Seaplane Base Is EAA’s Best-Kept Secret

By Barbara A. Schmitz

When most people think of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, they think of the main convention grounds: the workshops, the speakers, the exhibitors, the people, and the planes.

But just off the shores of Lake Winnebago in a secluded bay is another part of the fly-in convention that many don’t know about or bother to see: the EAA Seaplane Base, presented by Wipaire Inc. While also offering planes, exhibits, events, and many amenities, it has one thing that the main convention grounds do not: peace and quiet in a park-like setting. And if you’re lucky, a chance to see a seaplane land or depart.

A round-trip bus ticket to the EAA Seaplane Base costs $3 and can be purchased at the EAA Bus Park Tower just outside the main gate and in the amphibian parking area at the south end of the airport.

Seaplane Chair Shane Albers, a 27-year EAA volunteer, said former EAA President Tom Poberezny always described the Seaplane Base as EAA’s best-kept secret. “And that’s a problem,” he said. “Everyone should know about this and experience it with their own eyes.”

With a light breeze and a musician playing steel drums in the background, people sitting on benches or chairs watching for seaplanes to arrive or depart, and others just enjoying the quietness of the place and taking a quick nap, the EAA Seaplane Base has a Margaritaville feel.

“It’s the sun, the shade trees, and the sand beach that is a perfect spot to cool down on a hot summer day,” Albers said.

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About 10,000-15,000 people visit the EAA Seaplane Base throughout the convention week. But Albers is certain that once people discover the magic of this place, they’ll be back.

“This place is about the lifestyle,” he said. “You can take a break, get away from the concrete. In fact, the most concrete we have is in Lake Winnebago in the concrete blocks that hold the airplanes in place.”

By Friday noon, 82 seaplanes had registered at the base, up 20 percent from last year. Albers said the increase was likely due to Canada reopening its borders after COVID. Altogether, 175 seaplanes have been registered on both convention sites, he said.

Since the seaplanes are moored in the bay and people can’t get up close to them, the base offers a free pontoon boat tour, Albers said.

The base also holds an annual Wipaire Watermelon Social, which was held Friday. “It’s a traditional Wisconsin pig roast and pulled pork sandwiches, plus all the trimmings,” Albers said. “It’s an opportunity to share camaraderie with like-minded people and celebrate seaplanes and aviation.”

The base has more than 300-plus volunteers, and Albers said they are like an extended family. He should know. He started volunteering here when he was about 8 with his grandfather, Lon Nanke, who died in May.

“Without him and his aviation background as a master pilot, I never would have been able to experience what aviation is and what seaplanes can do,” said Albers, who is now a student pilot.

The Androfskis, of Waunakee, Wisconsin, said they hadn’t visited the EAA Seaplane Base for a while.

“It’s so laid back here,” said Kitti, which is the name she uses only at AirVenture. “It’s just someplace different to go and get away from it all. After six days, you’re looking for a little quiet before we go back to work.”

Joe, EAA 141879, is a volunteer tram driver and Kitti a tram conductor during AirVenture.

Martin and Kerstin Renschler, EAA 1086618, of San Diego, California, come to the EAA Seaplane Base each year. “I just think seaplanes are cool,” said Martin, a private pilot who is building an RV-10. “It’s one more thing to drool over.”

But Kerstin appreciates the beauty of the area. “It is less crowded, a wonderful place to explore, and if you’re lucky enough, a place to watch seaplanes come and go.”

Located on private property, the EAA Seaplane Base is open to the public only this one week of the year.

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