Lakeshore Logbook – Jim Stowell

Jim Stowell and a photo of Raspberry Island Keeper Lee Benton

As part of our 50th Anniversary celebration, we are collecting and sharing the stories of people connected to the islands, whether they are park guests, former residents or former park employees.

This is the 31st in our series called “Lakeshore Logbook,” a collection of memories provided by former National Park Service employees.

Living and working in the park on a day to day basis, they’ve experienced a lot to be sure. We hope you enjoy their perspectives.

Jimm Stowell worked as Raspberry Island Ranger Interpreter from 2003 through 2016.


What is the coolest thing you did in APIS as a part of your job? 
Well, it wasn’t cleaning the three outhouses. So, I guess the coolest thing was having fun with the visitors and still helping them learn about the lighthouse and feel something for the people who worked and lived there.  

Or maybe when the Secretary of the Interior came to the island and the two of us ended up in the garden eating raw green beans. Then he said everyone should eat a green bean and everyone in his entourage promptly ate a raw green bean.  

Jim Stowell and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar

What is the most fun experience you had in the park? 
I had a great time standing at the top of the lighthouse talking with the visitors in September. Those times were not like ‘tours’ they were conversations. We talked about everything and anything and often ended up laughing a lot. One couple bought a new croquet set and gave it to the park. I had so much fun with the visitors especially the visitors that came back again and again.

Jim greets a group of cruise boat visitors on the Raspberry Island Light Station grounds

I had fun with (co-worker) Audrey (Wilck). When we moved into quarters in the renovated lighthouse the two of had many laughs. Fred (Schlichting) and I also had a great time. What a pleasure it was to work with him. We are still friends to this day. And big Mike the ex- Coast Guard guy. Man, the two of us laughed. I enjoyed the guides with the kayak tours.  One of them became a real friend. We would see each other across the lighthouse yard and yell, “Que pasa, primo” and give each a big abrazo.  

Please share a memorable thing I saw in the park? 
The first is not pleasant but I have never forgotten it. A dead eagle on the East Bay beach.  

14 seasons of sunsets. The sun setting as the full moon is rising.  

Sunset at Raspberry Island

When the tall ships were on their way to Duluth they stopped at Raspberry. I saw one of the ships anchored in the East Bay. Not another boat there. Just that tall ship and the beach and trees. It looked like the Hispaniola anchored on Treasure Island. I love that book so this was like seeing a scene from one of favorite books come to life.   

The Pride of Baltimore anchored in the Apostle Islands

What is the most amazing thing you saw in the park? 
That might be the guy who swam from the mainland to Sand Island, then from Sand Island to York Island the then from York to Raspberry Island where I met him and his support team. He was a small Latino looking gentleman. He did not look like he was exhausted. He didn’t look like someone who could have died several times this day. He looked happy and relaxed. He was relaxed because he was almost finished. He was going to swim from RA to Oak Island. I was amazed. 

The flock of geese who landed in the yard by the exhibits and stayed for two days. The visitors walked around them but the geese did not fly away. It was amazing to watch the visitors and geese work with each other. On the third day an eagle flew over and shortly after that the geese flew away.  

Or maybe the blind lady and her guide dog who climbed up the steps to join me at the top of the tower of the older lighthouse on Michigan Island. 

And, of course, sunset and full moon rise. I mean, over the years the number of sunsets across 35 miles of open Lake Superior has cumulative impact. The forest on the island is truly amazing. Except for the Amazon rainforest the forest on RA is the thickest forest I have ever been in. I loved it.  

Please share an accomplishment from your tenure at APIS that gives you pride?  
I lasted 14 seasons. I not only survived I learned to thrive out on the island and inside the National Park system. I have a lifelong, well established record of having trouble with systems. One example, my time in The United States Air Force. I was busted in rank so often I was said to have zippers on my stripes.  I had lots of help lasting 14 seasons. Primarily my supervisor. He was very patient and understanding. And patient. My two Raspberry Island partners, Audrey and Fred. Couldn’t have done it without them.  

Rangers Audrey Wilck and Jim Stowell at Raspberry Island

I am proud of the working relationships I had. Living and working on an island in a lighthouse is not easy. One bathroom, one stove and icebox. Morning and night differences. Audrey and I were two very, very, different people but we made it work. We became trusted working friends.  We spent hours in the park library researching and creating our programs.  Fred and I worked so well together and we were good for each other. I wrote a list of all the people I lived with in the lighthouse in the lighthouse logbook including work crews. My memory is that the list was over 20 people.  

Fred Schlichting and Jim Stowell at Raspberry Island Light

I’m proud of the programs I put together. The Bop to the Top. The Stop and Ask Questions and the tour I gave most of the time, The Full Enchilada. In truth this tour had many versions which I could use depending on time and space and weather and the tour group.  

I didn’t create my programs alone. Audrey and I working together and talking about the lighthouse’s history was a huge help. I received very helpful feedback from my supervisor. I worked hard to learn the facts and I had great fun doing that.  

Jim Stowell with a tour group in the kitchen of the keeper’s quarters

I am happy and proud that my programs connected with the visitors. In the 1970’s and 1980’s I spent time backpacking in Sequoia National Park in California. That is where I fell in love with nature. The time in the wilderness of that park changed my life. My time in those mountains gave me so much so when I was on Raspberry and I could see my program was working I knew the visitors were learning and, most importantly, feeling that ‘emotional connection to the resource,’ I felt like I was giving something back.  

And, people came to the island to hear me sing, ‘The Lighthouse Keepers Blues.’    

