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It Ain't Sexy: Charting The Next Two Decades At Apostle Islands National Lakeshore


The historic Michigan Island Lighthouse at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. NPS photo

Perhaps one of the least publicly intriguing issues when you're talking about national parks is that of the the general management plans used to guide a park's growth and use. But when these documents come up for revision, the opportunity is ripe for you to have your two cents considered. For instance, should the lighthouses at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore be turned into bed-and-breakfasts?

Now, the lakeshore's current superintendent, Bob Krumenaker, has no intention of seeing the historic lighthouses that once warned Lake Superior ships away from the archipelago of islands that make up the lakeshore converted into such establishments. But if one didn't pay attention to the drafting of GMPs, as the management plans are referred to, such a proposal could indeed be inserted into the document and survive without public scrutiny.

While most, if not all, parks have GMPs, the example of Apostle Islands in Wisconsin is timely, for Superintendent Krumenaker has just released a draft GMP that will replace the current plan that took effect back in 1989. With a 15-to-20-year lifespan, these often-dry documents can carry a lot of weight for how a park's landscape is managed. The Apostle Islands draft GMP, which is open for public comment through October 23, carries a preferred alternative that, among other things, would:

* Rehabilitate at least two of the light stations (either Sand, Outer, or Michigan lights). This is costly work, but it's also indispensible, for the lakeshore's six light stations (or houses) are on the National Register of Historic Places. Two years ago, following a $1.3 million restoration that included a new roof and foundation repairs, the Raspberry Island Lighthouse reopened to the public. Inside, half of the station appears much as it did in the early 1920s when Lee Benton was its keeper, while half provides housing for park personnel.

* Continue to manage the Gaylord Nelson Wilderness, which covers 80 percent of the national lakeshore, as officially designated wilderness. While there are no plans to decrease, or increase, the number of campsites or miles of trail, some relocations could occur if conditions merited them to protect resources.

* Propose that a new visitor center be built along the waterfront in Bayfield, Wisconsin, if a suitable site could be identified and acquired. The lakeshore's current visitor center is within Bayfield's old courthouse in a location somewhat off-the-beaten path. The park headquarters would remain in the courthouse if such a visitor center came to be.

* Aim to reduce rent obligations by building NPS-owned facilities. The lakeshore currently spends $550,000 a year in rent for its maintenance facility ($402,000) and the courthouse ($148,000). The preferred alternative in the draft GMP says that once the current lease on the maintenance facility, which includes shops, dock space for the lakeshore's patrol boats, and storage space and some offices, expires, the "NPS would seek to obtain land to build a new facility to provide the park's long-term needs with lower operational costs and higher sustainability."

* Manage "life estates" for visitors once their leases expire. These facilities are inholdings that fall within the lakeshore's boundaries. The owners of the buildings have non-renewable leases. Once these leases expire, the draft GMP proposes that the Rocky Island Historic District, which is associated with fishing camps that once dotted the islands, "be preserved and interpreted via waysides or brochures. One or more of the associated docks may be rehabilitated and opened for day use"; the West Bay Club on Sand Island would have its main building preserved and interpreted, and a trail connecting the club with East Bay would be re-established. "If economically feasible, the West Bay Club may be rehabilitated for use as an overnight facility, replicating its historic use. If that is not feasible, camping would be permitted near West Bay"; Shaw Point on Sand Island would have its historic structures preserved and interpreted. "The historic road between Shaw Point and East Bay would be reestablished as a hiking trail. One or more deep-water docks may be rehabilitated and used for day and overnight use by the public. If economically feasible, Camp Stella may be adaptively rehabilitated for overnight use by the public, replicating its historic use."

Currently, park crews are rehabilitating the Hansen Farm on Sand Island for public interpretation.

* Explore the possibility of encouraging "inexpensive public transportation to some of the inner islands -- such as Basswood or Sand." Under such a scenario, additional individual and group campsites would be added on Sand, Basswood, and the non-wilderness portion of Oak islands.

For the most part, GMPs are without a doubt mind-numbing. But as you see, they can provide benefits to the visiting public. At the same time, parts of them can be viewed as "wish lists," as approval of a GMP doesn't automatically bring all of its contents to fruition. For instance, in the case of the proposed visitor center, land would have to be identified, legislation passed to acquire the land, and then money would have to be included in the Park Service budget to buy the land.

