgann Wachter, a MAST member who has co-written two books on shipwrecks.

Mr. Meverden said Wisconsin began installing mooring buoys on wrecks in 1996 and now has 19 sites permanently marked. "That's been very popular too," he said. "Because not only does it make it easy to locate the wrecks, but it makes a safer anchor point for the dive boats."


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