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 24th 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.
C. Stuart (Stu) Whipple worked as Stockton Island Ranger in 2011 and 2013.
After a long career teaching at the university level, Stu retired to pursue a second career as a seasonal park ranger.
What is the coolest thing you did in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (APIS) as part of your job?
The “coolest” thing I did at all my park experiences is to practice being the conduit between park visitors and the natural and cultural wonders of the parks, its history, meaning and promise to the past, present and future for all who ventured there and to learn for myself more of the great wonders of the universe and the personal gifts it provides.
My previous experiences in a variety of educational, scientific, and professional occupations had prepared me for the joys and challenges of being “a Ranger.” I had Lake Superior providing me an opportunity to learn and interpret a maritime environment filled with all varieties of human and wildlife travails and challenges.
Please share a memorable experience you had in the park.
A vague call requesting assistance for a medical “emergency” led to a forced march that found two of us beating our way directly through the center of Stockton Island’s thick interior dodging around fallen trees and slashing our path through vines, bushes and smaller branches that lazed over the mostly hidden trail. A winter of Superior storms thrashed the island and left debris topsy-turvy in our path. Soon I felt like a mole running blind through a grassy veld. Eyes, sweat in stinging rivulets ran aside my nose and dripped continuously to the wet spongy ground sucking at my boots.
But our journey was a quest, a camper needed medical attention. We slogged onward turning off path only occasionally and then for seconds only. Though we informed the radio dispatcher that we’d call when we arrived at our quest, the dispatcher kept calling, wondering if we had arrived “yet.” Several calls later still asking if “we were there yet” I began to wonder if she had ever traveled this trail. Had she sprinted it? My companion, younger by five decades or more, sounded like a heart attack waiting to happen. But we travelled quickly on, driven by concern and eager to not be the laggard.
My radio crackled, that feminine voice asking once again, “Have you arrived yet? I quickened my pace, my energy coming from concern more than body. My companion matched my strides. Our persistent sawing and hacking cut through branches felled through wind and storm. It seemed unending. “Did we miss the trail” my thoughts persisted. “Has the emergency become worse?” Then wondering if we’d ever get there the foliage changed, became less rugged, easily bowled over and footing improved. Finally, just as my radio cracked again, we emerged out of the forest to look across an expanse of the north shore bay…virtually on top of the quested campsite.
Catching breath we confronted the emergency. “Well, it’s not that bad,” came the explanation from the camper’s mate. Turns out she was feeling tired and “flu” like. Not an emergency at all. Somewhat dehydrated I attended the young woman and now free of concern contacted dispatch to calm their concern. I still wonder if they thought we were dogging it.
When the “emergency” lessened and both my trail mate and I gained our wind thankful that we did not add to the medical issue another voice broke in on my radio. As luck would have it the Park’s natural science crew was out not far from the island, boat in hand and eager to help. After a rough landing in the boulder strewn natural harbor and lying just off the worst of the shoal, we ferried the campers to the boat and clamored aboard.
I still wonder if my fellow rescuer and I were more in need of the water transport back to the ranger station more than the “rescued” party. Yet all of us were over-spilling in our gratefulness.
What is the most fun experience you had in the park?
Breaking the “rules” is always fun so one day I enlisted a family of sailors, parents, young adults and a few of their children and asked if they wanted to break the rules. “No one allowed in the basin of Stockton Harbor” read the sign. But the harbor begged to be free of debris left by careless captains and campers. So, with a wave of my arm when no boats were active in the harbor, we commenced “Clean Up Day.” Breaking rules is always fun, especially if a Ranger says you have permission…so with games of “seek and find” the older of the family used snorkeling gear to cleanse the bottom of the harbor while I took the younger kids on a rock hopping, sand slogging and beach tour. Donated gift shop awards sweetened the pot, though the family needed no urging in helping “the Ranger” in keeping the place clean. It was a joyous afternoon and followed by storytelling that evening and a few songs. Our journey together that day was just another part of the “Web of Life” we had started the evening before at the Ranger Talk and another fine memory of the life and times on Stockton Island.
