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 twelfth 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.
Jim Nepstad worked in the national lakeshore from October 1998 to December 2010. He says, “For the first 4 years, I was in the old Management Assistant position. After that I managed what was then the Planning and Resource Management division until my departure.”
What is the coolest thing you did in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (APIS) as part of your job?
I feel like my most rewarding accomplishment at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore was working with staff from Red Cliff, Bad River, and GLIFWC on the agreement for implementing their reserved hunting and gathering rights within the park. The people we worked with to make this happen were very kind, generous, and patient with me as I came up to speed on the nature and scope of these critically important rights.
It was truly an honor to be able to help the federal government honor 150+ year old commitments, and much of what I picked up along the way has helped me immensely in my current position at Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa.
What is the most fun experience you had in the park?
Although the deer reduction work on Sand and York Islands was originally envisioned as a volunteer opportunity, we weren’t allowed to do it that way for the first year or two. I don’t particularly like killing things, but the work was critically important to preserving the original understory vegetation. I think I enjoyed it as much as I did because all of the other time I spent on the islands in a work capacity seemed to involve running around from point A to point B.
Sitting for hours in a blind and absorbing the sights and sounds of Sand Island was magical. I particularly recall the moment I saw my first wolf from about 20 yards away on Sand Island. It was a breathtaking sight. The project also allowed me the rare opportunity to get out to the islands during the winter months.
Please share a memorable experience you had in the park.
I had so many, but one that really stands out for me involves a bear, Raspberry Island, and Ojibwe ceremony. A mother bear and her cubs were stuck on Raspberry Island – I believe in 2001. Although they had had plenty to eat earlier in the spring and summer with that year’s army/tent worm explosion, the caterpillars were disappearing and there wasn’t much else to eat on relatively small Raspberry Island.
Mom appeared reluctant to swim off the island with young cubs. So increasingly the family was pestering the staff at the light station. The mother’s behavior was becoming more desperate, and staff were becoming more and more worried she might break into the light station or threaten visitors. For more than a week, park and DNR staff attempted to trap them off the island, but she and the cubs appeared to be too smart to fall for that trick.
The situation escalated to the point that some staff at park headquarters were beginning to discuss potentially putting the mother down (something done only under extreme circumstances these days, but not unheard of back then if the bear acted aggressively enough and couldn’t be trapped).
Word of this reached community members in Red Cliff, and a request was made to transport tribal members out to the island to conduct a ceremony before there were any attempts to put the mother down. I agreed to accompany them on the boat ride out to Raspberry Island that evening, and was very surprised when they invited me onto the island to experience the ceremony. We hunkered down at a spot in the old growth forest of Raspberry Island, and I felt like I had been transported to a different time as I gazed off into the unchanged forest while listening to the fluent Ojibwe being spoken.
And wouldn’t you know it, but mom and the cubs allowed themselves to be trapped and safely transported off the island the very next day. Quite the effective partnership, and one of the most memorable evenings of my life.
What is the most amazing thing you saw in the park?
Probably the wolf on Sand Island. I think we stared at each other long enough to come to an understanding.
Please share an accomplishment from your tenure at APIS that gives you pride.
I’m proud of my involvement in the Wilderness Study that was done in 2001 through 2003 or so. It started off very tense, since no one really understood what wilderness designation might mean for the islands. But we organized dozens and dozens of meetings with any groups and governmental bodies that had in interest in the islands, and after carefully listening to all the concerns expressed, I believe we crafted a proposal that the vast majority of folks could support, or at least tolerate.
What story from your time at APIS do you share most frequently?
I like to talk about the day I got to spend at the Raspberry Island light station with actor Ben Kingsley. Heck, I even bragged about hanging out with Gandhi in my resume for my current position. Never hurts to name drop… But in all seriousness, it was a fun day on the lake spent with a very down-to-earth guy who was scoping out the Raspberry light as a potential movie set for some upcoming production he was involved in. Unfortunately in the end, the production never materialized. But at least I got a cool photo.
If you could return to just one place in APIS, where would you go? Why?
Outer Island sandspit. Why? Go find out for yourself!
Jim Nepstad is currently Superintendent at Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa. We would like to thank Jim 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.