“There are a lot of dominoes that have to fall, but my theory has always been if you don’t talk about these things they don’t happen," says Superintendent Krumenaker.

A series of public meetings has been established to provide the public an opportunity to comment on the draft:

Mon, Aug 31
Red Cliff - Red Cliff Bingo Hall
88705 Highway 13
Red Cliff, WI

Mon, Aug 31
Bayfield - Apostle Islands NL Visitor Center
415 Washington Avenue
Bayfield, WI

Tues, Sept 1
Duluth/Superior Barkers Island Marina – Club Room
2509 Marina Drive
Superior, WI

Wed, Sept 2
Twin Cities Area - REI-Bloomington
750 West American Blvd
Bloomington, MN

Thur, Sept 3
Madison Area - The Lowell Center, Room 118
610 Langdon Street
Madison, WI

Fri, Sept 4
Out in the Park! - Stockton Island
Presque Isle Visitor Contact Station
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Tues, Sept 8
Bad River - Chief Blackbird Center
Conference Room C
Odanah, WI

Tues, Sept 8
Ashland Area - Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center
Near junction of Highways 2 and 13
Ashland, WI

You also can read the draft plan and comment on this site.

While the comment period on the draft GMP runs through October 23, it will take months for a final plan to be approved, as comments made on the draft will have to be taken into consideration in writing the final, and then NPS officials from the regional and national offices will have to sign off on the document.

Now, sometimes parks get some outside help from their congressional representatives to make things come true. In the case of Apostle Islands, a $5 million earmark to the NPS 2009 budget will enable the lakeshore to restore the Michigan Island Lighthouse, which dates to 1856, and provide some exterior stabilization work at the Outer Island light. Other work that could be accomplished would be to make repairs to the original, and thus historic, Fresnel lens and the lens room at Devils Island Light as well as dock replacement at the Michigan Island Light.


Excellent mind-boggling post, Kurt. You've made the government-written draft easier to wade through.

While the Islands are some of my favorite places in the world, thinking that they would lose most of their charm and beauty by converting to B&Bs and losing their historic and pristine flavor turns my stomach. I believe the buildings and trails should be rehabilitated, not commercialized.

True, the courthouse in Bayfield is a hike up the hill and land to purchase is in short supply. Finding a place for the NPS interpretive center and its offices will be difficult, but I'm sure it can be done. Ownership would be far preferable to leasehold any old day and would provide a permanent foothold on the land side for generations to come. Remember, many people who visit that area don't necessarily travel out to the islands, but they can garner a wealth of information from a centrally located center.

If you've never been to the Islands, plan a trip. Pick any island, or a few, to explore. Spring through fall are ideal for family visits. Let winter be for the more adventurous. Historically, the Islands human habitation goes farther back than whites care-taking lighthouses. The islands were for a generations summer fishing camps for Native Americans. Ever spent a summer in muggy northern Wisconsin? Then you will appreciate the breezes off Lake Superior, the goosebump, teeth-chattering, shivering delight of the clear lake water for a refreshing dip. The lesser developed Islands are wonderful places just to be. I miss the shush of the water on sand and rocky shores, the wind in the trees, the birdsong, the black sky away from lit towns that allow you to see the heavens.

Leave your gadgets behind. Do cellphones even work out there? No matter. I wouldn't take it anyway.

The Apostle Islands are wonderful little gems. Let's preserve them in their unpolished state.


You sound like you write copy for the COC;-) Or, more likely, that you love and fully appreciate the islands for what they are and what they offer.

The islands are definitely on my list...sounds like a great place for an extended paddle.

As I currently live in Madison, WI I plan to attend the meeting on Thursday if I can. I got a nice full-color version of the GMP in the mail. I really like the idea of expanding access to the islands. Currently it's pretty hard and/or expensive to get to any island other than Madeline Island, which is not part of the national lakeshore (but still worth checking out, and part of which is protected as a state park).


In case you need a little fodder for a future update, here is my post after going to the open house meeting in Madison, WI.

Thanks Mike!

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