Jim Stowell in his lighthouse keeper uniform on the steps leading to Raspberry Island Light

What story from your time in the park do you share most frequently?  
When talking with my friends I don’t tell any single story. The story depends on the time and place in our conversations. I tell short conversational stories. Stories about my times on park boats. You know, jumping off a boat onto a wet dock or jumping off a wet dock onto the deck of a moving boat where if I miss, 

 I go into the lake and there is no one help me. The time the fog was so thick nobody on board could see more than a few feet. The time the waves were so big it was just plain scary.  Crazy visitors’ stories, rude visitors’ stories, great visitors’ stories and crazy Park Service stories. Stories about the people I work with. These are always good stories, with one exception.  

Professionally, the story I have told the most is called, ‘The Miracles of Wow.’  

Jim Stowell swearing in a new junior ranger

If you could return to just one place where would you go? Why? 
Raspberry Island. The trail from the lighthouse to the East Bay beach. I felt as if the trees on that trail were long-time friends. Every spring when I would arrive on the island for the first time I just had to go see how all my friends were. Had I lost any friends over the winter?  I wrote in a poem that when I die I will see my wife’s face, my two brother’s faces, a young eagle’s first flight and this trail. 

Jim walking the beach at the Raspberry Island sandspit

A few thoughts: 
Fred, Audrey and I often talked about how much we enjoyed working together and how much fun and how easy it was living in the lighthouse together. But we all agreed what we really like is being on the island alone. I loved running the show by myself. Not ever having to explain why I did something. Why I made the choice I did. For many people this kind of freedom at work is a dream job. That’s certainly true of me. 

I loved those rare days when I was alone on the island. I loved storm days. On those days when I was alone I would sit and watch and listen to the lake and the sky. I loved the forest of RA. Most days when I was off-duty I went into the woods. I spent many happy hours struggling through those woods. Sitting with my back against a fallen tree and drinking a cup of coffee. Listening and watching and sometimes writing. The solitude on Raspberry Island was a blessing.  

One of the many, many reasons I love the lake is because the lake is wildest wilderness in the park. Years ago I was walking in Tongass National Forest in Alaska and it was beautiful. Quiet and peaceful and seemingly safe. But just because I couldn’t see a grizzly bear didn’t mean there wasn’t one waiting for me around the next bend in the trail. The lake is like that. It can appear so safe. You look out and see sailboats and small motorboats and kayakers cruising along. But, the grizzly bear in the lake is always out there.  

One of the things I miss the most is riding park boats on the lake. I never tired of watching it and listening to it and feeling it. Sometimes on storm days I would walk down to the old wooden dock and lay on the boards so I could see the lake from the lake’s point of view. I could feel the lake through that dock. There were many blessings for me working on Raspberry Island for the National Park but the greatest blessing was the lake. 


Jim is still a professional actor and playwright living in Redwing, Minnesota. We want to thank him for his entry into our 50th Anniversary Lakeshore Logbook. We look forward to sharing more Logbook entries with you in the coming weeks. You can find the whole series here.

Experience youth stewardship art and make your own on Saturday

The Northland College Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute’s Youth Outreach Programs will host a kids booth at the Festival of the Arts in Bayfield next Saturday, September 11th, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Kids of all ages will have the opportunity to paint a stewardship flag. Stewardship flags created by Stewards of Tomorrow participants will also be on display at the event, in Memorial Park, which is located at 2 Rittenhouse Avenue, on the lakefront.

Come peruse the creative expression of local youth from this summer, and/or, join us in creating a visual representation and message about why you love the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and surrounding region. The event is free and open to the public.

Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is proud to support educational experiences for young people as part of our mission. Learn more about the Youth Outreach Programs, including Stewards of Tomorrow and the Apostle Islands School at Northland College here.

Learn more about the Festival of Arts and Gallery Tour on the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce website. We’ll see you there!

Stewardship Flag - Sea Caves
Stewardship Flag - Glacier

Senator Tammy Baldwin tours Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Big things happening on Sand Island. Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore toured several projects on the island with Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin on Thursday, September 2nd.

The tour, led by Park Superintendent Lynne Dominy, including seeing dock work at East Bay, the accessible boardwalk project and more.

The 2-mile-long boardwalk will connect the dock and accessible campsites, picnic areas, water sources and privies at East Bay with the Sand Island Light. The project is about halfway completed. It will be a major step forward in making the islands accessible to all.

Friends Executive Director Jeff Rennicke toured with the Senator. Rennicke said, “The projects at Sand Island are at the cornerstone of the Friends focus on accessibility in the Apostles. Having the opportunity to share both the progress that’s been made and hopes for the future with the Senator was a great honor.”

Of the National Lakeshore. Senator Baldwin has said, “The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is a Wisconsin treasure!”

For more information on how you can help with these exciting projects, click here.

Senator Baldwin speaking with a volunteer at Sand Island Lighthouse
Senator Baldwin at the top of the Sand Island lighthouse
The two mile boardwalk project to connect the dock and campsites at East Bay with the Sand Island Light is about halfway completed. It will be a major step forward in making the islands accessible to all.
The repaired stairway leading to the Sand Island light, viewed from the deck of the park service landing craft
Dock work in progress at East Bay on Sand Island. The work is expected to be done in October.
Senator Tammy Baldwin
Senator Tammy Baldwin at the Swallow Point sea caves

Photographs by Jeff Rennicke

Lakeshore Logbook – Kellie Weidinger

Kellie Weidinger

As part of our 50th Anniversary celebration, we are collecting and sharing the stories of people connected to the islands, whether they are park guests, former residents or former park employees.

This is the 30th in our series called “Lakeshore Logbook,” a collection of memories provided by former National Park Service employees.

Living and working in the park on a day to day basis, they’ve experienced a lot to be sure. We hope you enjoy their perspectives.

