Friends volunteers lend their green thumbs, time and talent on Michigan Island

Gardening is an important part of the history of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Early lighthouse keepers planted fruit trees, vegetables and grains to provide nourishment for the body; they also planted flower gardens to nourish the soul.

On Michigan Island, Elizabeth Lane raised three children where her husband, Ed, was keeper from 1902 until he retired in 1938. She also cultivated some amazing gardens. Of Elizabeth, Coast Guard Chief Walter Parker said,“How she used to love to get up to that island and get at that garden of hers. That whole station was one mass of flowers.”

Elizabeth Lane in her garden near the Old Michigan Island Lighthouse, among peonies, date unknown. NPS / Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Archives

Fast forward to today and you will find gardens growing on Michigan and Raspberry Islands, as they did in the early 1900s.

Guided by a 2011 Cultural Landscape Report and treatment plan, the National Park Service partially restored the historically accurate gardens on Michigan Island. Work crews cut back encroaching trees and brush. They also recreated the stone planters and flowerbeds built by Elizabeth and Ed Lane and replanted a portion of the apple orchard the Lanes started on the island. 

Those gardens are thriving today, thanks in part to the work of volunteers from Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. In late June, a group armed with shovels, rakes and a willingness to get their hands dirty spent a day on Michigan Island to care for the gardens.

Volunteer and Friends board member Karen Graff said, “I love taking a part in maintaining the gardens of Elizabeth and Ed Lane, and keeping the history of the lighthouses and their keepers alive!  This rich history is an important part of our state and nation as mining, shipping, fishing and immigration expanded on Lake Superior.”

Read more about the history of Michigan island from the National Park Service.

Friends volunteers also help to maintain the Gaylord Nelson Memorial Garden at park headquarters in Bayfield.

Friends board chair and volunteer gardener Erica Peterson said, “Working gardens in a public place, and especially in a national park, is so gratifying. Add in a sense of history, and it gives the effort purpose. Climb the lighthouse tower, look down on the white-rimmed gardens (16 total), and out towards Bayfield; that’s the reward shared with the light keepers of old.”

If you would like to lend your green thumb to future gardening efforts, fill out our volunteer form. We’ll be in touch with upcoming opportunities.

We also thank our volunteers for your hard work on the cultural landscapes of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

Jon Okerstrom

Jon Okerstrom is a Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore board member and digital and social media volunteer with a background in digital and television journalism, photography and graphic design.

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