Lakeshore Logbook – Kayci Cook Collins

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 fourth 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.

Kayci Cook Collins is the fourth generation of her family to work for the National Park Service. She served as Chief of Interpretation and Resource Education for the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore from April of 1991 to December of 1994.

Kayci leads a group hike to the Sand Island lighthouse

What is the coolest thing you did in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (APIS) as part of your job? 
Late one winter, I went to Raspberry Island to retrieve the datalogger that was collecting temperature and humidity data inside the Lightkeeper’s Quarters as part of our preparations to refurbish the lighthouse.  In those days, dataloggers could only hold 6 months of data before becoming full.  To have continuous data, we had to go to the island, grab the logger, bring it back to HQ in Bayfield, download the data and return it to the lightkeeper’s quarters, all on the same day.  A friend offered to drive me to Raspberry Island across the lake ice in one of his beat-up Chevy Blazers to make quicker work of the job.  It was a bit unnerving – we drove with the windows down to listen for ice cracking sounds.  It was exciting and fun and we fulfilled our mission, returning the datalogger before dark that day!  I know that isn’t possible now, as much of APIS is wilderness.  I think skiing across the ice would also have been fun, but I think we would have missed at least one day of data!

Winter view of Raspberry Island lighthouse

What is the most fun experience you had in the park? 
I loved the safety training sessions that were organized for NPS employees – driving on ice (going really fast and braking to see how vehicles skid), snowmobiling (going up and over icy pressure ridges without tipping over), and water rescue (jumping into the water through a hole in the ice – wearing a dry suit, of course – and being pulled to safety).  

NPS staff practicing ice rescue techniques

Please share a memorable experience you had in the park. 
I was kayaking near Oak Island and a common loon surfaced right next to my boat.  We stared at each other motionless for a moment and then moved together for a bit, in parallel formation, until the loon disappeared below the lake surface again. 

What is the most amazing thing you saw in the park? 
On an overnight trip to Sand Island, I saw the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) swirling and pulsating pink and green.  It was magical!

Northern lights over Sand and Eagle islands

Please share an accomplishment from your tenure at APIS that gives you pride. 
During my tenure, we established an Artist-in-Residence program.  We held a juried competition that got a huge number of submissions! We selected talented writers, artists, musicians, and photographers.  Participants stayed at Sand Island to create their products.  They interacted with visitors and did public programs to share their experience and their work.  I was so impressed with the talent and creativity of the participants and the public response.  

Artist in residence

What story from your time at APIS do you share most frequently? 
Superintendent Jerry Banta put me in charge of the project to return the Devils Island Fresnel lens to the lighthouse tower there. I coordinated repair and conservation of the lens with NPS conservators, which was done in the shop space at the Bayfield High School.  After the lens panels were repaired, they were crated to protect them on the journey to Devils Island. 

Kayci next to a crated section of the Fresnel lens at Devils Island light

How does one get a bunch of extremely heavy, glass and brass Fresnel lens panels to the farthest island from the Bayfield Peninsula? By US Coast Guard Chinook helicopter, of course!  I was honored to ride aboard that helicopter, which set down on the grassy lawn of the lighthouse grounds.  It took the combined NPS and USCG team several days to uncrate each lens panel, hoist it to the top of the tower, and reassemble the lens. 

We stayed in the light keeper’s quarters, entertained in the evening by live music, as some of the employees brought instruments.  One of the songs we sang was “Good Night Irene.” From that night forward, the Devils Island Light became Irene to me. 

Kayci and Park Historian Dave Snyder in the Devils Island light tower

If you could return to just one place in APIS, where would you go? Why? 
I would kayak from Little Sand Bay to Sand Island – that was my go-to APIS experience during my 4 years there, an easy trip across the water, close and cozy but wild and wonderful. 

A single kayaker paddling from Little Sand Bay to Sand Island

Kayci is currently the Superintendent for the Flagstaff Area National Monuments (Walnut Canyon, Wupatki, and Sunset Crater).  We would like to thank her for adding her great stories 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.

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