A day at the beach: Friends volunteers help to restore the Lakeshore’s sandscapes

“Shhhhhhhhhh ….” Next to the drumbeat of the waves, it is the music of the wind dancing in the beach grass that is the quintessential sound along the beaches of the Apostle Islands. Waving and swirling, the grasses of a sandscape are the dance of the lake breezes. And, they are also a delicate, fragile, and all-too-often disturbed ecosystem. Recently, a cadre of volunteers from Friends of the Apostle Islands assisted the National Park Service with restoration work on the sandscapes of Raspberry Island and Little Sand Bay in an effort to protect these beautiful and important places for visitors and wildlife alike.

Planting at Little Sand Bay – Jeff Rennicke photographs

“The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has the highest quality and most diverse collection of sandscapes in the Great Lakes,” said Julie Van Stappen of the National Park Service. “These sandscapes are dynamic, vital for several species of wildlife and breeding birds, and very popular with visitors.”

Sometimes, too popular. Beach grasses have very shallow roots and often grow in easily disturbed soil. Compaction from too much foot traffic can kill the plants. To combat the resulting erosion, the park has been doing sandscape restoration using a combination of floating boardwalks to direct visitor traffic and volunteer efforts to restore and replenish the fragile beach grasses in eroded areas.

Late last summer, seeds and plant materials were gathered from healthy park sandscapes and grown over the winter by a greenhouse that specializes in native plants. In late May, trays and trays of the healthy plants were transported back to the park where a team of NPS staff and Friends volunteers replanted 4,000 plugs of beach grass (Ammophila breviligulata) and hairgrass (Deschampsia flexuosa) on damaged areas of sandscape at Little Sand Bay and Raspberry Island.

Friends volunteers
Friends volunteers and NPS staffers line up for shoreline restoration – Jeff Rennicke photograph

“The replanted grasses are critical in stabilizing the shifting sands of these sandscapes. Their shallow roots help to hold the soil in place.”

Julie Van Stappen, National park service

Using trowels, strong backs, and a love for these delicate places, 17 Friends volunteers and five NPS staff members carefully replanted each plug in areas identified by park biologists.

Planting on the Raspberry Island sand spit – Bob Jauch photographs

Raspberry Island planting zones

“We all enjoy the beaches and sandscapes of the Apostles,” said Jill Rennicke, Co-Director of Friends of the Apostle Islands and Volunteer Coordinator for this event. “By working with the National Park Service, our volunteers can help ensure that they will be healthy and beautiful for all of us, and for the wildlife of the park for years to come.”

If you would like to volunteer for future projects through the Friends, fill out the form and you will be added to our volunteer email list. We’ll contact you when opportunities to get involved arise.


Jeff Rennicke is Executive Director of the Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. He is also an educator, outdoor adventure travel writer and photographer.