Saving America’s Last Steamship Badger
By James Donahue
The 410-foot-long car ferry Badger still makes daily trips across Lake Michigan, steaming between Ludington, Michigan
and Manitowic, Wisconsin, after more than 50 years of service. But in spite of the fact that the Badger is listed on the National
Register of Historic Places and remains the last operating coal-fired steamship operating in the United States, her days may
That is because the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency moved in 2009 to regulate coal slurry from ships under the
Clean Water Act. The agency granted the Badger an exemption from the environmental
rules until December, 2012. That is when the hammer comes down for this historic
Coal ash contains toxic metals that leach into drinking water. The metals are linked to cancer, lung and kidney disease,
mental retardation and respiratory problems.
Originally built in 1953 to carry railroad freight cars and automobiles between Michigan and Wisconsin ports, the Badger
was one of four large ferries operating on Lake Michigan in its day. After railroad ferry service dwindled and the ferries
went out of service, private entrepreneur Charles Conrad bought the Badger and converted it to serve the summer tourist industry.
The Badger carries leisure passengers and their vehicles on regular 60-mile trips across the lake between mid-May through
mid-October. The vessel is promoted as an experience of history and an ultimate travel and vacation adventure.
The problem has been that the ship’s two steam engines are powered by four large coal-fired boilers that produce
3.8 tons of coal ash on each trip. The ship follows a time-worn tradition of dumping the ash into Lake Michigan.
A Ludington based group calling itself Save Our Ship has formed in an effort to raise money, promote Ludington’s
tourism and lobby for a solution to the EPA’s mandate. But Mayor John Henderson says he fears that the Badger’s
days may be numbered.
“We are hopeful that the SOS campaign will help demonstrate that our communities need the SS Badger and influence
the federal government to come to an acceptable solution,” Henderson said.