2017-06-15 / Life in Leelanau

Museum’s reach moves beyond lighthouse walls


STALEY STALEY A private conversation is responsible for kindling interest in an exciting underwater program that is turning up the locations and identities of long-lost shipwrecks off the shoreline of Leelanau Township.

The program is the brainchild of Stef Staley. If such a thing is possible, she was trapped inside the thing she loved.

Staley, the first and only executive director of the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum, harbored a desire to expand lighthouse museum activities beyond the lighthouse itself.

After having received a Bachelor of Science degree in museum administration and a master’s degree in historic preservation, she landed in a perfect spot to practice her trade.

Problem was, there was little travel involved in her daily routine and not enough interaction with community members. Twenty years later, Staley was itching to ramp up her professional life.

But she wanted the reach of the museum to expand beyond the 165-year-old walls of the lighthouse.


NORTHPORT SENIORS Navneet Dhami and Austin John watch a sonar screen aboard the research vessel “Northwestern.” NORTHPORT SENIORS Navneet Dhami and Austin John watch a sonar screen aboard the research vessel “Northwestern.” She brought up the subject to Karl Gagnon, a retired history teacher and chair of the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Board of Directors.

Recalled Staley: “I said, ‘I’m bored.’ He said, ‘You have that shipwreck idea. Why don’t you haul it out?’”

The “idea” now has a name, the Maritime Archaeology and Research Program. And it’s caught fire, captivating interest within the Northport community and northwest Michigan while providing a chance for students to venture onto the high seas for real-life adventure.

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