It took just four minutes for a tornado that struck Presque Isle on June 27, 2010, to destroy a favorite stopping-off place on the park. That was The Feather Observation Platform. While it was at it, the tornado twisted, swirled and knocked-down about 20 nearby large cottonwood trees. I remember looking at the region near the Stull Center the following day and being shocked that only this small confined location sustained any damage. This goes to show us that the old saying “Don’t mess with Mother Nature” sure remains true.
The Feather had been a popular place for many visitors at the park since the mid-1990s, so it did not take long for people to begin to ask when it would be rebuilt. Two factors quickly began to weigh in on the ifs and whens of such a project. One, of course, was money, and the other was getting the necessary permits and approvals for the work. Both began to immediately cause problems.
The original structure had a feather-shaped wooden ramp which led up to a platform with seats near the center. It looked out onto a delightful water filled lagoon and inlet of the Presque Isle Bay. Birds, muskrats, beavers and other wild critters constantly made their way into and around the little wetland. When it first opened, the water was all around the platform, and ducks and birds played in the cattail-filled marshes nearby. I used to walk down into these marshes, camera in hand, to capture exciting nature scenes filled with heron, egrets, and other marsh birds. There were two stream-like paths of water that led from the bay into a larger inland pond that stretched right up to the feather. It was a relaxing and wonderful place.
It was commissioned as a functional piece of art by The Erie Art Museum and gave visitors a place to just sit, take in nature and possibly meditate. It quickly became well-liked and used regularly by many people. I always thought it was a perfect place to catch an early morning sunrise or watch a storm drift in out of the east. However, over the last 20 years, the region, as well of much of Presque Isle has suffered through a major invasion. Invasive plant species such as Narrow Leaf Cattails, Phragmite and Oriental Bittersweet took over this particular area. When this began to take place, these invasive plants slowly but surely began to dry up the marshes and choke out the Common Cattails and other natural vegetation. Without the water-filled marshes and native plants, the birds and other animals found little or no reason to visit the area. The feather was still used; however, much of its original special lore had disappeared.
Now through the hard work of John Vanco, Erie Art Museum director and many generous contributors, funds were raised to rebuild the feather. The next problem that needed to be solved before the project could move forward was to secure the necessary environmental and safety permits. The Presque Isle Park management was able to get the project approved as long as the first footprint base of the platform remained in place and exactly the same as before. The fact that the original pilings and supports were undamaged and could be reused made this rather simple. Even some of the steel hardware could be modified and reused on the project. With permits in hand and money in the bank, work began on the project on March 22, 2012, and was completed and opened on May 17, 2012.
This would be a good time to take a ride out to the park and visit the Feather. If you have been on the old Feather, you will notice a few changes in design have taken place. They are all for the better. The first thing you will notice is that the ramp is a bit wider, but still built on the old footprint, and the pickets (feathers) on the side rails are much nicer looking and really a bit different. It seems Mazza Vineyards provided used wine vats, which could be cut into feather shapes. This gives the side rails a unique look which is very pleasing, with peg holes and actual pegs scattered all over the place. The feathers are arranged in a more random pattern which also gives the platform a really creative look.
Once you are on the platform, you will notice that the seating area is smaller and just a bit lower. It seems more natural this way. The engravings on the wood are still there, and I think it is considerably nicer and a lot better than the old engravings. Take time to read them. It’s fun. Overall the new platform is an improvement over the old.
The park maintenance staff and the invasive plant interns shortly will begin a program to eradicate most of the invasive plants from the area. This is usually a two-step process. First, they will cut the Phragmite and Narrow Leaf Cattails down to ground level and haul away the cuttings. Within a month or so, the plants will begin to put out brand new growth. At this point, they will treat the fresh growth with an herbicide at least once or twice. Once the invasive are out, some of the old native plants will have a chance to re-establish themselves, and some of the water will slowly begin to return. Here’s hoping that this all works the way it is being planned. The staff also planted four new Cottonwood Trees near the platform recently.
As much as I hated to see the damage, the tornado did I now feel that we were given a chance to start over with a new platform and invasive plant elimination. Maybe with all this work, we can return the feather to its proper place as a favorite place for people to experience nature.
See you on the park!!
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