One aspect of the park I really enjoyed was the trust imposed by distance from HQ. I enjoyed the freedom of making my own decisions. Being an older ranger with many other high risk or substantial responsibilities from other occupations I felt the freedom to exercise my judgement and respond to the great variety of situations that arise apart from a more structured environment. Such an environment as the seclusion of Stockton Island with limited outside resources makes personal initiative important. And to my satisfaction, my initiatives were welcomed.
Please share an accomplishment from your tenure at APIS that gives you pride
Except for the Everglades, both east and west locations, Apostle Islands NL was my first big water/island assignment. Following assignments at the Grand Canyon North Rim, Rocky Mountains, Kawaneche Valley, Mount Rushmore, and the Great Smokies; Apostle Islands NL was the last NPS area I worked at. Those summers completed my identity as a proud National Park Ranger…an emblem of the nation I serve.
My greatest amount of pleasure was listening to and talking with visitors…finding their interests, fears, joys and desires regarding park opportunities…then helping each to achieve those desired moments of wonder, excitement, joy and peace all while being safe though challenged, each to their own. The spectacular and enticing environments of the parks opened people emotionally and spiritually which made my efforts easier and more joyful while sharing their personal journeys. APIS is an exceptional park with so many avenues for such exploration that I found it personally fulfilling and bountiful in opportunities to fulfill my passions for deep inclusion in Wilderness.
In each park I worked I found a few things of particularly strong personal connection that filled me with purpose and courage and a desire to share with others. At Stockton Island it was with the Black Bears…and their intersection with humans. I was charged with managing bears to avoid human concentrated areas so they would not become reliant on human provided food thereby losing their wild fear of humans…a trait which many animals acquire to their lasting detriment. Though I did not enjoy the act of frightening them away from humans, I took pride in helping them be safe from humans. Yes, I was also concerned for the humans, too, but many seemed too eager to be risking their health and the bear’s through ignorance and uncaring. As such I protected both. When discovering the bears in their own habitats, I was the interloper and acted in accommodation to their needs. With all creatures it is a spiritually satisfying experience.
What is the most amazing thing you saw in the park?
The most amazing thing I discovered at APIS as elsewhere is the dynamic, ever-changing interplay of weather and weathering, storm and serenity, violence and peace, waves and calm, the spectacular and mundane all coming together in forming the “whole” of the moment and of the far longitude of time…of things coming to newness, growing, aging then crumbling again to refashion into another form. In the Apostles, I was able to be a tiny but fulfilled part of that immortal canvas of time.
The most amazing thing I witness most places is the sun setting, though most nature settings are not far off that sublime moment. At Stockton Island the setting sun across the bay drew not only me but many others to the harbor where, camera in hand, I was able to take just a poor sample of the moment for triggering my future memories of those times. I have thousands of photographs and memories from many places and each takes me there again and again, comforting me.
My highest quality accomplishment was in my providing APIS Ranger Corps with what seemed to me to be a performance that reflected well on Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, NPS and the Ranger Corps of the Park. My body of work now adds to the meaning of the place and time.
What story from your time at APIS do you share most frequently?
My most repeated story from APIS must be about my contact with and between visitors and black bears. Sharing about potential visitor experiences is also high on the list and, of course, sharing my experiences and memories by photo and by word.
If you could return to just one place in APIS, where would you go? Why?
My “best place” at APIS is walking the Julian Bay trail on Stockton Island from the harbor to the beach while the sun is rising in the morn, a gentle east wind brushing teasingly against my face as waves from a late night storm crash onto the beach, scouring sand and debris at the shoreline.
He closed out that career at Apostle Islands NL after working at places like the Everglades, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, and Great Smoky Mountain National Parks. We want to thank Stu for his 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.