Grand Haven Tribune: 'It's finally time to bring her back home'

'It's finally time to bring her back home'

Matt DeYoung • May 15, 2019 at 10:00 AM

Erin Turrell recalls the day, back in the summer of 2015, when Grand Haven City Manager Pat McGinnis called her and asked if she’d like to be involved in the process of helping save Grand Haven’s iconic catwalk. 

“In that weak moment, I said yes,” she said.

Turrell had no idea the journey that awaited her over the next several years.

That journey is nearing its completion. Tuesday afternoon, crews erected the first several catwalk bents at the far end of Grand Haven’s south pier. 

“It’s wonderful — and, quite frankly, it’s very difficult for me to contain the amount of excitement I have because I’ve been working on this project the last four years,” Turrell said during a sun-soaked press conference on the pier Tuesday. “There’s a lot of hard work that so many people have put into this, so to have this actually really now happening brings this all to a good place in everybody’s heart.

“People have missed this,” she added. “It’s time finally to bring her back home.”

Dozens of people, including city and civic leaders, gathered on the pier Tuesday to celebrate the beginning of the end in this long journey of restoring the catwalk. 

Since Turrell took the reins, more than $1 million has been raised to support the project. 

“This is the iconic structure that welcomes you into our harbor,” she said. “It is what defines what Grand Haven is.”

It’s expected to take, at the very least, 30 working days to complete the installation of the catwalk. 

“Depending on the wind, how the lake is going to behave or not behave, it may take longer,” Turrell said. “The process is going. They’re trying to do as much as humanly possible in the time that the weather is good.”

The goal is to have all of the work completed well before the annual Coast Guard Festival begins in late July. Meanwhile, the pier will be closed off at various intervals to allow for the work.

While Turrell has worked closely with this latest catwalk renovation, Terry Tate was here 30 years ago for a previous round of renovations.

“Thirty years ago, the government had issued a statement that if you didn’t use it, you lose it ... and you couldn’t use federal funds to fix it,” Tate recalled. “The mayor called my dad, Ed Zenko, and said, ‘Ed, I need your help. Could you come to the City Council meeting?’ My mom called me and said, ‘You might want to watch the news tonight. I think your dad’s going to be on it.’”

Tate said the news was that her father bought the catwalk.

“I believe it was for $1,” she said. “So, we owned the catwalk for a year, and he spent that year repairing it, using a welding torch and a come-along.”

That was in the summer and fall of 1987. That New Year’s Eve, Zenko died unexpectedly.

The following October, work was completed, including the installation of lights — replicas of the lights on the Coast Guard cutter Escanaba that was sunk during World War II.

“In October 1988, it was lit in my dad’s memory,” Tate said.

Seeing the new catwalk being put up this week has been “very emotional, very special,” she said. 

Grand Haven Mayor Geri McCaleb also remembers back to the origins of the latest catwalk project, to when she took a walk on the pier and realized it was in dire need of repairs. A lot has happened since then, thanks to the hard work of city leaders and volunteers. 

“We’re just really excited about having it back up — it’s part of who we are,” McCaleb said. “That was the question when we had to take it off — are we going to put it back up? We didn’t know what needed to be done, how much it would cost. But it’s so iconic to the city of Grand Haven. And the community said, ‘Absolutely it’s going back up,’ so we did whatever we could to make that happen.”

There are three distinctly different types of bents on the catwalk, and efforts were made to save two of each.

“They still have Carnegie Steel stamped in them,” McCaleb said. 

The rest of the bents are exact replicas of the originals, but in much better condition. 

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