Obey represented northern Wisconsin in Congress for 40 years, credited for shepherding the center’s creation in 1998.
As a veteran congressman and eventual chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Dave Obey brought a lot of projects to northern Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District, but perhaps none were more personal to him than the visitors center and educational facility located west of Ashland which was officially named for him in an online ceremony Friday afternoon.
“This facility is here as a reminder that forces greater than human will have shaped the land we love,” said Obey, who represented the northern Wisconsin district from 1969 until 2011, from his son’s home in Virginia.
The David R. Obey Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center opened in 1998 after many years of effort resulted in a bipartisan agreement to create what now stands at the intersections of U.S. Highway 2 and Wisconsin Highway 13. The facility is owned by the U.S. Forest Service but also run in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service.
Referencing remarks by former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson about the six-year road to winning approval for the center, Obey said its existence is proof that “cooperation and teamwork are still useful tools in the hands of public servants.”
Thompson, now the interim President of the University of Wisconsin System, said in a recorded message that he enjoyed working with Obey to benefit his part of the state.
“I was proud to work with him on this project like we did on many, many others, especially highways 29 and 53,” Thompson said. “Those projects transformed the economy and the culture of northern Wisconsin. This project was complicated, with several federal agencies at the table, along with the state. But the end result is a wonderful welcome to those visiting Wisconsin’s north coast up on the big lake.”
Sen. Tammy Baldwin was at the center with a small, socially-distanced crowd for the ceremony. Through a face mask, she told Obey and others on the Zoom call it was appropriate to name the center for someone who considered himself a protege to former Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson, the creator of Earth Day, and prominent conservationist Marty Hanson. It was Nelson and Hanson who guided President John F. Kennedy around the nearby Apostle Islands by helicopter in his last official trip before his assassination in 1963. Legislation creating the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore was signed in 1970, Obey’s first full year in Congress.
“Generations of Wisconsinites will know your hard work defending Wisconsin’s Great Lakes,” Baldwin said, “and protecting the natural treasures of this great state.”
Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest Supervisor Paul Strong said the center provides diverse experiential programming thanks to the multi-agency partnership and its role promoting northern Wisconsin tourism as well, and visitors come away with information and motivation to treat resources in a more sustainable manner.
Gov. Tony Evers, joining online from Madison, called Obey a champion of people and natural resources.
“Think about the work he’s done over the years. From our lakeshores to fighting for fair maps, to ensuring people have access to health care, Dave has been right there, fighting the good fight for progress.”
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison), former State Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar), Sen. Janet Bewley (D-Mason), Rep. Beth Meyers (D-Bayfield), Rep. Nick Milroy (D-South Range), former state representative and retired judge Gary Sherman, and environmental activist Tia Nelson, daughter of the former governor and Senator, were among those in attendance in Ashland or online.