Kellie Weidinger says Apostle Islands National Lakeshore was her first job in a national park. She worked here during the summers of 2015 and 2016, while attending college.


What positions(s) did you hold? 
During the summer of 2015 I was a visitor use assistant in the law enforcement division. I acted as dispatch during emergency situations and performed administrative tasks. I was a visitor use assistant my second summer too, but within the interpretation division. That summer I was primarily behind the front desk answering visitor’s questions and assisting visitors with backcountry camping permits.  
 

Kellie on the phone helping to make a camping reservation

What is the coolest thing you did in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (APIS) as part of your job?  
The coolest thing I did while working at Apostle Islands National lakeshore was perform a hazard assessment on the trail on Manitou Island. It was right after a huge storm had come through the area and had knocked down trees and power lines. I remember scrambling over fallen trees along the trail, gauging their approximate circumferences, and thinking I was lucky to have a job in such an incredible place.  

Documenting storm damage on island trails

What is the most fun experience you had in the park?  
I grew up in Bayfield right outside of the park, so a lot of my childhood memories took place there, specifically at Meyers beach! My sister and I spent our summers splashing in the waves of Lake Superior, studying the tadpoles, and trying to avoid the leeches in the slough!  
 

Karli and Kellie Weidinger at Quarry Bay on Stockton Island

Please share a memorable experience you had in the park.  
One of the most memorable experiences I had in the park was getting our boat stuck off Sand Island. The boat was anchored offshore in a foot or two of water, but by the time we came back, less than an hour later, the boat was settled in the sand in just a few inches of water! I remember learning about seiches in high school and thinking, that must be what this is! My coworkers and I spent the next twenty minutes trying to push the boat back out into deeper water.  

 Staff members boarding a beached NPS vessel

What is the most amazing thing you saw in the park?  
One of the most amazing experiences I had in the park was watching the northern lights from Little Sand Bay. It was mesmerizing to watch the green lights dance above Lake Superior and listen to the waves peacefully lap against the shore.  

Northern lights and the Milky Way viewed at Meyers Beach

Please share an accomplishment from your tenure at APIS that gives you pride.  
During my first summer at the park I often worked the Saturday night shift at headquarters by myself. My main priority on those nights was to monitor the radio for emergency traffic. Thinking back over my time at Apostle Islands, I’m most proud of how outwardly calm I was during those Saturday nights, even though on the inside I was really hoping there would be no emergencies!
 

What story from your time at APIS do you share most frequently?  
The story I tell most often is from the sixth-grade camping trip my class took to Stockton Island. The most memorable part of the trip was probably the wood ticks taking over our tent and the sleeplessness my friends and I experienced because of that! But the highlight was hearing the singing sands for the first time. 
 

Sixth grade students from Bayfield camping on Stockton Island during an Apostle Islands School adventure

If you could return to just one place in APIS, where would you go? Why? 
I would go to one of the outlooks on the mainland trail. In the summertime It’s so relaxing to sit up there and watch the kayakers explore the sea caves. During the winter months I love admiring the ice formations on the caves.  

Kellie and a friend at an overlook above the mainland sea caves
Kellie visits the sea caves in winter

Kellie is now a park guide at Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso, Texas.  Her twin sister Karli is one of the Raspberry Island rangers this summer. We want to thank Kellie for her entry into our 50th Anniversary Lakeshore Logbook. We look forward to sharing more Logbook entries with you in the coming weeks. You can find the whole series here.

Lakeshore Logbook – Lane Johnson

Lane Johnson

As part of our 50th Anniversary celebration, we are collecting and sharing the stories of people connected to the islands, whether they are park guests, former residents or former park employees.

This is the 29th in our series called “Lakeshore Logbook,” a collection of memories provided by former National Park Service employees.

Living and working in the park on a day to day basis, they’ve experienced a lot to be sure. We hope you enjoy their perspectives.

Lane Johnson worked as an Archaeological Technician with the Resource Management Division with a fair bit of natural resources work in the mix, from May 2012 and ending August 2014. 


What is the coolest thing you did in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (APIS) as part of your job? 
The projects I got to be involved with were incredibly varied and situated across many of the islands. The mix of outdoor work was the best part of the job, especially island hopping as part of travel to different work sites – from the barrens of Long Island to the cliffs of Eagle Island and everything in between. My first summer we had at least one business visit to all six light stations, plus the Ashland Breakwater light. 

Lane Johnson – Lane (2nd from left) helps stake down erosion control fabric
Lane Johnson ready for archaeological survey on Outer Island sandspit, Summer 2012
Lane Johnson on blocks of brownstone at the Hermit Island Brownstone Quarry
Lane Johnson removing an invasive species from the park

What is the most fun experience you had in the park? 
In 2012 Lake Superior water levels were unusually low with a lot of exposed beach across the park. With extra miles of sand and cobble beach, I was able to regularly run a route from Meyers Beach to Little Sand Bay on the 6-ish miles of the Mainland trail, plus another 6 miles of beach, deer path, and two-track road. The crux of the route was wading or swimming across the mouth of Sand River before. I loved that route and always ended the run with a cannonball into Lake Superior from the Hokenson dock. Side note: on the portions of that route that included tribal land, I was running passing by below the ordinary high water mark. 

