Lake Superior Harbor Reopens Three Years after Devastating Storm

The Takeaway: New amenities and improved infrastructure strengthen the local economy and make Saxon Harbor visitors safer, thanks in part to the Wisconsin Coastal Zone Management Program.

Three years after a deadly storm, more than 2,000 people crowded around Wisconsin’s reopened Saxon Harbor to see how $14 million in repairs and reconstruction had brought new and improved marina slips, floating docks, bathrooms, and fueling tanks for boats. Just as important were the comprehensive harbor, roadway, and natural infrastructure improvements that enhanced the site’s safety and usability. Grants from the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program helped repair the marina and improve beach access.

The day’s festivities were a far cry from July 2016, when a torrential rain led to one fatality and more than $26 million in damage across eight counties. Each improvement and repair will mean dollars in the coffer for largely rural Iron County. Before the storm, Saxon Harbor averaged 2,000 boaters, fishers, and campers on weekends during the peak summer season. A county forest administrator estimates that the closure of the harbor and campground had cost Iron County about $500,000 in lost revenues, and the local hospitality industry also suffered.

Infrastructure improvements by state and federal partners include rebuilt roads, deepened harbor channels, and reconstructed piers. A nearby bridge has been elevated and widened, with a new spillway that channels stormwater away from creeks. Lining the harbor are 4,000 fresh plantings of Maximillian sunflowers, bluejoint reedgrass, and other native species that will lessen runoff. Also, a modernized campground, set to reopen in 2020, is being elevated for greater resilience.

In a separate project, NOAA funds are helping to expand public access to 112 acres of forest along Saxon Harbor that include 1,385 feet of Lake Superior shoreline. The area features wooded ravines and migratory bird stopover habitat. Iron County purchased the acreage with the aid of a NOAA Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program grant supported through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. (2018/Updated 2020)

Partners: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Iron County, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Wisconsin’s Emergency Management Agency, Department of Transportation, and Department Of Administration’s Coastal Management Program.