SS Badger

The SS Badger is anchored at its slip in Pere Marquette Lake this morning, Feb. 18, 2016. The Lake Michigan Carferry today received  National Historic Landmark Program status, about a month after the HHLP prematurely posted status had been granted. 

Calling the SS Badger “a unique example of American ingenuity in  transportation,” the U.S. Department of the Interior today announced the Ludington-based carferry has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

 The announcement, released today, comes weeks after the program’s official social media site mistakenly jumped the gun saying the designation had been granted when it was still under review.

This time it’s the real thing.

The Department of Interior announcement states “the designation recognizes the Badger’s exceptional value and quality in illustrating an aspect of American transportation technology in the mid-twentieth century.

“The SS Badger is the last remaining example of the Great Lakes rail/car ferry design that influenced the design of such ferries around the world and is the last Great Lakes car ferry to remain operation. The first open-water crossing on which railcars were carried onboard occurred on Lake Michigan. For nearly a century, railroad car ferries extended rail lines across three of the Great Lakes, especially Lake Michigan.” Ferrying rail cars across the lake was an alternative to the long route around the southern end of Lake Michigan that avoided congestion in Chicago rail yards.

“The SS Badger is a unique example of American ingenuity in transportation that has been crucial to our country’s economic development over the last century,” Jonathan B. Jarvis, National Park Service director, said in the statement announcing the decision. “As the National Parks Service celebrates its centennial anniversary, we look forward to a second century of helping preserve the more than 2,500 historic places and objects like the Badger that bears the distinction of being National Historic Landmarks.”

National Historic Landmarks are described as historic resources that illustrate the heritage of the United States. The landmarks come in many forms, the agency states: historic buildings, sites, structures, objects, and district. Each of the National Historic Landmarks are said to represent “an outstanding aspect of American history and culture.”

Launched in 1953, the 410-foot-long SS Badger was once part of a larger fleet of Ludington-based carferries.

Now operated by Lake Michigan Carferry, the SS Badger sails between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wisconsin, from late-May to mid-October.

“We were very excited to learn today that the designation of the S.S. BADGER as a National Historic Landmark Designation has been confirmed.  This recognition is a very special honor for the Badger, all of her employees, and for the port cities of Ludington, Michigan and Manitowoc, Wisconsin,” stated Don Clingan, LMC executive vice president and partner.

 “We deeply appreciate the support we have received from our elected officials including Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Rep. Bill Huizenga who have worked diligently to help the Badger receive the Landmark designation for the Badger," Clingan said.

“We are also very grateful for the support of our customers, and the general public during this long nomination and designation process. We’re looking forward to working with the Department of Interior, the National Parks Service and members of the National Historic Landmark program to create a special celebration surrounding our Maiden Voyage on May 12, 2016,” stated Terri Brown, LMC director of marketing and media.

 “I’m sure that the late Lake Michigan Carferry founder, Charles Conrad, is looking down with a very proud smile today seeing the Badger has received the recognition she deserves and knowing that she will continue to create maritime history for many years to come,” Clingan added.

Huizenga was pleased, too, noting it has taken “nearly five years and countless bureaucratic hoops” for the application to be approved. “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,” Huizenga, R-Zeeland, said in a statement.

 “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,” Huizenga said. “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.”

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow today applauded the announcement. For years,  Stabenow has worked closely with Lake Michigan Carferry in its bid to become a National Historic Landmark, writing letters of support to the Secretary of Interior.

"Today's announcement is great news for Ludington and a fitting designation for the largest car ferry to ever sail Lake Michigan. I've been working with Lake Michigan Carferry for years on this historic designation and congratulate the hard working men and women who keep the S.S. Badger running for Michigan families and visitors to enjoy," Stabenow said in a statement.

Michigan 1st District Congressman Dan Benishek, R-Iron River, also was pleased.

"This iconic ship is a part of Northern Michigan history, and I am happy to learn that it will be recognized accordingly," Benishek said in a statement. "Every year, the Badger brings thousands of families across Lake Michigan to enjoy the Pure Michigan experience.  This ship is a part of our culture and heritage, and I will always work to ensure that it can continue to serve our state." 

The SS Badger provides more than 200 jobs to Northern Michigan families, Benishek noted.

For more, see Friday's Ludington Daily News.