Nonprofit works to clean up raucous island celebration
The group hopes with regulation the Gull Island party will be a civilized affair.
By Amy Lee and Edward L. Cardenas / The Detroit News
David Coates / The Detroit News
Brian Bugaiski of the We Are Here Foundation helps pick up trash on Gull Island. Volunteers with We Are Here remove about 6,800 pounds of garbage and at least 5,000 beer cans after the Jobbie Nooner party, the nonprofit's president says.
• Partygoers this year may have access to portable toilets on a barge that the nonprofit We Are Here Foundation plans to provide. The party is set for June 24. Permits will be required for the event at a cost of $25 per boat. Annual permits, which include entry to Jobbie Nooner, cost around $75. • An adults-only Web site to promote the event has also begun selling T-Shirts, tank tops and beverage cozies, as well as adult-themed videos of the event.
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HARRISON TOWNSHIP -- Where some see trouble and alcohol-fueled rowdyism, a suburban Detroit group sees opportunity.
A tiny Lake St. Clair island for 30 years has been home to the annual Jobbie Nooner party, a bash that draws thousands of boaters on a Friday in June to booze, bare their flesh and party, far from the nearest toilet. Up to 5,000 people annually gather on 4-acre Gull Island for the blowout, which locals have dubbed the "Mardi Gras of the Midwest."
"It's mind-boggling how it's grown," said Lee O'Dell, 63, of Troy, who began the party in 1975 to celebrate the birthday of his co-worker Lee Wagner. "We went out with 17 guys and four boats, and everything was fine. We had no idea it'd grow into what it is today. It's kind of nasty now."
Officials with the St. Clair Shores-based We Are Here Foundation see a chance to recast Gull Island as a family boater's paradise and even turn a profit by taking over the island from its owner, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Visitors would be required to buy passes, and the money raised could pay to bring Porta-Johns, volleyball courts, garbage cans and other amenities to the deserted island, said Tom Cleaver, president of the group.
"It needs to be taken from its present state and reeled in. Jobbie Nooner (could be) transformed into more of an event like the Woodward Dream Cruise," Cleaver said. "Jobbie Nooner is going to continue on, but the nudity and underage drinking is going to be severely prohibited."
The group plans to charge $25 per boat for the party.
"I'm concerned that any agency that would involve itself in such a free activity as Jobbie Nooner will ruin it. Jobbie Nooner is probably one of the best expressions of good old American freedom that you'll ever find," said Pete Arsenault of Waterford Township, who owns and operates the Jobbie Nooner Web site and also makes money from selling videos of women who expose their chests during the party.
"They say they want it to continue, but the ultimate goal here is to stop Jobbie Nooner."
Located five miles offshore, east of Metro Beach Metropark , the island each year hosts thousands of boaters and families drawn by its remote location, shallow waters and limited police presence. Jobbie Nooner is set for June 24 this year.
Some regular Jobbie Nooner partygoers, including Christine Kotila of Mount Clemens, support the idea of making the island a park. Kotila visits the island regularly during the summer and has attended Jobbie Nooner for the past 10 years.
An official park designation "would give boaters some place to go and make it a destination," she said.
Also in favor of the plan is John Zangara, or "the Z-Man," who is probably best known as the guy who deejays music from his boat at the Jobbie Nooner party.
"If they could get it organized, it would be nice. Ninety-eight percent of the people are pretty good, but there are a few that cause a bit of ruckus," Zangara said.
The island each year is overrun with post-Jobbie Nooner trash. Volunteers with We Are Here remove about 6,800 pounds of garbage and at least 5,000 beer cans after the Jobbie Nooner party, according to Cleaver. Harrison Township officials this spring floated the idea of taking over Gull Island for a community park but backed off late last week when representatives from the Native American Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma claimed ownership of the island. The tribe's claim was made to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to Victor Kotwicki, chief of the real estate division for the Corps.
The corps is confident it is free to enter into an agreement to transfer control of the island to the We Are Here Foundation, Kotwicki said.
Officials with We Are Here envision selling up to 350 annual island-access permits at a cost of about $75 per boat, according to Cleaver, whose foundation members have cleaned up the island after Jobbie Nooner for the past six years. The plan calls for permits to be sold at local marinas and through the foundation's Web site, www.weareherefoundation.com. Color-coded wristbands to distinguish people older than 21 would be provided at the time of purchase. Boater Dave Humenny, 33, said he supports the fees, as long as the cash is reinvested into island upgrades.
"I definitely would do it," said Humenny, of Macomb Township, who has attended Jobbie Nooner since 1990. "That might get rid of some of the troublemakers."
The original Jobbie Nooners were contract workers for the Big Three auto companies, who earned the moniker "Jobbies" because they moved from job to job. They pulled a "nooner" by cutting out of work early on a Friday and created the now-infamous Jobbie Nooner party.
The timing of the proposed takeover is critical because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has grown increasingly frustrated with the huge size of the unregulated party and was ready to post "no trespassing" signs in an attempt to shut down the revelry.
The island was created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which dumped clean dredged materials onto the site from 1937 through the mid-1960s. The island is actually about 137 acres, but all but 4 acres are submerged.
The Corps is eager to get a lease agreement in place before this year's bash. There would be no charge for the lease.