Lane running cobble beach somewhere east of Little Sand Bay, Autumn 2012

Please share a memorable experience you had in the park. 
One weekday night in 2012 I had the chance to assist Park Biologist Peggy Burkman and one of her seasonal staff, Azsa, in the search and rescue of a bald eagle in distress. The park office had been getting reports all afternoon from kayakers about an eagle that was “trapped” in a cave below the Mainland trail. Front desk staff were growing tired of the calls from concerned visitors. Peggy quickly hatched a sophisticated rescue plan. We took a Munson landing craft out there and after a little searching we located the eagle in a sea cave spattered with eagle sh*t. There was some chop on the lake but Peggy was able to maneuvered the Munson and pin the front of the boat up against the rock long enough for Azsa and I to scramble out into this wet sea cave. We carefully herded a young, fierce-looking eagle into the back side of the cave. We threw a wool blanket over the bird and I scooped him up, holding him to my chest like a running back holding a football with two hands. Azsa held the bird’s talons with gloved hands so my stomach wouldn’t be torn to shreds. I remember the weight and solid feel of the bird in my arms and its fearless gaze just before we threw the heavy wool blanket over its body. We gently stowed the bird in a cardboard box back on the boat and transported him to one of the park docks where he was whisked away to a regional raptor center. Rumor has it that the eagle was treated for avian botulism for a few weeks, made a full recovery, and was returned to the wild. 

What is the most amazing thing you saw in the park? 
I watched Cultural Resource Specialist Dave Cooper regularly pilot the 24ft Munson landing craft Ardea in all types of weather and with all shapes and sizes of passengers and cargo. Often times he’d be telling jokes simultaneously. Being on that boat with Dave was always a joy. Somebody, please, give that man a raise!   

Park historian Dave Cooper on board the ARDEA

Please share an accomplishment from your tenure at APIS that gives you pride. 
I spent a large portion of my first summer working with a few other park staff to cut and pile small trees and brush on the grounds of Devils Island light station. The cutting was intended to restore some of the station’s cultural landscape to what it would have looked like when the station was still in operation.

Lane clearing a cultural landscape with a chainsaw

There were several acres that had become a thick 12-14ft wall of brush and young trees that blocked views of the lake from the light station and views of the light station from the lake. After days of work with a brushcutter, walk-behind brushmower, chainsaw, and hand piling we had a roughly groomed front lawn with one of the most epic lake views in all of Wisconsin. My only regret on that project is not taking full advantage of the opportunities for lunchtime or afternoon swims at the east landing. The water always looked so inviting on hot July days. 

Lane uses a brush cutter to clear the grounds around the Devils Island light
 The view from the Devils Island tower after the cultural landscape was cleared

What story from your time at APIS do you share most frequently? 
I have a collection of stories from work on Sand Island that I sometimes recall as a montage of sorts. Working on that island in spring or early summer always felt like real work. Postholing through knee-deep snow while schlepping backpacks filled with oversized USDA APHIS hunting gear; relentless clouds of mosquitos that would gather as we tried our best to measure the impacts of deer browse on Canada yew at numerous plots across the island;  the short night I spent on the north beach of Sand Island with LE Ranger Lance Twombly where we waited to haze a no-show nuisance black bear; screening heavy clay soil during archaeological compliance surveys near East Bay.

Stake out at a Sand Island campsite to haze a nuisance bear

The best part of all those work outings was leaving, when a work boat  would whisk us away away from what I privately thought of as the Apostle Island’s very own heart of darkness. I always chuckle when I hear of people visiting Sand Island for pleasure.  

If you could return to just one place in APIS, where would you go? Why? 
I want to return to Stockton Island to help with a future blueberry burn (prescribed fire) in the pine forest growing on the tombolo. I think that’s one of the most worthwhile things I could do on a visit back to the islands – help park and tribal resource managers continue to restore cultural fire to that landform.


Lane Johnson is now a Research Forester with the University of Minnesota Cloquet Forestry Center, part of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) in Saint Paul. We want to thank him for his entry into our 50th Anniversary Lakeshore Logbook. We look forward to sharing more Logbook entries with you in the coming weeks. You can find the whole series here.

Lakeshore Logbook – Matt Welter

Matt Welter

As part of our 50th Anniversary celebration, we are collecting and sharing the stories of people connected to the islands, whether they are park guests, former residents or former park employees.

This is the 28th in our series called “Lakeshore Logbook,” a collection of memories provided by former National Park Service employees.

Living and working in the park on a day to day basis, they’ve experienced a lot to be sure. We hope you enjoy their perspectives.

Matt Welter was the park ranger/interpreter at Raspberry Island from 1990 to 1998.


What is the coolest thing you did in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (APIS) as part of your job?
Helping establish the living history program at Raspberry Island Light. When I started the job, the lighthouse had no furnishings, no costume, no props, nothing but the lighthouse building. I told my supervisor that if they could give me a makeshift costume, I could do living history tours. I noticed in the lighthouse keeper logbooks that they were always painting and varnishing the lighthouse so I started my tours by saying that we were painting and varnishing and had moved all of the furniture out of the building. From there I filled the lighthouse with stories.

Matt as Toots Winfield being photographed with some young island visitors

My prior job at Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley gave me a lot of experience on what I needed to do. I learned the history of the lighthouse, selected a year and a person to portray. I chose Herbert “Toots” Winfield and the year 1923. The next 6 summers I got to live in 1923. I learned everything I could about the year as well as the years leading up to it and the years after it. I had to know the name of the president, what people thought of motorcars, and the lightkeeper’s duties and responsibilities. I had to erase things from my dialogue such as chocolate chip cookies (invented in 1925) and the planet Pluto (discovered in 1930).

The next year the park got me wool serge light keeper uniform (very hot, but waterproof), props, books and signs. I baked pies and bread in my quarters and brought them into the lighthouse to fill the rooms with smells. I hung laundry on the line, washed it with a washboard, and washed the windows in the tower with vinegar. I played croquette with visitors and gave them tours. Visitors even began to donate items like a coffee grinder and a new croquette set. 

