LUDINGTON, Mich. (AP) – A passenger ship that once hauled rail cars across Lake Michigan has been designated as a national historic landmark.

The U.S. Department of the Interior on Thursday announced the designation for the Ludington-based SS Badger, the last Great Lakes car ferry still in operation.

Rail car ferries operated on the lakes for nearly a century. It was a particularly important method of getting cars to the congested railroad yards at Chicago.

The 410-foot-long Badger handled that task from 1953 to 1990. It was later converted to a car and passenger ferry and now makes daily trips between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wisconsin, from mid-May through mid-October.

National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvin says the Badger is “a unique example of American ingenuity in transportation” that helped fuel 20th century economic growth.

U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, who has been a strong advocate for the SS Badger, also released a statement praising the designation.

“This designation highlights not only the economic importance of the vessel to Ludington, Michigan and Manitowoc, Wisconsin but its historical significance to the entire Great Lakes Region. Today also marks an important victory for the hardworking families, small businesses, and communities that have relied on this Great Lakes car ferry for generations. I am happy to report that the S.S. Badger will continue to play a vital role in the Ludington Community and that another generation of Michiganders will be able to experience and enjoy this piece of living history,” stated Huizenga in a press release.—–Online: SS Badger