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 tenth 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.
Jason Johnson worked as a park ranger in the protection division starting in 2005.
What is the coolest thing you did in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (APIS) as part of your job?
There were so many cool things I did during my time at APIS, but being a traditional Ranger working in law enforcement (LE), search and rescue (SAR), emergency medical services (EMS), and fire was amazing. So many parks have gone away from the traditional Ranger skillset and they are limited to one or two of the emergency services. Being able and even encouraged to maintain a variety of skills keeps the job fun!
Please share a memorable experience you had in the park.
The most fun experience was working with the great staff at the park over the years. Even though the staff may have changed through the years, creating the lasting friendships will always bring a smile to my face.
Some of the most memorable experiences were participating in SAR calls on Lake Superior during extreme conditions. Operating a park vessel in sea conditions greater than five feet and actually rescueing someone in these conditions is an amazing feeling.
What is the most amazing thing you saw in the park?
I saw too many amazing things at the park over the years to limit it to one. The northern lights I saw on numerous occasions while working the night shift on a Friday or Saturday, the sunsets from nearly every perspective and location in the park during my evening patrols, all the wild creatures of the park, to the different faces of Lake Superior itself (flat calm waters to waves greater than ten feet and everything in between.)
Please share an accomplishment from your tenure at APIS that gives you pride.
One of my greatest accomplishments was helping to advance the park’s search and rescue program. From my early years at the park when it was mostly only Visitor Services and Ranger Protection staff that responded to calls, to building a multi-divisional SAR team that could respond to any type of SAR call with confidence, training, and equipment to safely accomplish the mission. A big part of this was improving upon the ice awareness training for all park staff and becoming the first Ice Rescue Instructor for the park.
What story from your time at APIS do you share most frequently?
The stories I share most frequently are of the two supervisors I worked for; Greg Zeman and John Pavkovich. Both died shortly after they retired from the park, but both touched so many lives during their time at the park. Greg Zeman was Chief Ranger at APIS for over ten years and was issued badge number 201. When I left APIS to become Chief Ranger at Congaree NP in SC I requested and received his old Chief Ranger badge. I wear badge number 201 proudly every day remembering the legacy he and Pako left behind.
If you could return to just one place in APIS, where would you go? Why?
It’s hard to pick only one place to return to if I came back, but it would probably be the Ice Caves before they are opened to the public. Checking the ice conditions and seeing all the fragile ice formations before they were destroyed by people, time, or weather was something I’ll never forget.
Jason is currently the Chief Ranger at Congaree National Park in South Carolina.
We would like to thank him 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.