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Gov. Evers Announces NOAA Designation For Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary Moves Forward

Designation Would Protect Lake Michigan Shipwrecks

An image of the shipwrecked Rouse Simmons that was lost with all hands on deck in 1912. Bound for Chicago with a hold full of Christmas Trees, the Rouse Simmons was lost with all hands in a November gale in 1912. Photo credit: Wisconsin Historical Society

MADISON, Wis. – Gov. Tony Evers today announced that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will publish the final rule for the designation of the Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary on June 23, 2021. The designation will take effect following a review by the governor and Congress over a 45-day period of continuous session of Congress.

The proposed sanctuary includes a 962-square-mile area of Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan from Kewaunee County south to Ozaukee County that will protect 36 historically significant shipwrecks and related maritime heritage resources, 21 of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The State of Wisconsin and NOAA will co-manage the sanctuary.

Well-preserved by Lake Michigan’s cold, fresh water, several of the known shipwrecks are essentially intact and look much like they did when they sank. The area also includes Wisconsin’s two oldest known shipwrecks, with the oldest dating back to 1833. Research suggests that up to 60 additional shipwrecks could be discovered in the sanctuary.

“The shipwrecks that scatter Lake Michigan help tell the story of Wisconsin. They are a reminder of our enduring relationship between the people of Wisconsin and the Great Lakes,” said DNR Secretary Preston D. Cole. “Wisconsin is defined by water. The Great Lakes are key to our economic prosperity and our way of life. Preserving the artifacts of our maritime heritage is an important way to remember and learn from those who came before us.”  

The historic shipwrecks in the proposed sanctuary represent the tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit of generations of Americans. Spanning the early 1800s through the 20th century, the shipwrecks represent a cross-section of vessel types that played critical roles in transforming the Great Lakes from a maritime frontier into the nation’s busiest waterway. During this period, workday wooden schooners and innovative steel steamships moved people, raw materials, agricultural and industrial products more than ever before.

Wisconsin would become the 15th of NOAA's marine sanctuaries which together encompass more than 600,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters. The designation has widespread community support and incorporates input from the public, state and federal agencies, tribes, and local and regional stakeholders

The State of Wisconsin submitted the sanctuary nomination to NOAA in December 2014 on behalf of coastal communities and many other partners. A diverse coalition of organizations and citizens at local, state, regional and national levels endorsed the nomination. This included elected officials, businesses, historical societies, museums, and recreational, fishing, tourism, environmental and educational groups. Principal cities involved in proposing the sanctuary nomination included Two Rivers, Manitowoc, Sheboygan and Port Washington.

In partnership with local communities, the sanctuary designation will expand on Wisconsin’s longstanding stewardship of these historic sites, bringing new opportunities for research, resource protection, educational programming, community engagement and economic development.

The sanctuary designation will also provide a national stage for promoting heritage tourism and recreation – ensuring public access to our most spectacular natural and cultural resources and elevating the status of our state as a premier coastal recreational destination.

To learn more about the Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary designation process, visit: