Friends join with Big Top Chautauqua to celebrate Earth Day and the beauty and future of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

It was a night of music, moving images and intriguing discussions when our friends at Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua collaborated with the Friends of the Apostle Islands to celebrate the connection between Earth Day and the national lakeshore during a special edition of the Tiny Tent Show on Facebook and YouTube.

Of Earth Day and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, host Michael Perry noted that Wisconsin Governor and Senator Gaylord Nelson was “at the heart of both of these milestones.”

Michael Perry, Host

He asked Friends Executive Director Jeff Rennicke about Nelson’s connection to the creation of the park.

Rennicke said, “It takes more than scheming and dreaming to make this a reality. You really needed somebody with the vision and the political acumen, and frankly the perseverance to make this into a reality. And that’s where Gaylord Nelson came in.”

Rennecke recounted the story of how Nelson and President John F. Kennedy flew by helicopter with over the Apostle Islands on their way to Ashland as part of a nationwide conservation tour in 1963. Rennicke said, “They saw a black bear running on Long Island beach. But what really caught the attention of Kennedy was when a collection of sailboats in full sail was pointed out below. He, a sailor himself, was said to have smiled broadly at that sight.”

Rennicke said it would take seven more years of hard work to make it happen but on September 26, 1970, President Richard Nixon signed into law the bill making the lakeshore a reality.

Jeff Rennicke, Executive Director of Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

About the future of the park, Rennicke talked about how global climate change could affect the lake, the islands and the biological diversity there. He also explained that the world and park visitors are changing demographically. He said the Friends organization is working with the National Park Service on some major accessibility projects, all in an effort to make our park accessible people with different physical abilities and cultural perspectives.

Rennicke said Earth Day and the national lakeshore have more in common than the legacy of Gaylord Nelson. “Both of the things we’re celebrating this summer… are really about hope,” he said. “So maybe we could look at this summer as the season of hope — something we could all use about now.”

Then, photographer Mark Weller told the story behind the his quest to capture the Milky Way over the iconic lighthouses of the Apostle Islands. Weller explained how the mission started as tribute to Martin Hanson, founder of the Friends and to Senator Nelson, and evolved into an ongoing fundraiser for the Friends organization. (You can see and buy the fine art prints here.)

Mark Weller and Michael Perry


Perry said it may sound silly coming from where he lives, but asked, “Is seeing the Milky Way special?” Weller said, “Absolutely. 99% of the United States and Europe cannot see the Milky Way because of light pollution. So we are very fortunate to have the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore that is protected… so you can see the Milky Way. We are part of the one percent and it is a dramatic view.”

Outer Island Lighthouse and Milky Way-Apostle Islands Photo of the Year 2009
Outer Island Lighthouse and Milky Way-Apostle Islands Photo of the Year 2009

Weller said the night sky over the Apostle Islands is so unique in the upper midwest that “we’re looking to have the park declared an official dark sky park, so stay tuned for that journey.”

The beauty of the Apostle Islands – at night and during the day – and during the four seasons – came into sharp focus in the next segment. Photographers Mike DeWitt, Joe Garza, Bob Jauch, Jon Okerstrom, Carol and Roy Toepke and Mark Weller provided some amazing images of the Apostle Islands, artfully set to an original composition by Ed Willett of the Blue Canvas Orchestra, produced by Jon Okerstrom.

Later in the show, Tia Nelson, daughter of Gaylord Nelson, said during an interview with Perry, “For me there is no place more magical in the world than the Apostle Islands.”

Michael Perry and Tia Nelson

Nelson said her hope for the future comes from reflecting on her father’s legacy and work. She said, “My father faced a lot of challenges, defeats and setbacks but he never gave up.” She said her hope is “the kids of today, when they’re celebrating a brighter future… that they know I did everything I could to give them a chance.”

About this special Earth Day presentation, Big Top organizers said, “As we all know the 50th anniversary celebrations for Earth Day and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore were derailed last year due to Covid 19 but here at the Tiny Tent Show we’re happy to have this opportunity to pick up that baton again. We are fortified by our experiences over the last year with a new understanding that we are indeed all connected in this world.”

Watch this special program on YouTube.