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 26th 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.
Jennie Nepstad worked as a seasonal interpretive park ranger at the Visitor Center in Bayfield for five summers (2009-2013).
What is the coolest thing you did in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (APIS) as part of your job?
I think one of the coolest parts of my job was educating and swearing in Junior Rangers! Seeing young kids so enthusiastic about visiting National Parks and protecting our environment gave me so much hope for our planet’s future.
What is the most-fun experience you had in the park?
This might come as a surprise to some, but I actually LOVED doing inventory of our Visitor Center’s bookstore each year with our park’s Eastern National representative, Bekky Vrabel! We turned counting every item at 5:00 a.m. into a fun experience by jamming out to the Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, and Hanson! 😊
Please share a memorable experience you had in the park.
My interpretive talk at the Visitor Center was about an endangered species of shorebird in the park called the Piping Plover. These birds are unique in that they lay their eggs directly on sandy beaches. Commercial, residential, and recreational development in recent years have sadly threatened the Piping Plover’s population. The most memorable experience I had while working at APIS was being invited on two different occasions to help band baby Piping Plovers on Long Island so that they could be tracked.
Two words: cuteness overload!! The chicks look like tiny, little cotton balls with toothpick legs. Gently handling these tiny creatures gave me a deep appreciation for people who fight to protect endangered species. It was an honor to work on this banding project in collaboration with staff from the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Wisconsin DNR. In addition to banding chicks, these groups also put up protective enclosures around each Piping Plover nest in the park to protect them from human and animal predators. Seeing the National Park Service and all of these other agencies come together to protect this small bird’s fragile population was an experience I’ll never forget.
What story from your time at APIS do you share most frequently?
Whenever anyone asks my husband and I how we met, we tell them how we got to know each other working as seasonal park rangers at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore! Makes for a pretty cool story! We wore our flat hats when we cut our wedding cake on our wedding day!
What, if any, ’something’ from your time at APIS was an impetus for your chosen career or life path?
There were so many different populations facing adversity in the Apostle Islands area that were great teachers for me—from the many Ojibwe tribal members whom I had the privilege to work and interact with, to aquatic life and ecosystems within Lake Superior threatened by global climate change, to the already endangered Piping Plover within the park. One of the most valuable lessons I learned from my time at APIS was the importance of using my voice for those who don’t have one and for those who have been unjustifiably silenced, ignored, or unheard.
My summer job at APIS inspired me to go to law school to fight for disadvantaged and underprivileged populations. After graduating, I worked for over five years at the Innocence Project of Florida, where I helped free wrongly convicted individuals from prison.
If you could return to just one place in APIS, where would you go? Why?
It’s a tie—other than returning to Long Island with my favorite little Piping Plovers, I would also love to go back in time to one of our many Park Service employee potlucks! 😊 The best thing I got out of working at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore was many meaningful friendships! The Apostle Islands are full of natural beauty everywhere you look, and the people who live and work in the area are just as beautiful!
Jennie now works as an Investigator/Mitigation Specialist for the Federal Public Defender’s Capital Habeas Unit, where she fight for individuals on death row. She says, “Apostle Islands National Lakeshore gave me a moral compass that will guide me for the rest of my life.” Jennie is the daughter of Jim Nepstad who we previously featured in the series. We look forward to sharing more Logbook entries with you in the coming weeks. You can find the whole series here.