Matt baking bread at the Raspberry Island quarters

One of the funniest additions to the tour was the “Amberola.” The park had the original Edison Amberola and blue cylinder records that went with it. I had a pocket-sized tape recorder and spent a day recording a cassette tape full of songs from the records. I kept this in my back pocket. Because of the length of the keeper’s jacket, the cassette player was completely hidden from view. When giving a tour I would hit play and pause on the recorder as we entered the living room. I had my hand on the pause button as I described things that went in the living room, pointing to where they went with the skeleton key. When I described the Amberola, I went through the motions as if I were operating it and when I started cranking the invisible handle, I started the tape recorder. I kept cranking the pretend handle as the music played. People would nod, smile, and listen to the music. Then the light went on in the visitors’ noggins.  They realized that there was no actual Amberola there. Some would realize where the music was coming from. Some wouldn’t. Every once in a while at the end of the tour I heard somebody say, “Wasn’t it funny how the music was coming out of his butt?!” 

The Edison Amberola

What is the most fun experience you had in the park? 
Apostle Islands School was always fun. I loved doing activities with the kids, especially Bat and Moth, and Island Tag. I loved mentoring the Northland Students who were cutting their teeth on camp experiences. I loved telling stories around the campfire and taking kids on night hikes.

Matt Welter with Apostle Islands School students at Sand Island

We introduced each new school group to the differences of island living. One example was that on the first night before they went to bed we would ask them for candy, food and perfume to put up in the bear bag so that bears wouldn’t come to camp during the night. The first night usually had almost nothing in the bear bag, with all the kids saying they didn’t have any goods. The next morning we would find fresh signs that a bear had visited the camp. One time a tent of kids arose to find a large bear scat in front of the entrance to their tent. The next night the bear bag was always full.

I enjoyed seeing how kids’ perspective would change. Often when they arrived they were loud, talking about what they missed and afraid of what was on the island. By the time they left they wanted to stay, were quiet and contemplative, and were still trying to show me things they had found. Over the years, I remember several children originally being afraid of spiders coming up to me by the second day with spiders in their hands. My favorite was a girl who found a fishing spider that was as large as the palm of her hand. After I told her that these spiders can walk on water and eat fish, she asked what she should do with the spider. I said, “Let’s take her over to the frog pond and let her go.” The frog pond was sunlit and she lowered her hand even with the pond. The spider ran from her hand straight across the pond, leaving a wake of sunlit ripples. It was magical.

I also remember the frog pond being so loud with spring peepers that you couldn’t hear the people talking next to you. I taught students to cup their hands around their ears to make deer ears and if you did this near the frog pond when the peepers were chorusing, you would actually start to feel dizzy. 

I also enjoyed showing kids the woodcock doing their calls and their sky dance. One night, I and two Northland students got so close to a woodcock that not only could we see it, but we could also hear a short “whoop” that it would make before giving its classic “MEEP” call. 

Please share a memorable experience you had in the park.  
I enjoyed what Raspberry Island taught me. I learned how to identify mushrooms on the island and saw more diversity in mushrooms in its old growth forest than I have ever found in any other place.

Mushrooms on Raspberry Island

I learned how to use and how to trust a compass on the island. I remember picking a point on the island and navigating to it through the yew-filled forest, never seeing a landmark or vista and still coming out on the other side of the island, exactly where I had planned to go.

Canada yew along the Raspberry Island sandspit trail

I learned about wind on the island. I learned how it would affect the number of people visiting the island and where they would most likely show up. I learned that the wind would affect the currents in the channel and after a good rain, if the wind was right, I could see a stream of leaves and red clay between Raspberry Island and York Island. I learned that the wind affected the growth of the island’s trees – trees near the edge of the island that were battered by gales were thin and narrow, while trees in the center of the island were large and stout.

Matt studying Raspberry Island’s natural history.

Each year I studied different things about the island. One year it was the bats, the next the wildflowers. One year I was studying sap from the trees: hemlock didn’t have any, balsam fir made bumps that could be pushed and would squirt out sap, cedar made hard, dry tears. I sometimes thought, “Why am I studying sap?” At one point I was on a hike through the brush and had taken a break, resting my hand on a tree. When I pulled my hand away I saw my hand was sticky with sap and smelled of cedar. I thought, “Wait a minute, cedar doesn’t ooze sticky sap.” I looked to where my hand had been and there was a bear claw mark. 

What is the most amazing thing you saw in the park?
Foxfire. I had heard about this glowing fungus, but never thought I would see it. I decided to take a night walk on the Raspberry Island East side trail. I soon found out that it was impossible without a light source. The dense canopy of the old growth forest was so impenetrable that even on a moonlit night it was as dark as a cave. I brought an electric Coleman lantern with me. It was August and as I started down the last leg of the trail towards the sandspit I saw a light ahead of me on the ground in a hollowed out low stump. It was the foxfire. It glowed eerily in a bowl shape about a foot wide. I knelt before it in awe. After five minutes I thought to myself, “I should probably turn the lantern off and really enjoy this light.” I looked over to the lantern and began to reach for the off switch when I realized it was already in the off position. I could see the lantern’s buttons by the light of the foxfire, it was that bright.   

Matt examining a large yellow birch on Raspberry Island

Please share an accomplishment from your tenure at APIS that gives you pride. 
I was proud of a lot of the things I came up with for tours of the lighthouse. I enjoyed bringing the people that lived there to life. I enjoyed coming up with new tours every few months so that neither I nor the visitors that returned two or three times a summer got bored. I was proud to see people get so excited that they would return with props and donations for the lighthouse (one couple even donated a brand new croquette set.) I enjoyed making people laugh and sometimes cry. I enjoyed giving tours in Spanish to foreign exchange students. I loved handing the tour over to people who had actually lived, worked and sometimes even grew up in lighthouse. They were living treasures. 

