Tongues in trees: celebrating National Poetry Month

In Act 1, Scene 2 of his famous play “As You Like It” William Shakespeare wrote “And this our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.” 

Shakespeare never visited Lake Superior or the Apostle Islands, but if he had, he would have certainly found “good in everything” in these islands as well as heard the poetry in this place. The summer wind strumming the waves, the slow repeating verse of the surf, birdsong in the bogs at sunrise. There is a beauty in these islands that speaks to the poet’s soul, and through them, to all of us. 

For centuries, these islands have inspired painters, dancers, musicians, photographers, and yes poets. This April is National Poetry Month. It is a time to reflect on the importance of national parks like the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, not just as places to check off our “bucket lists” or as the crown jewels of postcard beauty, but as reservoirs of the human spirit. These islands are more than just a place to recreate. They are a place to be inspired.

In honor of National Poetry Month, we offer you two poems inspired by the beauty of the Apostle Islands. Both were shared as a part of our “Sense of Adventure: Inspire!” program last summer and are presented here again for your enjoyment. First, “Tell Me of Ice” by Jude Genereaux (a poem also found in the book “A is for Apostles.”

Apostle Islands sea cave and northern lights. Photograph by Jeff Rennicke

Tell Me of Ice

Tell me your secrets, Gichigami.
I want to know what alchemy spins the summer sky
to gold and black magic nights. 

Tell me of your love in gentle swells, then
from where comes the anger of rage against the shore.
Tell me of rain and wind and 28-foot waves
and I will tell how fear paralyzes.

Tell me of the ice roads that scar your face
in winter; of ice that glitters in treacherous beauty,
glazing rock in dark places, luring both
the timid and bold to cross frozen water and enter
the winter temples of the gods.

Yes, tell me of ice.
What sorcery turns your capricious scattering
of water and cold into glorious caverns?
Tell me of creation and the wizardry of crystal arctic air
locked in time bannering the earth’s mixed blessings
of danger
and thrilling

Tell me of ice, Gitchigami. 

— Jude Genereaux

From the mainland ice caves to the furthest reaches of the distant islands, this next poem is an ode to the wildness still found in the Apostle Islands. Here’s “Message from Outer Island Spit” by Michael Van Stappen from his book A Handful of Stardust.

Outer Island sand spit. Photograph by Michael Dewitt

Message From Outer Island Spit

It is like no other place in the world,
This tattered spit of sand and pines
holding firm between lake and lake,
The farthest wild outpost
of the Apostle Islands. 

And sometimes my feet come dancing
to runes felt in my bones,
Wake of disheveled stones in my
impromptu tribute to these
ephemeral shores. 

Other times gift birds sing to the
manitous of this place,
Their sliver voices skimming beyond
waves as if to touch the moon,
Or some other solitary shore.

Yet while wings and feet have come
and gone amid the waves of centuries,
Only the enduring pines remain
to whisper the one name
they ever knew:

— Michael Van Stappen

Just as no postcard photograph can completely capture the feeling of a sunset, no word, how ever well-turned, can completely unlock the beauty of walking a line of bear tracks in the sand. Still, poems can touch on something below the surface of the experience, and like a good photograph, color the way we see, feel, and know these islands. 

Writer Paul Muldoon once said, “One will never again look at a birch tree, after the Robert Frost poem, in exactly the same way again.” Perhaps after these poems of the islands, you will never see the ice, a distant sand spit, or even yourself among the islands, in quite the same way again either. 

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. app can be used to pay fees in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore this summer

There’s no need to carry cash, checks or credit cards to pay for parking at Meyers Beach or to pay docking fees at one of the islands, if you have the mobile app on your phone.

This free app, offered in partnership by the National Park Service and other federal agencies, includes a feature called “Scan and Pay.” You simply download the app to your phone and set up your account. Best advice: do this before you arrive, as cell service may not be available everywhere in the park.

When you need to pay a fee in the park, scan the appropriate onsite QR Code located at the payment area. For example, you will find one QR Code for Meyers Beach parking for vehicles under 20 feet and another QR Code for vehicles 20 feet and longer. If you’re in an area where you don’t have a cell phone signal, the app will complete the transaction when you’ve returned to a location where you have a signal.

