Construction, Economic Development, and Travel & Tourism

Grand Haven sees rebirth of iconic catwalk

Structure on city’s pier has been gone since 2016.

September 27, 2019
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Grand Haven Cat Walk
Fifty-three of the catwalk’s 59 bents, the metal skeleton that runs along the pier, had to be recreated. Courtesy Bob Walma, Walma Compositions

When Erin Turrell got the call in 2015 from the mayor that the Grand Haven south pier’s catwalk was in trouble, she agreed to help.

The Army Corps of Engineers had informed the city of some work that needed to be done on the federally owned Grand Haven pier, and the group planned to dispose of the city-owned steel catwalk that had been in place since 1922, Turrell said.

In order to maintain the historic structure, the city had to raise the money to replace the catwalk after the Army Corps of Engineers finished renovating the pier.

City Manager Pat McGinnis made Turrell — an industrial engineer with no fundraising experience but highly involved in the community — chair of the campaign, Save the Catwalk Committee.

“I'm an engineer that's just connected,” she said.

When Turrell first started the campaign, she said she knew educating the community about the structure and its history would be important before any asks were made.

The original structure was made of wood and went up in the late 1800s, she said. It was needed so workers could make the venture throughout the year to light the lighthouse wicks. After the lighthouse became automated, the catwalk remained for its use by many beachgoers.

“It is the entrance to our harbor,” Turrell said. “It is an iconic structure that welcomes everybody” — people on the shore and vessels in the water.

“One of the things that I think I'd like to leave for younger generations to think about is if you get a phone call about a need for something that is historical and important, you take that call,” she said.

Over the past four years, Turrell rallied about 20,000 people who raised $1.3 million for the project. The project cost was $1 million, and a trust was established through the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation for ongoing maintenance of the structure.

Some of those donors were children who raised $20 at a lemonade stand. Others were people who bought plaques for $2,500.

The Grand Haven Public Schools system held a bike race with proceeds going toward the project.

The pier has been without the catwalk for the past three years. The rebuild finally began in May and finished earlier this month.

Nearly all of the structure is new as opposed to restored, she said.

“That was a really good decision not only monetarily but because it's far more robust than what it ever was,” Turrell said. “It's going to last past all of our children's lifetimes.”

It was the “most rewarding” project The Blacksmith Shop, based in Greenville, had ever taken on.

Fifty-three of the catwalk’s 59 bents, the metal skeleton that runs along the pier, had to be recreated. Each of the structure’s pieces then had to be welded together. The original structure was held together with rivets, so the company created 15,000 ornamental rivets so the new catwalk would maintain the historical features. It took one week to fabricate one bent from start to finish before it was ready for painting.

There is an event planned to celebrate the catwalk’s completion at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 30 at the pier. The public event includes illumination of the catwalk, fireworks, an air show and performances by the Grand Haven High School band.

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