“Matt as Toots Winfield greeting visitors on the lighthouse steps

I was especially proud of an activity I came up with for visitors waiting to get into the tower. It was called, “Todays Gone By.” I went through the Raspberry Lighthouse Keepers’ logbooks and selected noteworthy passages from different years for each day from May to September. Some were mundane. Some were humorous. A few were exciting. Each day I would change them. The visitors loved reading them and getting a look into the daily life of different keepers. It also helped add interesting stories to the tours. 

What story from your time at APIS do you share most frequently?
When my wife and I stayed at Devils Island lighthouse we learned the true reason why it’s called Devils Island.

We were dropped off with a couple other people to help with a breeding bird survey the next morning. With the exception of a bunch of broken flyswatters, the lighthouse was charming. Once settled in, we picked blueberries and enjoyed the view of Lake Superior. We watched a rainstorm come in. It wasn’t much rain so we just lied amongst the blueberries and felt the sea caves booming beneath us. 

The rain did bring something else, though – flies, biting flies. More flies than I had ever seen. They were swarming around us and landing on any light colored clothes we had. All of us there felt it simultaneously and began running around the yard to get them off of us before heading into the house. But each time one of us stopped all of the flies would land all over our clothes. At one point my wife and I decided to run around the house in opposite directions. As I passed my wife it was like being in a Yogi Bear cartoon. She would run past and a cloud of flies was following her. I looked over my shoulder and saw a cloud of flies chasing me. And when she stopped to open the back door of the lighthouse the cloud of flies following her landed all over her pants. They were khaki but with the flies they were completely black. At one point I let them gather on my pants and they began to ball up. I knocked the ball of flies off and it remained in tack. I kicked it with my foot and it rolled in the grass and more flies began to join it.

We eventually got in and began swatting the flies that had followed us. It was a lot of work. Along the way we realized the reason why there were so many broken flyswatters and the true reason this place was called Devil’s Island.

If you could return to just one place in APIS, where would you go? Why?
I would like to return to the area behind the dunes on Julian Bay because I often saw burrowing wolf spiders there. These spiders dig a hole in the ground that they line with silk. They wait for insects to go walking by, grab them and drag them back down into their hole. They sun their egg sacs on the top of the hole and drop them inside when someone gets too close. They make extra passages in their hole. 

Burrowing wolf spider 

They are like solitary bees in that when you find one of their holes, you can look around the hole and find several other holes (I like to think of them as neighborhoods). 

The burrowing wolf spider’s whole life revolves around her hole. 

One time sitting on my knees next to a burrowing wolf spider neighborhood, sitting so still that many of them came to the surface. I was also putting up with flies biting me. At one point a fly landed on my leg and one of the spiders ran from her hole to my leg and caught it. Out of curiosity I covered her hole with my finger. She immediately dropped the fly and sat there like she was stunned. After a couple of minutes she still sat there. I tried pushing her towards her hole. Nothing. I set her next to her hole. No response. I waited 10 minutes and she did not move. It was like she was in shock that her hole had momentarily disappeared.

If I could choose two places, I would go to the west side of Raspberry Island where there was a yellow birch tree that was so big around that six people forming a circle with their arms could not encircle it. It had a burl on it that was a least 3.5 feet in diameter. I wonder if it is still there. If not, I would like to see how it fell apart. I think of fallen trees as 3-D jigsaw puzzles and this would be a big one.


Matt currently serves as a naturalist at nature centers near Green Bay. We want to thank him for his entry into our 50th Anniversary Lakeshore Logbook. We look forward to sharing more Logbook entries with you in the coming weeks. You can find the whole series here.

The ribbon is cut: Stockton Island’s accessible amphitheater is now officially open to all

With a snip of an over-sized red scissors and a flourish of breeze off of Lake Superior, Friends Board Chair Erica Peterson and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Superintendent Lynne Dominy cut a red ribbon on Friday, August 13, 2021 signifying the grand opening of the accessible amphitheater at Presque Isle on the Lakeshore’s Stockton Island. 

The $55,000 project represents a big step in one of the core commitments of Friends of the Apostle Islands. “We are excited to see this finally happen,” said Peterson. “The board made accessibility for all a primary pillar of our organization. We feel it is important that everyone have opportunities to experience this the park.”

Erica Peterson
Friends Board Chair Erica Peterson

The new facility, with its gently sloping ramps, wide benches, and accessible entrance, will enable visitors with mobility challenges to move more easily from the dock or the accessible campsite already in place on the island, to the contact station and on to the raised-deck amphitheater.

Given the Ojibwe name maawanji’ i ding — “place where we come together” — by Ojibwe tribal members and NPS staff members Damon Panek and his son Bazile, the spot overlooks the lake through a tapestry of trees. It will become a gathering place for ranger talks, research presentations, children in our Island School program, tribal gatherings, hikers, paddlers, sailors, power boaters, and groups of day visitors from the Apostle Island Cruise Service tours. The raised construction also protects an important archaeological site indicating use of this island for more than 5,000 years. 

Bazille Panek
Bazile Panek, National Park Service and Ojibwe tribe member

The original plans and schematic diagrams for this project were begun several years ago and workers at the Wickcraft Company in Madison, Wisconsin manufactured the galvanized steel support structures which lift the platform off the fragile soil below and worked up blueprints for its construction last winter. Delayed a year because of COVID, two NPS boats including a 47-foot landing craft, began moving construction materials to the site this spring.