When you use the Scan & Pay app to pay for your fees, you must fill out the envelope or slip with the date, amount, and their confirmation number. Place the envelope on your boat in area where staff/volunteers can see or on the dash of your vehicle. Staff/volunteers will ask to see the confirmation number if they don’t see that envelope on your boat or vehicle. 

Fees payable through Scan and Pay in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Daily parking fees at Meyers Beach, a popular launch point for kayaking the mainland sea caves:
$5 a day for vehicle length under 20 feet (including trailer)
$8 a day for vehicles 20 feet or longer

Overnight docking fees in the National Lakeshore:
$15 for boats under 40 feet in length
$30 for boats 40 feet and longer.

Annual Meyers Beach parking passes are also available, but not through Scan & Pay. You can buy those at park headquarters in Bayfield. Until mid-May, visitors wanting to purchase annual passes can call 715-779-3398 extension 2 to schedule an appointment to purchase. After mid-May you can buy the permits during regular visitor center hours.

$25 annual parking pass for vehicle under 20 feet *
$40 annual parking pass for vehicles longer than 20 feet

These passes are good for the calendar year and will pay for themselves on your 5th visit. For more information about fees in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, visit the Park Service website.

Campsite reservations within the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore can also be made on the website and in the App. Search for “Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Camping Permits” to get started. app icon

Scan and Pay is just one of the features of the app. You can also use it to explore the National Lakeshore and many other destinations at our National Parks. And you can use it to include your trip details, favorite locations and more.

The app and associated website are a partnership that includes the National Park Service, US Forest Service, US Army Corps of Engineers, US Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management and other agencies. Their goal is to help you “find your next adventure.” at more than 4,200 facilities and 113,000 individual sites across the country. The app is free and available on the Google Play Android and Apple iOS App stores.

Image: Screen shots from app, featuring Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Oldest National Park Service Ranger retires at 100

Our national parks are a place for all ages, young and old. No single person embodies that sentiment quite as well as Betty Reid Soskin, the oldest active ranger in the National Park Service who retired recently at the age of 100.

An interpretive ranger at Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historic Park located in Richmond, CA, Soskin used her formidable and rich life experience to share the stories of the efforts of women from diverse backgrounds who worked, often unseen and unheralded, on behalf of the war effort. Her programs, says a recent National Park Service news release marking her retirement, “have illuminated the histories of African Americans and other people of color, and … impacted the way the NPS conveys such history to audiences across the United States.”

Before joining the NPS, Soskin was a part of the development of this unique National Historic Park serving as a part of the scoping meetings to develop its general management plan and on a grant to begin to bring to light the previously untold stories of African Americans during the war effort on the Homefront. That work led to a seasonal position with the park at the age of 84, and to a permanent position in 2011. For the next decade or more, she lead countless insightful and memorable interpretive talks at the park and engaged the public in these important, previously untold stories. 

“To be a part of helping to mark the place where that dramatic trajectory of my own life, combined with others of my generation, will influence the future by the footprints we’ve left behind has been incredible,” says Soskin.

“Betty has made a profound impact on the National Park Service and the way we carry out our mission,” said NPS Director Chuck Sams. “I am grateful for her lifelong dedication to sharing her story and wish her all the best in retirement. Congratulations, Betty!”

Fittingly, Soskin, who turned 100 in September of 2021, marked her final day of work at the park by presenting an interpretive program.

While Betty Soskin never visited the Apostle Islands, her example can be a shining light for all, rangers and park lovers alike. “Her efforts,” says NPS Director Chuck Sams, “remind us that we must seek out and give space for all perspectives so that we can tell a more full and inclusive history of our nation.”

To learn more about this amazing park ranger and to watch a video of one of  her interpretive programs, visit the website of Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historic Park at

Photo: Ranger Betty Reid Soskin sits in front of the Rosie the Riveter Visitor Center.
NPS Photo/Luther Bailey

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.

Volunteers wanted for Friends Earth Day cleanup

We’ve all seen it (75% even admit they have caused it): litter along America’s highways and waterways. According to a recent study by the nonprofit America the Beautiful, litter on roadways is actually down 54% since 2009. But that still means there are at least 50 billion pieces of litter out there along our roadways. The news is not much better for our nation’s waterways where the study claims another 24 billion pieces of trash lie uncollected, a slight increase from the 2009 estimate.

