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 sixth 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.
Vicki Webster served in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore as a permanent STF park interpreter and as Acting Chief Interpreter. in the early 1980s.
What is the coolest thing you did in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (APIS) as part of your job?
It’s not hard to answer the question about the “coolest thing” I did there. Hands down, the day we all went out to Raspberry Island to install historically accurate gardens was such a unique and wonderful experience. I still have the t-shirt, even though it was nearly 40 years ago! Kate Lidfors was the park historian.
We had been studying historic photos of the light station grounds. Raspberry Island had several large vegetable and flower gardens, each outlined with rocks that had been painted white. She had gotten permission and some funding to restore the historic scene, but the funds didn’t cover labor. In order to install the gardens (which meant digging up a lot of lawn and painting a bazillion rocks), she organized a Saturday when any member of the park staff who was willing and able could volunteer to put in a full day of hard labor on the island.
In exchange, we each received a ride out to the island on a park boat, a t-shirt, and dinner in the form of a huge fish boil on the lighthouse grounds at the end of the day. Memory tells me it was Chief of Maintenance Dave Kangas who was in charge of the fish boil, and he would have guaranteed the authenticity of the menu.
I don’t know how many parkies headed out to Raspberry Island that day, but it has always been one of my fondest parkie memories. Such camaraderie! Such a beautiful place! Such a great project! It was really, really a “cool” thing to do, and a story I have told many times.
It was also pretty cool to work there when the park was so new. I had opportunities to work on the ground floor of much of the park’s interpretive planning. I was there when a Fresnel lens was reconstructed in the Visitor Center, I knew Roy and Irene Hokenson, I was able to watch the rebuilding of the Twilite. (I remember Roy told me that they would quit fishing for the day when the ice on their rubber gloves got up to an inch thick. After that, I savored every bite of whitefish.)
I stood on Gull Island and watched a gull chick hatch. I arrived at the Manitou Fish Camp once very shortly after the Governor had just left–Kate Lidfors and I walked into his cabin and could still smell bacon grease. And, of course, I was able to spend time at every one of the lighthouses.
I served as the park’s representative on a task force working to establish the North Country Trail and was lucky enough to go hiking with Gaylord Nelson. My job there was full of great opportunities.
Please share a memorable experience you had in the park.
A couple of “memorable” and “amazing” stories come to mind. I recall a summer day when I was scheduled to lead a hike at Little Sand Bay. It was unusually hot and sticky and very unpleasant out. The flies were remarkably thick. I thought nobody could possibly want to go on a hike that day, but there was one couple just dying to suffer out there. I put on my brave happy face and led them on the trail along the shoreline. The flies were so thick I almost couldn’t breathe. Once, I looked down at my green uniform pants and could not see the green–just black flies attached to me and in motion.
Finally, I got to the end of the trail and told the couple it was time to turn around. They were having so much fun, they wanted to continue on their way, so I bade them farewell. I turned around, and, just as I was out of sight of that couple, I started running and running as fast as I could, holding in the scream I wanted to let out. I thought I was going to completely lose my mind from the flies. I shudder at the memory!
What is the most amazing thing you saw in the park?
One of the more amazing things I saw at APIS was while on board the Pelican, the landing craft the park used for maintenance trips out to the islands. We were out on the lake in the Pelican when we were suddenly in six-to-ten-foot swells. Wouldn’t you know that was when the engine konked out. Dick Landraint, the marine mechanic, just climbed out onto the transom, disappeared for a while, and, miraculously, reappeared, repairs accomplished. How he held on while that huge boat was bucking and rolling, I’ll never know. But I did not expect to see him again after he went over, that’s for sure.
I have another memory of Raspberry Island that is not a happy one, but one worth sharing because it reminds us that island duty is not to be taken lightly. It must have been the summer of 1982 because I was supervising all the seasonals. We had hired a young woman from out of state, new to the park, to be the Raspberry Island ranger for that summer. A ranger dropped us off on the island for the day and planned to come back later to pick me up. We spent the day hiking around the island, checking out the lighthouse and the quarters, discussing duties, etc.–basically, getting her oriented.
About the time my ride was due, we were saying good-bye, when she abruptly told me that I needed to get her off the island NOW, that if I left her there, she would not survive the night. (!!??!!) It turned out that she suffered from depression (which, in the early 1980s, was not as widely understood as it is now). She realized that being alone on an island was actually dangerous for her. She was very much at risk of suicide if left there. I still remember her explaining to me about depression, what it is as an illness–she said, “I wish I just had a broken arm so people could see it.”
I took her back to the mainland. She left, and we hired someone else for that position. But, I have always been grateful to her for the lesson she taught me. (In fact, that is one of my strongest general memories about my time there–I was new to supervision, and I learned SO much from the wide variety of people with whom I dealt….stories abound.)
What is the most fun experience you had in the park?
Something fun I did there that was also challenging was to give campfire programs at the campground in the town of Washburn. There were no facilities for a traditional campfire program with slides (every interpreter’s favorite crutch), so I remember making huge posters showing bird silhouettes or something and giving “campfire” talks quick before it got dark. Working at APIS really challenged my interpretive skills and broadened my skillset considerably.
Please share an accomplishment from your tenure at APIS that gives you pride.
Hmmm….I would have to say that getting the historic photo collection organized and cataloged so that it could be used was a pretty big deal. That’s a resource that could easily have fallen by the wayside had it not been properly handled. Along those same lines, getting the funding to catalog the Hokenson Fishery and supervising that project was a pretty big accomplishment as well. And, I felt good about having a voice in the interpretive planning for the park so early in its existence. Oh, and, not job-related but really fun, I birded my butt off and added considerably to my life list and wildlife experiences.
If you could return to just one place in APIS, where would you go? Why?
Raspberry Island, of course. I love that place.
After a long career with the National Park Service, Vicki retired several years ago from her job as curator for the Southeast Utah Group of parks (Arches, Canyonlands, Natural Bridges, and Hovenweep). She lives in Moab, Utah.
We would like to thank Vicki for her entry in the Lakeshore Logbook. We look forward to sharing more Logbook entries with you in the coming weeks. You can find the whole series here.