Investing in local beauty and history: “Friends” passes fundraising milestone for Apostle Islands

It’s been called the best idea we’ve ever had.  Our system of National Parks, begun with Yellowstone nearly a century after our country’s creation, is as treasured today as any of our most valued American institutions.  Yet the long-term preservation of these special places today is proving more challenging than their legislative creation. 

That is why a recent milestone reached by the Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is so significant and a cause for celebration. This non-profit organization, born and nurtured in the Chequamegon Bay area, recently announced that it had passed the $500,000 mark in monies generated and donated to our local national lakeshore since it began these efforts in 2002.  It’s a fitting milestone as we commemorate the 50th anniversary year of the park’s creation.

Taxpayer dollars and user fees are critical to fund basic operations in our parks, but they can’t be expected to address all the potential that exists in our 423 national park sites today. And in the Apostle Islands, there are remarkable possibilities to provide access, enhance visitor experience, increase community and youth engagement, and foster educational outreach. 

The “Friends” has worked to raise funds for projects and events, and recruit volunteer labor, that the government can’t always supply in a timely fashion.

Little Sand Bay viewing platform

For example, as part of its accessibility initiative, “Friends” recently provided funds for a viewing platform over the break wall at Little Sand Bay and a new amphitheater at Stockton Island, both designed to address special needs. It’s now funding a study on how to improve universal access at Meyers Beach.

Meyers Beach accessibility project – concept drawing

It has raised funds to rehabilitate historic structures such as the Raspberry Island boat house and the Manitou Fish Camp.  Partnerships with the Apostle Island Historic Conservancy to preserve the West Bay Club on Sand Island and with the Bayfield Maritime Museum to construct a lighthouse keeper’s boat replica for Raspberry Island have proved invaluable.

Shoreline stabilization at West Bay Club

Funds have promoted educational efforts in and around the islands such as exhibits and signage, publications, and island excursions for local schools including the three-day “Island School” for sixth grade students conducted every spring for many years.

Visitors to the islands don’t realize it, but the beachgrass planted to stabilize dunes, the planting of historic lighthouse gardens and the extensive brush removed from Raspberry Island light station were contributions conducted by a dedicated volunteer workforce that the “Friends” organize each year.

Gaylord Nelson Memorial Garden
Gaylord Nelson Memorial Garden maintained by Friends volunteers

Naturalist writer John Muir summed up the importance of these special places.  He wrote, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”

We have this one special place in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore unlike any other on the planet.  Thank you to all, individuals and the 40 business partners, who have made this financial investment possible and those who’ve donated their time and talents to make this park a truly remarkable place.

Mark Peterson, Bayfield


Mark Peterson is a former director for the National Parks Conservation Association and serves on the board of directors for the Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

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Kayaker photo by Jeff Rennicke