“Why I support the Meyers Beach accessible ramp may surprise you.” Public comment period ends May 12th

Kayaking the crevasse

May 8, 2023

An unseen patch of late-winter black ice changed my life in an instant. My feet took flight as I went airborne. I landed on my side with a bone-shattering thud, a shout and a groan. In that instant, I became something I never expected. I became physically disabled.

During many months of recovery, I experienced varying degrees of mobility challenges. I learned to use a wheelchair. A walker. Then a cane. I also felt what it’s like to require help from others for even the most-basic tasks. This accident taught me a valuable lesson: We are all an instant away… whether by accident, by illness or by aging… from becoming a person with disabilities. Thankfully, with help from a support team and with healing time, I made a full recovery. I also gained a new appreciation for the importance of accessibility.

Looking from inside a sea cave out into Lake Superior

Paddling the mainland caves – Jon Okerstrom photo

Years after my accident, that life lesson is just one reason I wholeheartedly support plans for an accessible ramp at Meyers Beach. The other is that the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is my favorite place on the planet. It fills a special place I my heart because of its rugged natural beauty, its rich multicultural history and the unique world-class experiences available to park visitors.

Kayaking the mainland sea caves is one of those bucket-list experiences. I’ve felt the sheer joy of paddling the caves and the awe of navigating the narrow crevasse in the top photo with family members. I can’t wait to do it again. And I want to make that adventure easier, safer and more accessible to people with varied mobilities and abilities. The Meyers Beach ramp would accomplish that.

Meyers Beach Ramp Plan - NPS

My support for the ramp, described in the draft Environmental Assessment as Alternative B – the preferred alternative – goes beyond this public comment. As a board member of Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, I am part of a diverse team raising awareness and money for this worthwhile upgrade to the existing Meyers Beach stairs. I can tell you from experience that hauling tandem kayaks up and down those stairs is no easy task. The draft Environmental Assessment does a good job of spelling out the many benefits and features of the new ramp, as well the plan to minimize any environmental impact. My sincere desire is that the National Park Service approves the draft Environmental Assessment, then secures the funds for this project in partnership with Friends of the Apostle Islands. And that the new ramp serves park visitors for decades to come.

Wetlands boardwalk slide - NPS

Mashkiig Boardwalk plans – Click to enlarge

I also support the plans for development of the trail network at Little Sand Bay. The trails described in the preferred alternative offer three distinctly different opportunities to experience what makes the park such a special place from environmental and cultural points of view. As a nature lover and photographer, I am especially excited about the hiking, learning and photographic opportunities created by the Mashkiig Boardwalk. 

I applaud the great care going into providing visitor access to the wetland area without significant environmental impact and the ongoing collaboration with the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. I also appreciate the safety benefits of the Nelson cabin trail that gives pedestrians an alternative to walking on the road to visit this historic building.

I see both projects as valuable, consequential and in keeping with the mission of the National Park Service — “to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of this and future generations.” I want to thank the team at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore for doing all they can to make them a reality and look forward to supporting these efforts in every way that I can. I hope you’ll join me. Because life can change in an instant.

Jon Okerstrom
Madison, WI

We hope Jon’s story inspires you to share your own story in a public comment to the National Park Service, in support of the accessible ramp at Meyers Beach and trail system at Little Sand Bay. You have until May 12th to submit your comment online.

Infinity symbol in green and orange Access for All

Read our summary of the draft environmental assessment
Read the Friends official endorsement of both projects
Learn more about Access for All or give now

Editor’s note. The public comment period has now ended. Thank you to everyone who commented in support of the projects. We will continue to report on the process and the progress of our Access for All campaign. 

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