On the island, an NPS crew of 8 to 10 people (many of whom were recognized during the ribbon cutting) worked over the early summer months putting together what Tommy Richardson, the Marine and Grounds Supervisor in the park calls “the challenging puzzle” of galvanized steel supports and decking of pre-cut southern yellow pine planking

Project Leads: Megan Butler, Wyat Judziewicz 

Team Supervisor & Accessibility Coordinator:
Tommy Richardson

Team members: Alex Juedes, Owen Lueders, Myron Basina, Ben Perry, Bazile Panek, Corey Franz, Kellen Banowetz 

Their hard work paid off. “It is everything we wanted and more,” said Richardson during the dedication ceremony. “We are very pleased with how it went together, how it looks, and the process. I am proud of the team who worked on this so hard.”

Tommy Richardson
Tommy Richardson, APIS Marine and Grounds Supervisor

Friends of the Apostle Islands is also proud of the team that made the project happen and its many funders including an Outdoor Foundation matching grant and the many donors to our on-going Wilderness Accessibility Fund.  Board President Peterson said, “We feel fortunate to have donors, and a park, who embrace the need to share the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, and help us to leverage public and private funds to further steward the park’s future.”

Friends Executive Director Jeff Rennicke

Friends Executive Director Jeff Rennicke told the crowd gathered in the amphitheater, “From storytelling circles, to campfires, to town squares, cultures throughout history have set aside special, almost sacred, places to gather for learning, sharing, and listening. We hope that for many decades to come, this new accessible amphitheater will become that kind of special gathering place for all who love the Apostle Islands and our national parks.”

For more information on our Wilderness Accessibility Fund and how you can help us continue our work to make the Apostle Islands more accessible to all, click here.

  • Friends Board President Erica Peterson opens the ceremony
  • The crowd includes NPS team members, Friends Board Members and supporters
  • Erica Peterson
  • Tommy Richardson
  • Bazille Panek
  • Amphitheater Ribbon Cutting

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.


Photographs by Jeff Rennicke and Jon Okerstrom

Lakeshore Logbook – Dave Wilkins

As part of our 50th Anniversary celebration, we are collecting and sharing the stories of people connected to the islands, whether they are park guests, former residents or former park employees.

This is the 27th in our series called “Lakeshore Logbook,” a collection of memories provided by former National Park Service employees.

Living and working in the park on a day to day basis, they’ve experienced a lot to be sure. We hope you enjoy their perspectives.

Dave Wilkins started as a seasonal small craft operator then became the Marines and Grounds Supervisor. His career in the park began in 2002.


What is the coolest thing you did in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (APIS) as part of your job?
Tough one, guess I’ll go with writing the specs and overseeing the construction of the 47′ Phoenix, and the trip out to Seattle for sea trials. Training and operating the air boat is also high on the list.

NPS Phoenix

What is the most-fun experience you had in the park? 
What is the most fun I had, wow, where do you start, especially when every day is a “Holiday.” I really can’t nail this one down but all of the fun I had at the Apostles was due to my co-workers, we really had/have awesome employees!I have lots of memorable experiences but one that sticks out is the “Whitefish Day Potluck” we had at Roys Point, the turn out, the fun, and the special greetings we all gave Ben Marquardt.  

Please share a memorable experience you had in the park.
The most amazing thing I saw was the passion all the employees had for their jobs no matter what division they were in.

Dave inspecting a Stockton Island campsite and showing how much he loves his job

Please share an accomplishment from your tenure at APIS that gives you pride. 
I have two accomplishments I”m proud of, first bringing a better class of boat into the program, which were far better suitable for your missions/tasks, and more economical to operate. Second I was proud that as The Marines and Grounds Supervisor that we were able to complete our projects on time and under budget.

The fleet of Munsen boats that Dave helped the park obtain
Dave on an NPS boat at Stockton Island

What story about the park do you share most frequently?
Describing the Ice cave event of 2014.

NPS rangers interact with the public during the ice cave season of 2014

If you could return to just one place at APIS where would you go?
Devils Island, just an incredible place. As a part-time Captain for the cruise service I’m still in awe of the passengers’ reaction when we arrive.

Apostle Islands cruise boat at Devils Island

Dave retired in 2016. We want to thank him for his entry into our 50th Anniversary Lakeshore Logbook. We look forward to sharing more Logbook entries with you in the coming weeks. You can find the whole series here.

Lakeshore Logbook – Jennie Nepstad

Jennie staffing the information desk at the park's Bayfield headquarters
Jennie staffing the information desk at the park’s Bayfield headquarters

As part of our 50th Anniversary celebration, we are collecting and sharing the stories of people connected to the islands, whether they are park guests, former residents or former park employees.

This is the 26th in our series called “Lakeshore Logbook,” a collection of memories provided by former National Park Service employees.

Living and working in the park on a day to day basis, they’ve experienced a lot to be sure. We hope you enjoy their perspectives.

Jennie Nepstad worked as a seasonal interpretive park ranger at the Visitor Center in Bayfield for five summers (2009-2013).


What is the coolest thing you did in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (APIS) as part of your job?  
I think one of the coolest parts of my job was educating and swearing in Junior Rangers!  Seeing young kids so enthusiastic about visiting National Parks and protecting our environment gave me so much hope for our planet’s future.     

