Lakeshore Logbook – Diane Chalfant

Diane Chalfant
Diane Chalfant

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 22nd 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.

Diane Chalfant worked in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore from the spring of 1984 to the fall of 1990. She served first as Assistant Chief Naturalist and in 1988 she became Chief Naturalist.

What is the coolest thing you did in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (APIS) as part of your job?  
One of my collateral duties was Park Photographer. When Long Island was being considered as an addition to the National Lakeshore, I was asked to photograph it from a small airplane. I just remember that we had the door open so that I could lean out and photograph it without parts of the airplane showing.  That was really fun and pretty thrilling. 

Long Island
Aerial view of Long Island

What is the most fun experience you had in the park?  
Any time I got out on the islands was fun. It was all so magical…the lighthouses, the trails, the beaches.  I constantly reminded myself of what a privilege it was to be there, to work there, and to have the access and the experiences. I really looked forward to seasonal training each year and the time we all spent together out on the islands.  

Please share a memorable experience you had in the park.  
Paul was working on Oak Island on a 10-day on, 4 off schedule. We had just purchased a small Zodiac but we hadn’t tried it out as we didn’t have a motor. During one of those 10 day stretches when Paul was out on Oak, I went to a marine shop and purchased a 15hp Evinrude. I wanted to surprise Paul with a visit, but I didn’t know how to put the Zodiac together. Lydia Ferraro agreed to help me. We met at Roy’s Point at Red Cliff, she helped me assemble the boat and attach the motor. It was getting late in the afternoon, and I was anxious to take off. I pointed to an island and said, “that’s Oak, right?” She said “no, you need to go around the point and you’ll see it.” I took off, full speed, afraid to let up on the throttle because I didn’t know if I could start the motor again if it quit. I really had very little idea of what I was doing.  No running lights, no chart, no radio. Not very smart but I was young and in love. I got to the dock at Oak Island at dusk, and boy, was Paul surprised to see me! 

Lydia Ferraro operating a zodiac raft
Lydia Ferraro operating a zodiac raft

What is the most amazing thing you saw in the park?  
There isn’t just one thing. I was completely in awe of Lake Superior, the North County, the maritime history, the wildlife.  Everything was an adventure and we loved living in Bayfield and then Washburn. We could have very easily spent the rest of our careers at APIS…and, for a long time, we thought that we would return and retire there. 

Diane and Erica Peterson measure the circumference of an Oak tree on Oak Island
Diane and Erica Peterson measure the circumference of an Oak tree on Oak Island

Please share an accomplishment from your tenure at APIS that gives you pride.
I didn’t accomplish anything alone but together we completed the Michigan Island Fresnel Lens exhibit at HQ; the first park film with movie star Neil Howk singing “Smokey the Bear”(but mostly making every subsequent ranger feel bad for not being able to start a fire with a stick and a rock); and we completed the first official park handbook.   

Michigan Island fresnel lens exhibit at park HQ
Michigan Island fresnel lens exhibit at park HQ

What story from your time at APIS do you share most frequently?  
This isn’t a particular story—it’s really about our life at that time and place on the Bayfield Peninsula. It was such a significant and rich time in our lives. We were at APIS for just over six years and in that time we got married, had our daughter Danielle and our son, Marc; and we bought our first house—a duplex in Washburn.  We both worked for the park and Paul worked for the volunteer ambulance service in Washburn.  

Diane expecting her son Marc in 1989
Diane expecting her son Marc in 1989

We loved living there in all seasons—boating and camping in summers; music at the Big Top Chautauqua; cross country skiing in winter—and we have wonderful memories of the lifelong friends we made in Wisconsin. 

If you could return to just one place in APIS, where would you go? Why? 
That’s tough—because I would love to visit all of the islands with lighthouses and Stockton.  Although we no longer have our zodiac named “Dipper”, we do have a boat…so maybe that will happen! 

Diane Chalfant was most recently the Assistant Superintendent at Grand Canyon National Park when she retired from the National Park Service a few years ago.  We want to thank Diane for her entry into our 50th Anniversary Lakeshore Logbook. We look forward to sharing more Logbook entries with you in the coming weeks. You can find the whole series here.

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