Gaylord Nelson: mover, shaker, deal-maker

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Gaylord Nelson, who served both as Senator from Wisconsin and Governor of the state, is often described as “the father of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.”

The characterization is apt, but barely scratches the surface in conveying the difficulties involved in transforming a dream dating to the late nineteenth century to reality in the turbulent 1960s.

During eight years of proposals and counter-proposals, debate, maneuver, and compromise, Nelson faced and overcame obstacles including procedural bottlenecks, local resistance, Native American suspicion, and a National Park Service that often seemed indifferent at best to the idea.

As one close observer noted, the creation of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore “involved the presidential administrations of Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, resulted in twelve bills and bill drafts being written and rewritten… and produced thousands of pages of congressional testimony and hearing records.”

The phrase “professional politician” has become a common reproach in modern campaign rhetoric, but a reassessment of the term may be in order. Without Gaylord Nelson’s unmatched political acumen and years of commitment to public service, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore would not exist. 

Recording of this presentation is not available.

Presenter biography

Bob Mackreth, NPS(retired), Apostle Islands NL

Bob Mackreth

Bob Mackreth retired as Cultural Resource Management Specialist at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in 2005 after a 27-year NPS career.

He is currently active as a Executive Board member of the Apostle Islands Historic Preservation Conservancy and the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks. 


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