Jennie, David Grooms, and Damon Panek swearing in a new crop of junior rangers
Jennie, David Grooms, and Damon Panek swearing in a new crop of junior rangers
Conducting a junior ranger activity with students from the Bayfield summer school program
Conducting a junior ranger activity with students from the Bayfield summer school program

What is the most-fun experience you had in the park?  
This might come as a surprise to some, but I actually LOVED doing inventory of our Visitor Center’s bookstore each year with our park’s Eastern National representative, Bekky Vrabel!  We turned counting every item at 5:00 a.m. into a fun experience by jamming out to the Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, and Hanson!  😊  

Please share a memorable experience you had in the park.
My interpretive talk at the Visitor Center was about an endangered species of shorebird in the park called the Piping Plover.  These birds are unique in that they lay their eggs directly on sandy beaches.  Commercial, residential, and recreational development in recent years have sadly threatened the Piping Plover’s population.  The most memorable experience I had while working at APIS was being invited on two different occasions to help band baby Piping Plovers on Long Island so that they could be tracked.  

Jennie with Wisconsin DNR biologist Fred Strand and co-workers helping to band piping plover chicks
Jennie with Wisconsin DNR biologist Fred Strand and co-workers helping to band piping plover chicks

Two words:  cuteness overload!!  The chicks look like tiny, little cotton balls with toothpick legs.  Gently handling these tiny creatures gave me a deep appreciation for people who fight to protect endangered species.  It was an honor to work on this banding project in collaboration with staff from the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Wisconsin DNR.  In addition to banding chicks, these groups also put up protective enclosures around each Piping Plover nest in the park to protect them from human and animal predators.  Seeing the National Park Service and all of these other agencies come together to protect this small bird’s fragile population was an experience I’ll never forget.   

What story from your time at APIS do you share most frequently? 
Whenever anyone asks my husband and I how we met, we tell them how we got to know each other working as seasonal park rangers at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore!  Makes for a pretty cool story!  We wore our flat hats when we cut our wedding cake on our wedding day!     

David Grooms and Jennie Nepstad on their wedding day
David Grooms and Jennie Nepstad on their wedding day

What, if any, ’something’ from your time at APIS was an impetus for your chosen career or life path? 
There were so many different populations facing adversity in the Apostle Islands area that were great teachers for me—from the many Ojibwe tribal members whom I had the privilege to work and interact with, to aquatic life and ecosystems within Lake Superior threatened by global climate change, to the already endangered Piping Plover within the park.  One of the most valuable lessons I learned from my time at APIS was the importance of using my voice for those who don’t have one and for those who have been unjustifiably silenced, ignored, or unheard.  

My summer job at APIS inspired me to go to law school to fight for disadvantaged and underprivileged populations.  After graduating, I worked for over five years at the Innocence Project of Florida, where I helped free wrongly convicted individuals from prison.    

If you could return to just one place in APIS, where would you go? Why? 
It’s a tie—other than returning to Long Island with my favorite little Piping Plovers, I would also love to go back in time to one of our many Park Service employee potlucks!  😊  The best thing I got out of working at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore was many meaningful friendships!  The Apostle Islands are full of natural beauty everywhere you look, and the people who live and work in the area are just as beautiful!   

Jennie with fellow visitor center rangers Camille Bohnert and Katrina Werchouski
Jennie with fellow visitor center rangers Camille Bohnert and Katrina Werchouski

Jennie now works as an Investigator/Mitigation Specialist for the Federal Public Defender’s Capital Habeas Unit, where she fight for individuals on death row.  She says, “Apostle Islands National Lakeshore gave me a moral compass that will guide me for the rest of my life.” Jennie is the daughter of Jim Nepstad who we previously featured in the series. We look forward to sharing more Logbook entries with you in the coming weeks. You can find the whole series here.

History comes to life in the Apostle Islands: The maiden voyage of the Don A

Visitors who made the trip to Raspberry Island Lighthouse at noon on Friday, July 30th may be excused for thinking they had journeyed back in time. That’s when the 16 foot lighthouse skiff “Don A” pulled up to the Raspberry Island dock on its maiden voyage in the Apostle Islands.

The Don A is a replica of the skiffs historically used by the lighthouse keepers in the Apostle Islands. The brainchild of former Bayfield Maritime Museum president Don Albrecht, the skiff was constructed by museum volunteers. Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and other donors supported the project financially. The boat will be on loan to the National Park Service for display at the Raspberry Island Light Station.

Museum members and volunteers chose July 30 as the date for the Don A’s shakedown cruise from Little Sand Bay to Raspberry Island. Bob Durfey trailered the wooden skiff from Bayfield to the Little Sand Bay boat launch.

Terry and Heidi Anderson, Bill and Tudy Bland, Jim Bryan and Dee Johnson offered their three boats to transport rowers in support of the endeavor. Volunteer rowers Bob Durfey, Bill Bland, Wally Milbrath, Bill Bussey, Neil Howk, and Larry Fentress took turns on the oars. Only one pair of oars was available, so there was only one rower at a time.

The Don A left Little Sand Bay at 10 a.m. and arrived at Raspberry Island at noon. The return trip also took two hours. Clear skies and light winds aided the passage, but the skiff proved itself to be quite seaworthy.

Neil Howk photographed the adventure and represented the Friends of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on the trip. Howk said, “It was an amazing event. I jumped at the opportunity to row the Don A.”

“The skiff handled like a dream and helped me feel a kinship not only with generations of lighthouse keepers who used this method to travel to and from their stations, but with my dear friend Don Albrecht who loved rowing his skiff the J Emily in the Apostles.”

neil howk

Fellow rower Wally Milbrath said of the adventure, “I felt honored. I felt like it was living history actually rowing an exact replica of a boat on the same part of lake Superior that they were used.”

The Don A will be christened and officially presented to the National Park Service on August 11th at 7 p.m. at the Bayfield Maritime Museum.

The beautiful lighthouse skiff will later be available for public viewing in the Raspberry Island fog signal building.