Lakeshore Logbook – Larry Johnson

As part of our 50th Anniversary celebration, we are collecting and sharing the stories of people connected to the islands, whether they are park guests, former residents or former park employees.

This is the second in our series called “Lakeshore Logbook,” a collection of memories provided by former National Park Service employees.

Living and working in the park on a day to day basis, they’ve experienced a lot to be sure. We hope you enjoy their perspectives.

After 37 years with the National Park Service, Larry Johnson retired as the Superintendent of Ozark National Scenic Riverways in January of 2020. He said, “My time at Apostle Islands was a highlight of my 41 year federal government (37 with NPS) career and I have some wonderful memories of those days.”

Larry Johnson

When did you work in the park?  May 1983 to June 1991

What position(s) did you hold?  East District Ranger

What is the coolest thing you did in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (APIS) as part of your job? Lots of things, but the standout was rescuing Loons trapped in commercial fishing pond nets.  Also rescuing injured and ill people from the islands and boats in trouble. 

What is the most fun experience you had in the park?  

SCUBA diving with the East Carolina University Underwater Archeology Field School and doing underwater archeological work on the shipwrecks in the park. 

Please share a memorable experience you had in the park. A mid-winter trip to Stockton Island by commercial fishing boat, paddling ashore with a dinghy, donning snowshoes and tracking radio collared black bears with telemetry to their dens as they were hibernating. We then tranquillized them and weighed and measured them before safely tucking them back in their dens.  Some had cubs so we recorded, weighed and measured the cubs. I held them inside my coat to keep them warm while we briefly interrupted their sleep until we placed them back with their mother. 

What story from your time at APIS do you share most frequently?  When a black bear on Stockton Island got too aggressive with people, even boarding moored boats seeking food, we live-trapped it and transported it 16 miles to shore via park boat.  We then drove it, still in the live-trap, about 25 miles inland to where the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest allowed us to release it back into the wild.

It had a radio collar so we could track it’s telemetry to watch where it went from there.  Well, it made a beeline back to the shoreline north of Red Cliff, covering those miles in only a few days.  The bear went back and forth along the shoreline and then we lost it’s radio signal.  A week later, we picked up its signal back on Stockton Island! Thankfully the bear kept out of trouble and didn’t bother anyone again.  That winter, we recovered it’s radio collar hanging on a tree limb stub.  So the bear slipped its collar, lived happily ever after and never demanded our attention after that! 

Please share an accomplishment from your tenure at APIS that gives you pride. I think doing all the rescues of injured and ill visitors and visitors in distress over the years is probably what I’m most proud of. I also served sometimes as an EMT with the Coast Guard on their 41 foot boat taking care of patients we were evacuating from the islands or a vessel in distress. 

What is the most amazing thing you saw in the park? 

I was always amazed by the beautiful clarity of the water in Lake Superior.  I recall taking a sechi disc reading to measure how deep into the water I could see the disc.  I could still see it at 60 feet down! Probably could have seen it deeper but I ran out of line!

What, if any, ’something’ from your time at APIS was an impetus for your chosen career or life path?  I am grateful to have had so many great experiences as a Park Ranger while at APIS.  I loved ranger work and it affirmed and established my career path as a National Park Service Ranger from then on. 

Over my 37 years with the NPS, I was privileged to work in 10 parks including Yellowstone,Voyageurs, Badlands, Jewel Cave, Ozark Riverways and Sleeping Bear Dunes while serving as a ranger, District Ranger, Chief Ranger, Deputy Superintendent and Superintendent. I will always look back at my time at Apostle Islands with great fondness, great memories and great friends. I would do it all again if I could. APIS is a very special place for me. 

If you could return to just one place in APIS, where would you go? Why? Lots of favorite places there but my most favorite is the “Singing Sands” of Julian Bay on Stockton Island.  I would love to hike the Tombolo Trail again sometime! The natural beauty of the park is all seen right there. 

We would like to thank Larry Johnson for adding his memories to the Lakeshore Logbook. We look forward to sharing more Logbook entries with you in the coming weeks. You can find the whole series here.