While there are no similar studies here in the Apostle Islands, any beach comber knows that we are not exempt from the issue. Trash such as plastic wrappers, spent balloons, drink cans, disposable cups, and more are all too often found along even the most remote island beach or floating on the water where they can cause harm and even death to wildlife, and an unsightly mess.

The solution is simple: pick it up. This Earth Day (Friday, April 22nd) you can help Friends do just that. From 9 a.m. to noon on Earth Day, Friends of the Apostle Islands is sponsoring an Earth Day clean up in and around Bayfield, the gateway to the Apostle Islands. “The goal is simple,” says event organizer Jill Rennicke, the co-Director of Friends, “we want to pick up the litter before it gets in our lake and, eventually, on our islands.”

At 9 a.m. on Earth Day, volunteers will gather at Washington Avenue Beach in Bayfield overlooking the Apostle Islands. Friends will provide trash bags and safety vests (thanks to the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce) and instructions. All you need to bring is a pair of gloves and a desire to make a difference. 

Want to help? Maybe this statistic from the American the Beautiful study will encourage you. The study authors found that “if everyone in America picked up just 152 pieces of litter, we could live in a litter-free nation.” 

Let’s start that on Earth Day, 9 a.m. to noon, Friday, April 22nd.

For more information contact Jill Rennicke by email at or call 715-449-8602.

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.

We’re live at Canoecopia this weekend!

It’s show time! We hope you’ll join us this weekend at Canoecopia – the world’s largest paddlesport show, in Madison, Wisconsin. It’s a great place to learn about all things related to paddlesports and adventuring as well as a retail show with just about every imaginable boat, board, paddle or accessory. And we all know that the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is an amazing place to paddle!

We’ve set up our Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore booth on the main show floor and filled it with collectible fine art prints, Friends merchandise and more. We’ve got lots of information about the park we love and are ready to answer your questions.

We want to meet you! Stop by tonight, Saturday or Sunday at the Alliant Energy Center, or join virtually online.

  • We love to talk about the park and how we're working to make your next experience there the best ever. What do you want to know?
  • We've got all kinds of keepsakes, books and more for sale, with proceeds benefiting the park we love.
  • Fine art prints capture the islands in all of their beauty. You can order one at the show. Proceeds benefit the park, as always.
  • Stop by the Friends booth now through Sunday afternoon.
  • We'll see you on the main show floor. Be sure to stop by and say hello.
  • Get your limited edition 50th Anniversary swag and other Apostle islands keepsakes while they last.
  • Apostle Islands bandanas

Executive Director Jeff Rennicke

Don’t miss Executive Director Jeff Rennicke’s presentation, Saturday and Sunday afternoons. You can be part of the in-person audience, in the Superior Room on the main floor, Saturday at 2:30 p.m. or in the Superior Room again on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Jeff’s presentation will also be available virtually for online show attendees.

Here’s a description of Jeff’s presentation, “With New Eyes: Find A Sense of Place in the Apostle Islands” from the show program:

“The real journey of discovery,” wrote Marcel Proust “consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” For more than 20 years, Jeff Rennicke traveled the globe as a writer and photographer seeking stories in new landscapes, seeking the wondrous in exotic places. But it took coming home to the Apostle Islands to show him real beauty, real wonder, and a lasting sense of place.

In this presentation, Rennicke tells of the joys and frustrations of coming to find the beauty in his own backyard – kayaking, hiking, seeking the northern lights on the frozen back of Lake Superior, and listening to the landscape of the Apostles. Filled with philosophy, inspiration, and real hands-on techniques, this presentation will open your eyes again to your own backyard, wherever you live, and having you seeing the world “with new eyes.”

We also want to make sure you know about NPS Interpretive Ranger Steve Ballou’s presentation, “Kayaking in the Apostle Islands.” This presentation is available online only. You can buy tickets to the online presentations on the Canoecopia webstie.

Steve Ballou, NPS Photo

“The Apostle Islands have been many things to people for centuries, and for over 50 years Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has drawn people from all over the world to experience the beauty and rugged wilderness of these islands and Lake Superior. What does it take to paddle and camp in this special place? Are you prepared to travel the waters of Lake Superior safely? With proper planning and preparation, you can paddle through sea caves, sleep under the stars, and navigate this inland sea. Join Ranger Steve Ballou as he explores the center of the kayaking universe, celebrating our place on Gitchigami, and start planning your next trip to Apostle Islands.”

