With a snip of an over-sized red scissors and a flourish of breeze off of Lake Superior, Friends Board Chair Erica Peterson and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Superintendent Lynne Dominy cut a red ribbon on Friday, August 13, 2021 signifying the grand opening of the accessible amphitheater at Presque Isle on the Lakeshore’s Stockton Island.
The $55,000 project represents a big step in one of the core commitments of Friends of the Apostle Islands. “We are excited to see this finally happen,” said Peterson. “The board made accessibility for all a primary pillar of our organization. We feel it is important that everyone have opportunities to experience this the park.”
The new facility, with its gently sloping ramps, wide benches, and accessible entrance, will enable visitors with mobility challenges to move more easily from the dock or the accessible campsite already in place on the island, to the contact station and on to the raised-deck amphitheater.
Given the Ojibwe name maawanji’ i ding — “place where we come together” — by Ojibwe tribal members and NPS staff members Damon Panek and his son Bazile, the spot overlooks the lake through a tapestry of trees. It will become a gathering place for ranger talks, research presentations, children in our Island School program, tribal gatherings, hikers, paddlers, sailors, power boaters, and groups of day visitors from the Apostle Island Cruise Service tours. The raised construction also protects an important archaeological site indicating use of this island for more than 5,000 years.
The original plans and schematic diagrams for this project were begun several years ago and workers at the Wickcraft Company in Madison, Wisconsin manufactured the galvanized steel support structures which lift the platform off the fragile soil below and worked up blueprints for its construction last winter. Delayed a year because of COVID, two NPS boats including a 47-foot landing craft, began moving construction materials to the site this spring.
On the island, an NPS crew of 8 to 10 people (many of whom were recognized during the ribbon cutting) worked over the early summer months putting together what Tommy Richardson, the Marine and Grounds Supervisor in the park calls “the challenging puzzle” of galvanized steel supports and decking of pre-cut southern yellow pine planking.
Project Leads: Megan Butler, Wyat Judziewicz
Team Supervisor & Accessibility Coordinator: Tommy Richardson
Team members: Alex Juedes, Owen Lueders, Myron Basina, Ben Perry, Bazile Panek, Corey Franz, Kellen Banowetz
Their hard work paid off. “It is everything we wanted and more,” said Richardson during the dedication ceremony. “We are very pleased with how it went together, how it looks, and the process. I am proud of the team who worked on this so hard.”
Friends of the Apostle Islands is also proud of the team that made the project happen and its many funders including an Outdoor Foundation matching grant and the many donors to our on-going Wilderness Accessibility Fund. Board President Peterson said, “We feel fortunate to have donors, and a park, who embrace the need to share the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, and help us to leverage public and private funds to further steward the park’s future.”
Friends Executive Director Jeff Rennicke told the crowd gathered in the amphitheater, “From storytelling circles, to campfires, to town squares, cultures throughout history have set aside special, almost sacred, places to gather for learning, sharing, and listening. We hope that for many decades to come, this new accessible amphitheater will become that kind of special gathering place for all who love the Apostle Islands and our national parks.”
For more information on our Wilderness Accessibility Fund and how you can help us continue our work to make the Apostle Islands more accessible to all, click here.
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.
Photographs by Jeff Rennicke and Jon Okerstrom