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 seventh 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.
Paul Chalfant worked as a seasonal ranger on Oak Island and South Twin Island for 3 summers starting in 1985, then intermittently in the spring for a few years.
For 8 weeks in the summer of 1988, he was the leader of a Youth Conservation Corps work crew working out of Little Sand Bay.
What’s the story you tell most often? The story I tell most often is of the night a storm blew in when I worked on South Twin Island. I was over at Rocky Island giving a campfire program when the storm blew in from the northwest. Being at the Rocky Island dock was ideal for the 10 or so sail boats at the dock.
They were stacked up like sardines and tied by the stern to the dock with an anchor out from the bow to hold them off from each other. The dock was perfectly protected from the storm being in the lee of the island.
After an hour or so of the storm, the wind switched around and began to blow from the east, directly into the dock that was now totally exposed to the wind and waves. The boats began to rock asynchronously, and the masts began to knock into each other breaking off equipment mounted to them.
The anchors of the outer boats began to slip and threatened a massive pile-up. We were able to come up with a couple spare anchors and anchor lines.
I got into my open 16′ Boston Whaler and motored out, shouting over the wind and rain and with the boats rising and falling with the waves, I was able to nose up to the outer boats close enough for them to lower the anchors into my bow. I backed out as far as the anchor line would allow and dropped the anchor so that they could set it and pull themselves off the adjacent boats. That stabilized the dominoes, and we were able to ride out the storm. What a wild night.
I was always amazed at the caliber of the visitor to the islands. One night there was a domestic violence incident on a sailboat at the Otter Island dock and a person was stabbed. The victim was able to get off the boat and visitors from other boats at the dock untied the stern lines from the first boat and allowed it to swing out on its’ anchor. A physician, who happened to be on one of the other boats, bandaged up the victim until the rangers got there.
A lot of my memories were had after hours or off season. My favorite memory is winter camping on the south end of Oak Island. Skiing across the frozen lake with our camping gear was amazing. We set up camp at the south end of the island on the bluff over the beach.
I remember having to sharpen the tips of my ski poles like an ice pick so they would grab the ice. We skied around the SE corner of the island to see the sandstone cliffs and caves and snowshoed to the dock area along the trail.
I also remember when my dad and mom (Bob and Irene) volunteered to staff the Sand Island lighthouse. They thoroughly enjoyed it. They’d be out there for 10 days then back to our house for 4 days. My dad went out to the island without his cigarettes. After smoking for 50+ years that was the end of that nasty habit.
While they were on Sand Island that fall Diane visited me on Oak Island. She had made a birthday cake for my mom. With our 12-foot Zodiac raft, a 25-horsepower outboard, and calm seas, we scooted over to Sand Island and surprised them with a small birthday party. They were pretty shocked! It was a bit unnerving making our way back to Oak Island in the moonlight with only Raspberry light and the island silhouettes to guide us.
One of the most memorable things I did (not on work time) was to scuba dive on the shipwreck Noque Bay in Julian Bay. Larry Johnson and I dove on it. It was less than 20′ deep. The water was so clear that you could see it from the surface if you knew where to look. We photographed and documented the condition and the parts that were exposed. It was very impressive to see the exposed timbers of the hull. The best part was that you could swim out to it from shore. It was very close. Of course, you needed a wet suit since the water was so cold.
Paul and his wife Diane left the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in the winter of 1990. Paul recently retired from his position as a Concessions Management Specialist in the National Park Service’s Washington D.C. office. He lives in Livingston, Montana with Diane who is also retired from the NPS.
We would like to thank Paul for his 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.