Archived News

Copies of past Beacon Newsletters are available for viewing here.

Below you will find an assortment of archived news items about Rock Island's Pottawatomie Lighthouse and events sponsored by FORI and other organizations.


The King of Rock Island has Returned! (2013)

Paul King, Naturalist and Camp Ground Host, has returned to Rock Island! Be sure to look him up when you next visit the park. He always has very interesting stories to share about the history, flora and fauna of the park.

Ranger Randy Named Park Property Manager

Michelle Hefty, Property Manager of Newport State Park and supervisor of Rock Island's ranger, announced that Randy Holm had been named as the Property Manager at Rock Island State Park, replacing Kirby Foss who retired in 2011. The Friends of Rock Island are very happy to have Randy continuing as the park ranger in charge at Rock Island. He cares about Rock Island and is very easy to work with on projects and park improvements. Congratulations, Randy!

FORI 2012 Board Election Results

In the spirit of the current election season, FORI elected Board members at the Annual Meeting in July. See the current Board on the Board Members page. Congratulations to Randy Spevacec who was elected Vice President for 3 years and to our At-Large Members who were elected to serve this next year: Vicki Auble-Simpson, Grace Ann Carpenter, James Johnston, Carol May, Tim Sweet and Cyndi Lucia. The Board bid good-bye to Kathleen Morris who has served for many years as an At-Large member and who has been so instrumental in organizing the food for the FORI Summer Picnics.

2012 Summer Annual Picnic - A Success!

Our annual Picnic and Silent Auction was held on Saturday, June 30th this year. Festivities began at 11am in or near the Boathouse. The Silent Auction in the Boathouse garnered lots of donations for FORI and the Park. Special guest, Kathleen Ernst, author of the Cloe Ellefson mystery series and the American Girl Dolls books joined the Silent Auction to sign copies of her books and auction off many titles. Galynne and Markondrums entertained at noon on the deck and lots of park merchandise was sold at the merchandise tent. A fabulous rock cairn won the competition and many delicious lunches were sold at the food tent!

Kathleen Ernst
Kathleen Ernst
Galynne & MarkonDrums

Galynne and MarkonDrums
Cairn Contest Winner
Winning Cairn
See lots more photos of the event on our Facebook site.

The FORI Board thanks all of our friends who joined us for our picnic and were so generous to Rock Island State Park!

Ranger Kirby Foss Retired in 2011

Head Ranger and Property Manager for Rock Island State Park, Kirby Foss, retired on June 30th.  FORI threw him a party on Washington Island that was attended by family and friends and members of the Board of FORI.  A keepsake Rock Island rock with a hand painted depiction of the park was presented by Grace Ann Carpenter and a king quad chair to help him relax in his leisure time was presented by Colleen Andrews on behalf of the Board and the members of FORI.  We wished him well in his retirement, but let him know that FORI would miss him very much.

Ranger Randy Holm took over the management of the park and he is now assisted by Ian.  They have some big shoes to fill, that's for sure!

July 4th, 2009 Cookout at Rock Island State Park

FORI hosted a cookout near the Pagoda on the lawn at Rock Island State Park from 11am-2pm last July 4th.  We celebrated the 15th anniversary of the FORI organization and the 10th anniversary of the restoration of the Pottawatomie Lighthouse lantern room.

Burgers, brats, chips, soda and desserts were available for purchase.  New hats , T-shirts, sweat shirts and hoodies for the 2009 season were on sale too.  A silent auction was held in the Boathouse to help raise funds for park and lighthouse maintenance projects.

The event was very lucrative for FORI due to the unprecedented numbers of park visitors that day.  The Jackson Harbor parking lot was overflowing with vehicles and the Karfi ran non-stop all day long.

FORI plans to make this an annual event.  Next year, plan to come to the park on Saturday, July 3rd for some great food and another fabulous silent auction.

If you have items to donate for the 2010 silent auction, contact Colleen Andrews at 715-366-2765 or by email to

Public Flush Toilets come to Rock Island

Rock Island State Park now has flush toilets on the lawn near the Boathouse.   The composting toilets were replaced in May, 2009 with flushing toilets because the environment was not right for the functioning of composting outhouses.  The plumbing work was done by Small's Sanitary Systems of Washington Island with the aid of the park staff in transporting their equipment, supplies and staff to and from Washington Island.  Click here to see Lou Small's documentary of the project on the McDermott Pumps web site.

Lighthouse and Boathouse had Spring Cleaning

FORI had two crews of workers doing spring cleaning at the Pottawatomie Lighthouse and at the Thordarson Boathouse on the weekend of May 16-17, 2009. Following the 2009 Annual Board meeting, Rangers Kirby and Randy ferried the crews over to Rock Island on the park boats.  Some stayed overnight at the Lighthouse and some stayed on Washington Island Saturday night.  The lake made the crossing an adventure on Saturday, but she calmed down for a smooth ride on Sunday.

Boatride to Rock Island Rough Water at boat dock

The Boathouse had a major once-over with the chandelier being dusted and the Thordarson furniture being oiled. Floors were swept and washed and the Museum room got a facelift too. Helga Thordarson's wedding dress is now in a standing display built by Erik Lucia.

Spring Cleaning Thordarson Boathouse


Pottawatomie Lighthouse Summer Kitchen Has New Floor

Prior to the tourist season in May 2008, the floor of the summer kitchen of the Lighthouse was replaced by the Cornell Construction Company of Washington Island.  The project also included tuck pointing the foundation of the kitchen addition.

