Stories from the Blue: Steve Kroll

January 2018

At first, wreck diver and retired teacher Steve Kroll didn't think Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary was a good idea. But today, Kroll says, "I'm a pretty good example of the fact that your opposition can become your strongest supporter." Watch our video to hear sanctuary volunteer Steve Kroll's Story from the Blue.


People came in from outside and they're going to tell you what to do with what you have here.

You know, give me a break.

And they wanted to encompass a huge area.

We, of course, objected.

The whole idea of a sanctuary.

I think the "sanctuary" term to this day I don't think it's the best term for what the national marine sanctuaries are about because to me a sanctuary means keep out.

Were we gonna be restricted in any way diving any of these wrecks?

And if so, was it going to cost us money?

And what if we found a new one?

Who's going to take ownership of it?

So as to speak when, in reality, it was ours to dive anyway because that's just the point of view we had with it.

Yeah, we were pretty vocal in terms of telling NOAA to go home.

Thunder Bay is appropriately named if you tried to do the charter operation like I did trying to get divers out.

I really only figure I have about 12 weekends.

So when it's on it's on.

And you better go.

And with Thunder Bay shaped the way it is It just kind of collects a lot of nastiness

That's one of the reasons, I think, ships are where they're at out here, you know.

Because they ran into fog, they ran into everything.

And you've got a collision.

So I think it has earned its name and it will continue to earn its name, I think.

Well, right now this morning we're getting things ready to go out

and remove buoys off the shallow water wrecks that are down in the calcite area.

Those are buoys that a couple of us volunteer to remove and put back on every year for the sanctuary to help out with manpower deal.

The reason why we have the buoys on there is to protect the wrecks so people aren't throwing anchors into them and snagging them.

We are off to ride to city boat harbor.

I'll launch this thing and see if it wants to run.

One of the prettier harbors.

You ready, captain?

I'm ready.

Let's do it.

Here, put this hook in that chain, low.

That's guaranteed to stay?

That's guaranteed to stay.

There we go.

In the spring, we'll dive down there find that little floaty thing in the chain and just redo the reverse of what we just did.

One of our primary reasons to go diving was to bring back some artifacts if we found them.

Or at least some lumber and make furniture.

It was all legal to do that.

We found a few wrecks.

We re-found some wrecks that other divers had talked about.

And then you threw a hook over the side or a diver over the side and see if you had something or not.

Northwestern is a shipwreck about five to seven miles off Rogers City.

A friend of mine, John Viegelahn, who was a good diving buddy of mine.

He was fishing and he found this wreck.

He gave me his approximate coordinates,

and then got a friend of mine, Kurt Smitka, to come up.

And the two of us made the first dive on the wreck.

It had a lot of pottery on it.

A lot of great stuff and it disappeared one day.

Those kinds of experiences, for me, over the years

to see that stuff missing, it was amazing how fewer people wanted to dive that wreck once those artifacts were gone.

It just takes away from a lot of what a dive is all about.

There's a lot of people out there

that just crave that kinda stuff, you know.

When the law changed, I changed.

My feeling is it should be in a place like this.

One of the great things about our visitor's center, and you'd probably agree with me, is that it's bringing the bottom of the lake up to the general public so people get to come here, learn about the artifacts, and even for people who can't scuba dive or snorkel or kayak over the wrecks, they get to enjoy these wonderful resources.

Divers are a minority and this is a way that we've kind of recaptured this whole maritime theme that's in Northeast Michigan.

We get thousands of kids from all over Michigan a year coming through here.

I thought it was pretty amazing that just fact that I had been fairly vocal in objecting to the sanctuary that they allowed for me to be part of the Advisory Council.

The opposition has been in this process and the realization now is that and I'm probably a pretty good example of the fact that your opposition can become your strongest supporter.

It is a popular tourist type thing with lighthouses and ships and all that, it's just a natural attraction we've had with the water ever since we were on this Earth.

But there's a greater thing that's happening in an effort to create that tourism that I see and that is that people are getting together.

That we are recapturing that history.

That we are unifying and going to unify these three counties.

Yes, in a goal to attract tourism, but at the same time we're going to see each other in a little bit different light.

That's one of the things about the sanctuary program, is that it's about the landscape that we're protecting and the culture of these areas and you know the lakes are one thing.

One of my favorite things to do on any, any wreck that has some kind of an intact bow is to go down the bow to the bottom, stand on the bottom some distance away and just let it run you over.

Now this is going to become part of the sanctuary.

The sanctuary ends way up that way at the northern end of Presque Isle County and goes all the way over to the international border between the United States and Canada.

So, basically as far as you can see in any direction right now you are within the boundaries of the sanctuary.

So it's an excellent feeling.