Canoecopia is easy to get to – just off the Beltline in Madison. Get more information on attending Canoecopia in-person or virtually, here: We’ll see you soon!

Cross country skiing to Oak Island

Thick ice and deep snow made for perfect conditions to explore a bit of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Three local cross country skiers with significant island experience skied from Frog Bay Tribal National Park to nearby Oak Island early this month.

National Park Service map

There, they found several sets of wolf tracks, confirmed by a wildlife biologist who said wolves have been sighted offshore of Red Cliff and the Apostle Islands this winter. Under clear blue skies, they also found some nice ice formations along the shoreline.

  • Approaching Oak Island on a blue sky day
  • Arriving at Oak Island
  • Wolf tracks and ski tracks in the snow
  • Wolf tracks in the snow
  • Oak island shoreline
  • Approaching Oak Island on a blue sky day

Like the snow and ice beneath their feet, the wintery sculptures on the shoreline are temporary. Before you consider making a trip like this, it’s important to know the conditions and have proper safety equipment.

You can check out current conditions in the park here. It’s important to note that the mainland ice caves, around the point to the west, remain closed due to unsafe conditions there.

Sign up for the 2022 Friends of the Apostle Islands cruise

We hope you can join Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore for our 2022 Annual Cruise to Stockton Island in August, weather permitting of course.

Update: As of July 15, we’re getting a bigger boat so we have about a dozen seats available. Qustions? Please email

By the numbers: Lakeshore visitation sets a record in 2021

Did you visit the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore during 2021? If so, you were part of a record-setting year. According to recently released figures compiled by the National Park Service, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore saw 290,961 visitors in 2021, an increase of approximately 70,000 over 2020 and a number that sets a new record just barely topping the 290,059 visitors recorded in 2014, the famous year of the ice caves. The Lakeshore was one of 44 park units nationwide to set a new single year visitation record.  

Fueled perhaps by pent up desires to travel due to the pandemic, our national park sites across the country saw over 297 million visitors in 2021, an increase of 60 million over 2020.

The high numbers were praised by National Park Service Director Chuck Sams. “It’s wonderful to see so many Americans continuing to find solace and inspiration in these incredible places,” he said in the news release accompanying the visitation figures.

At the same time, the director urged visitors to seek out some of the lesser-known parks as well to spread out the use.

“We’re happy to see so many visitors returning to iconic parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite,” he said, “but there are hundreds more that should be on everyone’s bucket list.”

Director Chuck Sams – NPS Photo

In the Apostle Islands, higher visitation numbers can mean more congestion at popular spots like Meyers Beach and more potential for ecological degradation due to high traffic. Remember to stay on trails, use boardwalks where provided, camp and have campfires only in designated areas, and follow leave no trace practices when in the park. 

beach and boardwalk

Despite the record number of visitors, there is still plenty of solitude to be found in our park. Sometimes, however, it takes a little more planning to find it. To avoid congestion, remember to book your campsites and make your tour reservations early, shoot for weekdays rather than the usually busier weekends if possible, and consider shoulder season trips – spring or early fall – since the high summer months often see the most visitors.

Fall leaves, beach and boat

Another potential way to beat the crowds might be to consider experiences nearby but outside the park at such venues as Frog Bay Tribal National Park in Red Cliff, the trails and campsites of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, or other nearby town and state parks.

It may also help your sense of solitude to consider a few more statistics found in the recently released visitation numbers. Of the 423 sites managed by the National Park Service, the top 25 most-heavily visited locations made up nearly half of all visits in 2021. And if you think it is crowded here, consider this — the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia, the most heavily visited national park unit in the country, received 15.9 million visitors last year. For perspective, that single year total is more than twice the number of visits the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has received since official records began in 1973. 

That might make you feel a little less crowded in the islands.

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.

2022 Information Gathering Survey

We are gathering information about how Friends of the Apostle Islands can best serve you and the Park we all love!  Please take a moment and help us out by responding to the survey below.

The survey will close on at 11:59pm on Monday, February 21, 2022.

2022 Information Gathering Survey

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A time capsule letter to the future stewards of the Apostle Islands

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: 

Dear 2070:

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
Co-Executive Directors
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.