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 29th 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.
Lane Johnson worked as an Archaeological Technician with the Resource Management Division with a fair bit of natural resources work in the mix, from May 2012 and ending August 2014.
What is the coolest thing you did in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (APIS) as part of your job?
The projects I got to be involved with were incredibly varied and situated across many of the islands. The mix of outdoor work was the best part of the job, especially island hopping as part of travel to different work sites – from the barrens of Long Island to the cliffs of Eagle Island and everything in between. My first summer we had at least one business visit to all six light stations, plus the Ashland Breakwater light.
What is the most fun experience you had in the park?
In 2012 Lake Superior water levels were unusually low with a lot of exposed beach across the park. With extra miles of sand and cobble beach, I was able to regularly run a route from Meyers Beach to Little Sand Bay on the 6-ish miles of the Mainland trail, plus another 6 miles of beach, deer path, and two-track road. The crux of the route was wading or swimming across the mouth of Sand River before. I loved that route and always ended the run with a cannonball into Lake Superior from the Hokenson dock. Side note: on the portions of that route that included tribal land, I was running passing by below the ordinary high water mark.
Please share a memorable experience you had in the park.
One weekday night in 2012 I had the chance to assist Park Biologist Peggy Burkman and one of her seasonal staff, Azsa, in the search and rescue of a bald eagle in distress. The park office had been getting reports all afternoon from kayakers about an eagle that was “trapped” in a cave below the Mainland trail. Front desk staff were growing tired of the calls from concerned visitors. Peggy quickly hatched a sophisticated rescue plan. We took a Munson landing craft out there and after a little searching we located the eagle in a sea cave spattered with eagle sh*t. There was some chop on the lake but Peggy was able to maneuvered the Munson and pin the front of the boat up against the rock long enough for Azsa and I to scramble out into this wet sea cave. We carefully herded a young, fierce-looking eagle into the back side of the cave. We threw a wool blanket over the bird and I scooped him up, holding him to my chest like a running back holding a football with two hands. Azsa held the bird’s talons with gloved hands so my stomach wouldn’t be torn to shreds. I remember the weight and solid feel of the bird in my arms and its fearless gaze just before we threw the heavy wool blanket over its body. We gently stowed the bird in a cardboard box back on the boat and transported him to one of the park docks where he was whisked away to a regional raptor center. Rumor has it that the eagle was treated for avian botulism for a few weeks, made a full recovery, and was returned to the wild.
What is the most amazing thing you saw in the park?
I watched Cultural Resource Specialist Dave Cooper regularly pilot the 24ft Munson landing craft Ardea in all types of weather and with all shapes and sizes of passengers and cargo. Often times he’d be telling jokes simultaneously. Being on that boat with Dave was always a joy. Somebody, please, give that man a raise!
Please share an accomplishment from your tenure at APIS that gives you pride.
I spent a large portion of my first summer working with a few other park staff to cut and pile small trees and brush on the grounds of Devils Island light station. The cutting was intended to restore some of the station’s cultural landscape to what it would have looked like when the station was still in operation.
There were several acres that had become a thick 12-14ft wall of brush and young trees that blocked views of the lake from the light station and views of the light station from the lake. After days of work with a brushcutter, walk-behind brushmower, chainsaw, and hand piling we had a roughly groomed front lawn with one of the most epic lake views in all of Wisconsin. My only regret on that project is not taking full advantage of the opportunities for lunchtime or afternoon swims at the east landing. The water always looked so inviting on hot July days.
What story from your time at APIS do you share most frequently?
I have a collection of stories from work on Sand Island that I sometimes recall as a montage of sorts. Working on that island in spring or early summer always felt like real work. Postholing through knee-deep snow while schlepping backpacks filled with oversized USDA APHIS hunting gear; relentless clouds of mosquitos that would gather as we tried our best to measure the impacts of deer browse on Canada yew at numerous plots across the island; the short night I spent on the north beach of Sand Island with LE Ranger Lance Twombly where we waited to haze a no-show nuisance black bear; screening heavy clay soil during archaeological compliance surveys near East Bay.
The best part of all those work outings was leaving, when a work boat would whisk us away away from what I privately thought of as the Apostle Island’s very own heart of darkness. I always chuckle when I hear of people visiting Sand Island for pleasure.
If you could return to just one place in APIS, where would you go? Why?
I want to return to Stockton Island to help with a future blueberry burn (prescribed fire) in the pine forest growing on the tombolo. I think that’s one of the most worthwhile things I could do on a visit back to the islands – help park and tribal resource managers continue to restore cultural fire to that landform.
Lane Johnson is now a Research Forester with the University of Minnesota Cloquet Forestry Center, part of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) in Saint Paul. We want to thank him 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.