Watch the video presentation: National Geographic: the story behind the story

Mapping the route for the National Geographic trip

April 4, 2023

I’m leaving tomorrow to go to Ukraine for couple of months,” photographer David Guttenfelder told the audience. “I’ve spent my whole life going as far away as I possibly could from where I grew up, looking for adventure and telling stories…”

“I grew up on the shore of Lake Superior and I had picnics with my grandparents numerous times… but then I wanted to go away too,” said outdoors writer Stephanie Pearson.

With vastly different backgrounds and experiences, these two well-traveled journalists, now based in Minnesota, talked about the value of coming home and about feeling the allure of the the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. “It’s very difficult to shift gears but the Apostle Islands was soothing to the soul for me,” said Guttenfelder. Pearson said there’s something special about the islands that draws people in and makes them want to stay far longer than they intended.

Crowd watches online presentation of National Geographic: story behind the story at the Backstage in Bayfield

Several hundred people gathered online and at an in-person watch party to hear their behind-the-scenes accounts of how a feature on the park made it onto the pages of National Geographic Magazine.

The National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation and Friends of the Apostle Islands co-sponsored the presentation. Big Top Chautaqua hosted the in-person watch party at the Backstage in Bayfield.

National Geographic Magazine and the opening spread for the Apostle Islands story

In the March 2023 print issue, and in an online version, Guttenfelder and Pearson documented the power of the lake and the natural beauty of the islands, the rich and complicated multicultural history, and what a future shaped by climate change and park stewards could look like for this jewel of northern Wisconsin wilderness.

Both agreed that their collaboration resulted in a story about resiliency. Pearson wrote, “Wilderness, as defined by the 1964 Wilderness Act, is ‘an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man.’ The reality in the Apostles, though, is that humans have nurtured, utilized, and domesticated these islands for centuries. The result is a postmodern wilderness, one of the rare places that, with time and proper management,have reclaimed much of their original splendor.”

To illustrate the point, Guttenfelder shared an image of the rusting shell of a decades-old car being consumed by the forest at the site of the Lullabye Lumber Camp on Outer Island.

Rusting car at the site of the Lullaby Lumber Camp on Outer Island - David Guttenfelder photo

Rusting car at the site of the Lullabye Lumber Camp on Outer Island – David Guttenfelder photo

Guttenfelder and Pearson talked about the process of pitching, planning, researching and executing the story that included 18 days and 125 miles of paddling for some. Pearson recalled an early conversation with National Geographic. “They said there’s one slight problem. We have a story coming up in National Geographic that also involves a paddling expedition. So what can you do to tell the story of the Apostle islands in a way that doesn’t just tell the journey of the Apostle Islands through David’s kayaking trip?”

Stephanie Pearson wading ashore - David Guttenfelder photo

Writer Stephanie Pearson wades ashore – David Guttenfelder photo

What Pearson did is gather a collection of some of the most important and treasured elements of the islands by talking to a wide variety of experts and stakeholders. Guttenfelder said he made thousands of images. He presented many photographs that didn’t make the magazine and offered to share his work with the park, the Friends and NPLSF so more of the images are seen. Pearson talked about a couple of memorable moments she wrote about that she wished had made the story.

David Guttenfelder

National Geographic Exporer David Guttenfelder

Stephanie Pearson during the presentation

Outdoors writer Stephanie Pearson

They both praised the people of the National Park Service, National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation, Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and dozens of other contributors whose support and enthusiasm made the project possible.

After being forced to stay home during the early COVID pandemic, Guttenfelder said the islands made a meaningful impact on him and the experience caused him to re-learn some things. He said it is “a reminder that we have people and places right here in our own backyard that are of equal or greater importance to us, and that telling those stories are of equal or greater consequence.”

Watch the video to see more images and hear the story behind the story, includng remarks from National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation Executive Director Tom Irvine. Here are some links mentioned during the program:

David Guttenfelder on Instagram

Maddy Marquardt on Instagram

Maddy Marquardt on Substack

You can also order a copy of the print edition of National Geographic from Friends.

National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation logo
Friends of the Apostle Islands Horizontal Logo Transparent

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