Park visitors praise Stockton Island amphitheater and ongoing accessibility initiatives

Timing is everything. On August 13th, the National Park Service and Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore conducted a grand opening of the accessible amphitheater at Presque Isle on the Lakeshore’s Stockton Island. 

Pandemic protocols required the ceremony to be small and unannounced to the public but some park visitors who just happened to be on the island at the time took in the program and they’ve provided some heartwarming feedback.

The new $55,000 amphitheater, with its gently sloping ramps, wide benches, and accessible entrance, is now available to visitors with mobility challenges. It is connected by boardwalk to the dock, contact station and the accessible campsite already in place on the island.

Boater Cindy Kellet of Minnesota was in the audience. She graciously shared a video she made. She said, “As boaters, we love coming to Stockton; it is beautiful for its hiking, beaches and of course the safe docking.Our daughter Genna is handicapped so very much appreciate the accessibility built in! Thank you for all you do!”

The video features Ojibwe tribal member and NPS staff member Bazile Panek talking about the significance of the location and of the Ojibwe name given the amphitheater, maawanji’ i ding (a place where we all come together.)

You will also hear a part of Friends Board Chair Erica Peterson’s presentation. Peterson was a ranger on Stockton Island 37 years ago. She said, “This is a place of reverence and intention. A place inspirited by others.” Peterson shared a poem written by Yvette Viets Flaten called “T is for Trail.” The poem asks us to “ponder all who have come before us to fish, to build, to live in this sacred place… each storyboard etched into this earth… and fall in step with all those who’ve trodden these trails before.” 

Panek invited listeners to make an offering of tobacco to the fire in gratitude of the island. Peterson and Park Superintendent Lynne Dominy cut the ribbon and encouraged everyone to take the trail to Julian Bay Beach after the ceremony.

Video by Cindy Kellet

Separately, a Stockton Island ranger shared this report from grand opening day. “One of the visitors that day was from a sailboat. With tears in her eyes she expressed her gratitude for the amphitheater. Her husband had been hit by a car two years earlier and permanently disabled. As his primary caregiver, this was her first trip out to do something they had always done together. The tears were partially of joy that, even though he would probably never be able to visit Stockton, he would so appreciate the effort we made to make it possible for other people with mobility issues.”

Peterson says these initial responses are gratifying and motivating. “This was “Friends” first big project with the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and our second in support of our accessibility pillar,” she says. “Due to the interest generated it has already spurred two other big projects that will be funded in cooperation with NPS – access at the heavily used Meyers Beach and nearby sea caves, and a 2 mile accessible boardwalk to Sand Island Lighthouse.”

An advisory group has been formed to recommend additional projects focused on universal accessibility. The Friends will actively pursue outside funding to match federal funding and keep our partners, supporters and legislative representatives connected with our efforts. 

Click here for more coverage of the grand opening ceremony and the many people who made this project possible.

Click here for more about the first steps taken in the Meyers Beach accesabiliity project.

To join our cause and support accessibility in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, click here.