Lakeshore Logbook – Warren Bielenberg

Warren Bielenberg serving as a volunteer-in-park at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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 33rd 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.

Warren Bielenberg was the park’s first  first Chief Naturalist. He says he was the fourth or fifth person on staff and arrived in March 1972.

What positions(s) did you hold?
Park Naturalist with duties in interpretation, cultural and natural resources.  I was promoted from GS-9 to GS-11 through accession of duties. When I left my position was filled by Phil Hastings Chief Park Naturalist, Dr Bob Brander, Chief of Natural Resources, and Kate Lidfors (Miller) Historian.

Warren teaches a winter ecology class to students at the St. Louis School in Washburn in March 1975

What is the coolest thing you did in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (APIS) as part of your job?
Dismantling the Michigan Island Fresnel lens and later putting it on display in the visitor center at Hermie Johnson’s store in Little Sand Bay. Most of the work was done by seasonal Rangers Karen Lindquist and Billy Morrin.

Disassembling the Fresnel lens to remove it from the Michigan Island Light in 1972

That story involves after-hours beer drinking with a neighbor who was the NCO-in-charge of Bayfield Coast Guard Station. I had to negotiate with USCG District Commander for permission to save the lens, research how to dismantle the lens, and coordinate with park staff to remove, transport, and store it until it could be reassembled.  It’s super cool to know that it is the feature exhibit in the park headquarters visitor center.

The 3- and one-half order Fresnel lens from the Michigan Island Light on display at the Little Sand Bay visitor center

What is the most fun experience you had in the park?
Exploring the islands and mainland sections of the park by foot, boat, and snowmobile.

Warren Bielenberg removing marijuana plants from Stockton Island

Please share a memorable experience you had in the park.
During a November storm (I believe shortly before or after the Edmund Fitzgerald storm), Superintendent Pat Miller and I lassoed and were trying to safely drag a big log onto shore to keep it from damaging the Hokenson dock.  After I got home and warmed up, I tried to clean the film from my glasses only to discover that blowing sand had pitted the surfaces!

What is the most amazing thing you saw in the park?
Ice under the Devils Island cliffs on July 4, 1972!

Late season ice on shoreline cliffs in the Apostle Islands 

Please share an accomplishment from your tenure at APIS that gives you pride.
Wow, where to begin. Starting initial interpretive activities. Working with Marjorie Benton and Elizabeth Fisher on family and local history.

A ranger talks with Elizabeth Fisher and Marjorie Benton on Raspberry Island

Converting two rooms in the old Booth Fisheries Cooperage building in Bayfield into our first visitor contact station.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Contact Station at the Booth Cooperage in Bayfield

Starting the birch bark canoe building demonstration and teaching Native American skills to Marvin DeFoe Jr., Donny Gordon and others whose names I don’t remember.

Superintendent Pat Miller helps Ron DePerry and Marvin Defoe JR. install ribs in a birchbark canoe during a demonstration at Little Sand Bay

Initial work in getting the Old Bayfield County Courthouse to house the NPS offices and visitor center. Finding and arranging to purchase the Hokenson Brother’s fish tug Twilite from a professor from UW-Eau Claire.

The TWILITE returns to Little Sand Bay in 1977

What story from your time at APIS do you share most frequently?
Probably receiving my Ojibwa name from Marvin DeFoe Sr., Lionel Roy, Hank Bressette, Bobby VanderVenter, and others and finding out from Dee Bainbridge what it really meant.

If you could return to just one place in APIS, where would you go?
Outer Island Lighthouse Why? I love all the lighthouses but that one is special because not many people get out there.

Outer Island lighthouse

Warren Bielenberg transferred to Fort McHenry National Monument and Historical Site in September 1977.  He is now retired after a long career in the Park Service but still does volunteer work. We want to thank Warren 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.

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