What would you say to the future? Our 50th anniversary celebration of the creation of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is over. The speeches have been given, the cupcakes eaten, the candles blown out. But the legacy of all we have accomplished in the park, our honoring of the past and excitement about the future, will live on in a kind of “time capsule” being submitted to the National Park Service commemorating this anniversary year.
It will include pamphlets and pins, photographs and invitations and the texts of speeches given. It will include the proclamation issued in honor of the park by Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers.
And it will include a letter, a “Letter to 2070” written by our Executive Directors Jeff and Jill Rennicke to those who may be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the park in 2070.
Here is the letter to the future lovers of the park:
It was nightfall on the evening of September 25th, 2021. Darkness was settling like a great bird on Chequamegon Bay, the outline of Basswood Island just barely visible, blue-black, on the dimming horizon. A small group of perhaps 75 people – locals, tourists, National Park personnel, and others — had gathered on the warm sands of Washington Avenue beach for a quiet ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. There were cupcakes, flags in the sand created by children, and speeches. Superintendent Lynne Dominy spoke eloquently of the park, past and future. Two teenagers, young women, both participants in the Stewards of Tomorrow program, bravely took their turn addressing the crowd.
Then, we spread out to light fifty candles set in glass luminaries around the beach – flickering flames to “light the way to the future.”
When all the candles were lit, we got to wondering how far out into the lake, into the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, our candles were visible. Could a sailor coming down the North Channel see them? Could campers at the sites on the south end of Basswood Island see the light?
Could you see our light fifty years from now? We doubted that, so instead we write you this letter.
As you read this, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore will be nearing its 100th anniversary. Perhaps you are also planning speeches, cupcakes, even candles. However you plan to celebrate this milestone, we hope the islands will still be as beautiful, the waters still as clear, the waves still as powerful carving the shorelines, as they are today. If they are, think of the people who came before, just as we did that night lighting candles on the beach.
When Gaylord Nelson was battling to create the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, he often spoke of the “future generations” that would be the beneficiaries and caretakers of such a designation. That night fifty years ago on the beach, we realized that we were the people he was talking about. In the fifty years since he had created the lakeshore, we had become that generation. It was our turn now to take up the charge, the responsibility to keep the waters clear, the beaches clean, the wildlife thriving, the stories alive in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
If we did our job well, you will still have the red cliffs of Mawikwe Bay reflecting sunset, the footprints of black bears in the bog above Julian Bay, the open views from Raspberry Island light. If you do, know that it has not been easy. You might wonder why our 50th anniversary celebration took place in the 51st year of the park. The reason was the COVID-19 pandemic that swept through our country and the world, like wildfire in 2020, taking too many lives, delaying our planned celebration for a year, 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 Logbooks, the History Mystery figures popping up at area businesses, a proclamation from Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, and more.
As we moved forward into the next fifty years, there remained 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 felt we were positioned well to take on those challenges with our first-ever Executive Directors, our new Board Chair Kelley Linehan, and the help of all who love these islands.
How did we do? Well, you will have to be the judge of that. In the dim light of the flickering candles that night on the beach, the future was uncertain, unclear. But if you are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the park, we must have done something right. We hope you are still enjoying the hiking trails and the northern lights and the sandy beaches that we sought to protect. We hope that eagles still fly, loons still call, and kids still sail. We hope the stories are still told.
But even more than that, we hope that you too hear the call of responsibility in the words of Gaylord Nelson and others for you have now become that “future generation” that must take up the charge to protect these islands and this lake. Do it well. Tell the stories. Honor those who were here before and keep in mind those who will come after. Sail, hike, swim, listen, lie back and look at the stars.
Light the lights and keep them burning. And, know that we tried to do the same.
For the Islands,
Jeff and Jill Rennicke
Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Here’s to everyone who helped Friends celebrate and honor the 50th anniversary of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, all who made the last 50 years great and to those who will light the way for the next 50 years.
What would you say to the future?
A collection of artifacts and memories to be preserved for future generations as documentation of the 50th Anniversary celebration for the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
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.