‘Excited’ Grand Haven celebrates catwalk relighting

Ottawa County

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — A grand celebration was held in Grand Haven Monday evening for the relighting of the South Pier catwalk. 

A large crowd attended the Catwalk Illumination celebration. The Grand Haven High School band played, and there was an airshow and fireworks after the illumination.

grand haven catwalk air show
An air show in Grand Haven to celebrate the relighting of the iconic catwalk. (Courtesy ReportIt – Sept. 30, 2019)

The project started in 2016 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started working to fix the pier’s concrete surface — a $2.6 million project. Crew hauled off the catwalk ahead of the work with plans to later put it back up. Then the city realized the bents that make up the catwalk weren’t in good shape and needed to be replaced completely.

“They were in such dire condition from the wind, waves and warping over 100 years that it was time and we wanted to make sure that this withstood another 100 years,” said Erin Turrell with the Save the Catwalk organization, which spearheaded the restoration.

In conjunction with the city, the organization began the $1.3 million restoration effort. The process took four years, double the amount of time initially expected.

“The city of Grand Haven and the tri-cities area is super excited about what we’ve been able to do with the project and it’s finally done,” Turrell said.

The city restored five of the 59 original bents that make up the catwalk. Others were completely replaced.

grand haven pier relighting
The reinstalled and relighted catwalk at the South Pier in Grand Haven. (Sept. 30, 2019)

The original 1920s-era catwalk was used by lighthouse keepers when they needed to light wicks during storms. The process was automated in the 1960s. Though today’s structure is not functional in the same way, many people in the area say they were excited to see the catwalk once again.

“The pier just didn’t look the same. We’re used to seeing that catwalk so it’s a big deal. We’re excited to have it back,” Marie Vokal said as she joined hundreds on the beach to watch the ceremony. 

The catwalk is one of the last remaining along the Great Lakes. The group that worked on its restoration say it’s one of the reasons it was so important to them.

“This whole structure is emblematic of how Grand Haven thinks about our history here on the lake and what we’ve contributed to not only the Great Lakes but other places,” Turrell said.

The pier is now open for visitors. Crews estimate the new structure should last at least 100 years. 

—News 8’s Katherine Ducharme contributed to this report.

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