Lighthouse Garden Project

The FORI Board planted a house garden at the Pottawatomie Lighthouse in spring 2007. Volunteer landscapers and master gardeners prepared the plot and built a trellis for vines. Tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini squash and rhubarb were planted. Lighthouse docents tended the garden, pumping water from the well during one of the driest summers on Rock Island. They reaped the harvest throughout the Lighthouse tour season. Lighthouse keepers of old kept a vegetable garden and this project augments the restoration of the buildings and grounds of the Pottawatomie Lighthouse museum site.

Windbound on Washington Island

The FORI Board met for their winter meeting on Washington Island at the Rock Island Park Office in Jackson Harbor on February 4, 2006. The Board wanted to experience Rock Island in the winter and do the winter inspection of the lighthouse. Tim Sweet, President, filmed aspects of the weekend and produced a short video of some special times on Rock and Washington Islands. FORI member, Rick Simmons, was moved to poetry while crossing Death's Door to Washington Island aboard the Arni J. Richter ice breaker ferry.

Cliffside Fence Restored at Pottawatomie Lighthouse

Aleksey Trabert of New Franken, Wisconsin, restored the cliffside fence on the northend of Rock Island in June, 2005, as his Eagle Boy Scout project. He raised donations for the materials, secured donated ferry trips for the Scout troop that helped him complete the installation and organized an installation event with his Troop 1041 that resulted in a very good looking white fence which very closely resembles the original. As you come upon the Lighthouse from the path through the woods, the fence adds a lot to the grandeur of the scene, especially on a sunny Rock Island day! See pictures of the fence on the Photos menu.

FORI Receives DNR Grant for Fresnel Lens Replica for Pottawatomie Lighthouse

The Friends of Rock Island submitted a grant application for a replica lens for the Pottawatomie Lighthouse and the grant was accepted and funded in January 2005. FORI contributed $5900 matching dollars to the $20,000 project. The lens was installed and has been a feature of the tours of the Lighthouse ever since.

Pottawatomie Lighthouse Tours - 2005

Tours will begin on Memorial Day Weekend and continue through Columbus Day in 2005. Live-in docent applications are being accepted through March 1, 2005 and week assignments will be made by April 15, 2005.

Over 4,000 visitors toured the Pottawatomie Lighthouse in summer 2004 and we are looking forward to an even bigger interest this year due to the addition of a Fresnel Lens in the lantern room.

Pottawatomie Lighthouse Restored and Reopened for Tours May 15, 2004

A celebration of the reopening of the restored Pottawatomie Lighthouse took place during the 2004 Annual Lighthouse Walk Weekend in Door County. The 8-year project culminated with the first tours and docents living in the Lighthouse that weekend. Lighthouse tours are available from Memorial Day through Columbus Day each year during which time live-in docents are on-hand to share the story of this special place with all visitors.

Pottawatomie Lighthouse Closed for Summer 2003 Season

While the restoration work is done on the Lighthouse, it will be closed to tours. Visitors can view the outside of the building and surrounding yard.

FORI Receives DOT Grant for Lighthouse Restoration

The Friends of Rock Island have been notified of good news. The Local Transportation Enhancements grant application that the DNR and FORI submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation has been accepted.
Total restoration cost estimates for restoring the remainder of the keepers' house, and ADA accessible composting toilet facility, the surrounding outbuildings, and the grounds total $201,500.00.
The DOT grant provides up to 80% reimbursement to the DNR for the cost of the project.
Thanks to Steve Peterson, Sue Black, George Meyer, and all others involved for their help in making this happen.

FORI hosts Lighthouse Tours on Fridays in 2000

Bill Olson of FORI was host for lighthouse tours on Fridays during July and August, 2000. Bill opened the lighthouse on Sunday, June 4th for the State Parks Open House and again on June 23rd for the beginning of the Island Sesquicentennial. Park staff opened the lighthouse for tours on a couple of other days each week too. Visitation is up over 100 % from last season, according to our visitors book! 2,446 visitors stopped by during the summer of 2000! Many contributed cash donations in the contributions box outside the front door. Collected funds will help with the restoration efforts at the lighthouse.

Garden Cart Donated for FORI Members

A FORI member donated a garden cart to Rock Island for use by FORI members when they come to camp or work at the park. Ask to use it at the contact station.

Rock Island & the Lighthouse

This article appeared in Vol. 16, Issue 3 of The Washington Island Observer in their Places & Faces in history section. Written by Gail Larson Toerpe. To read whole article please click here

Boat Dock Work

The dock area was dredged in spring, 2001, due to low water and too many rocks, which prevented the Karfi and other boats from docking on the inside.

Rock Island Park in the News

The Door County Advocate reported that Rock Island was a "special place" in their May 18th, 2000 issue. Their reporter, Lief, did a follow-up piece in the May 21st, 2000 Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel which listed Rock Island as a favorite park and the "#1 best kept secret park.

New Reservation System Means Computer on Rock Island

Rock Island didn’t get a computer in Summer 2001 as planned, but online reservation data was sent to Ranger Kirby on Washington Island every day via the Internet.

FORI Joins Washington Island Chamber of Commerce

The FORI Board voted to join the Chamber so we can advertise our events in their annual events calendar and to be sure they know what we are planning for Rock Island State Park.

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