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A tour of Plum Island as restoration project continues

The Plum Island Range Light Tower and light keeper's quarters are seen, Oct. 11, 2017. (WLUK/Eric Peterson)

DOOR COUNTY (WLUK) -- If you've ever taken a ride on the Washington Island Ferry, the range light and and keeper's quarters on Plum Island may be a familiar sight.

The Island is located in the waters of Door County between the tip of the peninsula and Washington Island.

Now, construction is underway to restore buildings dating back more than a century.

In the bumpy waters off Washington Island, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Park Ranger Dustan Hoffman was on his way to work.

"Just getting out here, and being in an area that was once very lively. When you had people living in these buildings. and wooden ships cruising through Death's Door," Hoffman said.

Since 1896, a range light system, and life-saving station helped mariners traveling around Plum Island. But in 121 years, the buildings are showing their age.

"It's severly damaged. The entire roof structure is rotten. And that's worked its way down the walls, so that entire wall, end of the structure will have to be rebuilt," said John Lauber, Historic Preservation Manager.

The buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. Lauber says matching the roof to Coast Guard red was a challenge.

"We spent two months trying to find another source for shingles, and finally found these from a Canadian manufacturer," he said.

On the other side of the island is the site of the range light and keeper's quarters.

"They were getting to the point of being a coin toss. Whether these things could withstand another winter or two, and I think really in the case of the keeper's quarters, it was just really in the nick of time," said Hoyt Purinton, Friends of Plum and Pilot Island.

Crews sealed the building with new roofing this week. The 65-foot iron tower is part of a range light system designed to guide ships safely through the waters of Death's Door Passage. Park rangers say the view from the top shows the island offers more than what's along the shoreline.

"From a nature standpoint, we're in a very unique area being on these islands out off the Door County peninsula. There's a lot of species that grow out here that do not grow on the mainland," said Hoffman.

Plum Island is part of the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Renovations to the 325-acre Plum Island and 4-acre Pilot Island nearby could total $6.8 million. The cost is being covered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Friends of Plum and Pilot Island. This summer, was the first time visitors were allowed to explore Plum Island themselves. The dock at the life-saving station was open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.

"We wanted to open up the landscape a little. So when people drive down to the end of the road, at Northport, they're able to see these structures and kind of ask themselves what is that? And who gets to go there? Can I go there? And now you can. Yes now they can," said Hoffman.

The renovations on the island could take another five years.

At this point, there are no plans to offer tours inside the buildings.

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