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 35th 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.
Neil Howk worked as a Seasonal Interpretive ranger, supervisory park ranger, assistant chief of interpretation and visual information specialist from 1983 to 2016 and from 2018 to 2019.
Son Forrest Howk served as a seasonal maintenance worker during the summer of 2010. Their entry marks the final chapter in the Lakeshore Logbook.
What is the coolest thing you did in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (APIS) as part of your job?
Neil: Learning to operate park boats on Lake Superior, assisting the crew that photographed the park film 2000-2002, living in park housing on the islands (Stockton, Raspberry, Outer)
Forrest: Riding on the PELICAN (a former WWII era landing craft) to Stockton Island.
What is the most fun experience you had in the park?
Neil: Demonstrating “singing sand” on Julian Bay beach to visitors, teachers, and new park staff; working with high school students to winterize the Raspberry Lighthouse; serving as a chaperone for my children during their “Island School” experiences; singing “Smokey the Bear” at Stockton Island campfire programs; flying over the park to assess damage from a windstorm in 2016.
Forrest: Being the overnight maintenance worker on Stockton Island responsible for hiking 5 miles a day and clearing brush from the trail network on the island.
Please share a memorable experience you had in the park.
Neil and Forrest: Camping at the Outer Island sandspit with my wife and two-year-old son (Forrest) to conduct a migratory bird survey, walking with my son to open the Stockton Island visitor center as an emergency shelter on a stormy night and encountering a bear on the trail between the ranger cabin and the visitor center.
Neil: skiing to the Oak Island sandspit to winter camp with friends, shooting two deer during efforts to cull the herd on Sand Island.
What is the most amazing thing you saw in the park?
Forrest: Watching sunrise at the Outer Island lighthouse.
Neil: Boating from Stockton Island to Roy’s Point on a nearly calm evening and watching the last rays of sunset reflect off the oily surface of the lake when it looks like polished metal, a bear swimming from the mainland to Oak Island, piping plovers on Long Island feigning a broken wing to lure us away from their chicks, watching thousands of people walk across the frozen lake to view the ice formations at the mainland sea caves in 2014.
Please share an accomplishment from your tenure at APIS that gives you pride.
Neil: Researching, planning, designing, fabricating, and installing interpretive exhibits at the Michigan Island Light and the visitor center at Little Sand Bay.
Forrest: Carrying and installing bear boxes at numerous backcountry campsites in the park. Carrying the 300 lb. boxes for miles was the most strenuous task I was asked to perform.
What story from your time at APIS do you share most frequently?
Neil: Being awakened from my tent on Outer Island sandspit in the pre-dawn hours by the calls of a flock of white-throated sparrows (Zonotrichia albicolis) during a bird survey
Forrest: Riding the PELICAN to Stockton Island to pump the outhouses in the campground.
What, if any, ’something’ from your time at APIS was an impetus for your chosen career or life path?
Neil: Getting hired as a full-time ranger by Kayci Cook after fourteen years as a seasonal interpreter.
If you could return to just one place in APIS, where would you go? Why?
Neil: I’d like to experience a storm lashing the cliffs near the Devils Island lighthouse. I’ve seen the beautiful sea caves when conditions are calm, but I’d also love to feel the ground shake and hear the thunder of large waves exploding into the caves during a gale.
Forrest: The sandspit at the south end of Outer Island. I camped there for the first time when I was two years old. I loved stopping there to clean the outhouse because it had the best view of any latrine in the park. Just prop the door open and its only you and Lake Superior for as far as the eye can see.
We want to thank Neil and Forrest Howk for their entries in our 50th Anniversary Lakeshore Logbook.
About the series, Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Executive Director Jeff Rennicke says, “Sometimes, it is tempting to think of parks only as postcard scenery, or adventurous memories. This series produced Neil Howk has reminded us that beyond all of that, parks are also about people – the people who create them, the people who visit them, and, in particular, the people who take care of them, for all of us. Thank you Neil, for an important reminder of the faces behind the places.”
You can read every entry in the Lakeshore Logbook — all 35 of them — here. We hope you’ve enjoyed the adventure.