Beach walks, bog smells, night skies, and flower gardens
Erica Peterson’s legacy will live on in many forms as she steps down after nearly eight years of guiding the Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Enjoy a ranger talk at the all-accessible amphitheater at Stockton Island. Inhale the sweet scent of the flower beds at the Michigan Island Lighthouse. Stroll through history along the Sand Island boardwalk. These classic Apostle Islands experiences and many more have one thing, or rather one person, in common: Erica Peterson.
Recently, Friends of the Apostle Islands announced that Erica Peterson was stepping down after nearly eight years as the Chair of the Board of Directors. During her tenure, Peterson was the guiding force behind the growth and development of the Friends into a valuable philanthropic partner for the national lakeshore, building a long-lasting legacy.
“Erica transformed the Friends of the Apostle Islands from a good, small friends group, into a great one,” says Bob Krumenaker who served as the Superintendent of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore for much of Peterson’s tenure. “Always self-effacing, but tireless, she made a point to work with me as the superintendent to make sure that the park’s goals were the Friends’ goals, and I did the same in reverse.”
With a deep love for the park born of her time as ranger on Stockton and an artist, island sailor, and naturalist, Erica saw her role with the Friends as “an opportunity to give back to the Park for all its beach walks, bog smells, wild storms, eagle sightings, and night skies,” she says, and in turn, “help steward its vital future.” And, she wanted to help make those same experiences available to all.
Cutting the ribbon at the new Stockton Island amphitheater
“Erica is passionate about making the park accessible,” says former park superintendent Krumenaker, “and the amphitheater at Stockton Island, as well as the viewing platform at Little Sand Bay, to name just two projects, would not have happened if it were not for Erica’s leadership.”
Erica Peterson and a 50th Anniversary cupcake
Peterson also oversaw the role of Friends in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, garnered the funds to allow the organization to hire its first Executive Directors, presided over the organization as it met and surpassed the milestone of raising over $500,000 in funds to support projects related to the park, and was instrumental in the 2021 ceremony raising the flag of the Red Cliff Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa to a permanent installation over the park at Little Sand Bay.
Her efforts were recognized in many ways. Friends Vice-Board Chair Mark Weller says, “Erica has provided exemplary leadership to the Friends and to all those who love this park. Through her guidance this organization has seen exponential growth with a razor-sharp attention to our collective goals. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has been the beneficiary of Erica’s love of this region and her management of our efforts.”
Erica Peterson and Lynne Dominy
Lynne Dominy, the current superintendent of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore also recognizes her efforts saying, “Thanks to the vision and leadership of Erica Peterson, retiring FAINL board President, FAINL now is in a place of long-term strength and sustainability. She built a dynamic board, leveraged support and funding to hire an Executive Director, defined clear fundraising pillars to support Apostle Islands National Lakeshore priorities, and recognized the importance of strong community relationships. Erica built the foundation for FAINL that will enable them to tackle large, complex projects to benefit this park, the park visitors, and our surrounding communities for the next 50 years.”
Erica Peterson with Lake Superior Magazine Achievement Award
Yet with all of that, and with the recent 2021 Lake Superior Achievement Award “for contributing significantly to the well-being of Lake Superior and its peoples,” perhaps the most fitting symbol of Erica Peterson’s love for the park will live on in the form of flowers. For years, Erica has led the volunteer efforts to maintain and beautify the gardens both at the Michigan Island lighthouse and at the Gaylord Nelson Gardens located on the grounds of the park headquarters in Bayfield.
Erica Peterson gardens on Michigan Island
Flowers, energy, passion, enthusiasm, and attention to detail, Erica Peterson has truly found a way to give back to the park for all its sunsets and starry skies. And as incoming Board Chair Kelley Linehan says, her legacy will shine long into the future. “Erica’s leadership of the Friends of the Apostle Islands has resulted in a sea change for the organization, both inside and out,” Linehan says. “Her effort and dedication to the cause will help carry the Friends’ mission into the future, enhancing and assuring the appreciation and preservation of these wild and beautiful islands for years to come. Thank you.”
Peterson will remain on the Board of Directors of Friends and will continue to lend her vision, passion, energy, and flower-gardening skills to the islands she loves.
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.