Leaning my shoulder against a birch tree, I stop for a breather and to watch the late afternoon light wash over the forest along the Lakeshore Trail. It is the last day of 2021. The sun will soon set, ending a tumultuous year of challenges, changes, and setting the stage for tomorrow’s sunrise to begin the new year ahead. Seems like a good time to reflect, and to catch my breath.
As with all of us, COVID had a deep impact on 2021 for Friends of the Apostle Islands, delaying and extending our planned 2020 50th Anniversary celebration and forcing many of the planned public gatherings to convert to online events. But with hard work, COVID protocols, and a positive attitude, we managed to honor and celebrate the history, beauty, and importance of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in style – a very successful Resource Stewardship Symposium, three installments of our “Sense of Adventure” series, our Lakeshore Logbook, the History Mystery figures popping up at area businesses, a proclamation from Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, and more. At a candlelight ceremony to cap it all off, we stood on a Bayfield beach overlooking the lakeshore, remembering the work of people like Senator Gaylord Nelson in establishing the National Lakeshore a generation ago and passing the torch to us, the new generation of island caretakers. In the light of those 50 candles, we saw both an honoring of the past and a hope and commitment for the future.
As Friends of the Apostle Islands moves forward into the light of the New Year, there remain many challenges ahead – the lingering effects of COVID on every aspect of our lives, the growing influence of global climate change, the challenge of keeping the national parks in general relevant to a whole new generation of caretakers. But we are positioned well to take on those challenges with our first-ever Executive Directors, our new Board Chair Kelley Linehan, and support from people like you at an all-time high. While we cut the ribbon on the new all-accessible amphitheater on Stockton Island last year, we remain committed to accessibility in our park with plans for completing the boardwalk on Sand Island and soon a major capital campaign to raise funds to make the Meyers Beach kayak access more friendly to all users.
To keep you informed and inspired, we will hit the airwaves with our new podcast “Wavelength: Voices of the Apostle Islands” and add to our “Sense of Adventure” series of videos. We will continue to work on engaging young people with the islands through youth engagement programs and again provide volunteer opportunities for all like planting beach grass, tending gardens, and beach clean up days. For lovers of the stars, we will work towards a Dark Sky Park initiative for the Apostle Islands.
With the strength and resilience that helped us get through the year coming to an end, and with your continued support, we will move into the new year with a renewed purpose and commitment to our mission of preserving and protecting the cultural and natural resources of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
Leaning against the birch tree, resting, I think back with pride about all we’ve accomplished this year despite the difficulties and obstacles, and with hope about what lies just out of sight on the trail to the year ahead. Thank you for all you’ve done for these islands, and for Friends of the Apostle Islands. Now, let’s all take a deep breath and step confidently forward on to the trail ahead.
Happy New Year.
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.