Apostle Islands in for changes?A new plan for the popular vacation spot would make it easier for people to visit the islands, but some oppose campground moves
By: By Tom Meersman, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Superior Telegram
The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Lake Superior will become easier to explore under a plan to manage the park for the next 15 to 20 years.
Yet some changes in store for the popular vacation spot drew opposition at an open house in Bloomington last week.
The plan would move some campsites, build a new visitor center, rehabilitate lighthouses and promote inexpensive transportation to some islands.
Park officials described the proposed changes as relatively minor, because 80 percent of the land is wilderness and will remain virtually unchanged.
"We've heard time and again that people like the park the way it is," said Superintendent Bob Krumenaker.
The park includes 21 islands and a narrow 12-mile strip along the mainland in northern Wisconsin. The park was created in 1970, and most of the islands were designated as the Gaylord Nelson Wilderness in late 2004. Nearby Madeline Island is not part of the park.
The proposed management plan presents three alternatives, each with slightly varying amounts of development.
The National Park Service prefers an alternative that could enable more visitors to enjoy the non-wilderness islands, which include Sand and Basswood, Krumenaker said. A ferry service provides a cruise around many of the islands and a few trips to individual islands, but Krumenaker hopes that shorter, less expensive shuttles can be added, possibly by a second private concessionaire.
Bayfield Mayor Larry MacDonald supports that goal, since few visitors can easily or affordably see the park unless they sail, kayak or own a powerboat. "There's an awful lot of people who come to Bayfield and stand on shore and look at all the boats and they never get out to an island," MacDonald said. "That's too bad because it's such a spectacular experience."
Concern about campsites
The 40 people at the open house supported most of the plan, but several objected strongly to closing the 17 campsites spread along a sandy, picturesque beach on Stockton Island. The Park Service is concerned about erosion and possible archaeological value along the strip, and wants to relocate the campsites away from the lake in a wooded area.
"I could imagine wanting to move people away from the lake if there was just hordes and hordes of people and it was overcrowded, but that's not happening," said Erik Scott of Maple Grove, who said he would be camping there with his family this weekend, as he has for the past seven Labor Day weekends.
Dave Olson of St. Anthony, a member of the Superior Kayak and Outdoor Adventure Club, said that moving campsites to a cluster in the woods would be a "major downgrade," and he's not convinced that the beach contains any special archaeological treasures. "I hope they don't steal that away from us," he said.
Sea kayakers are also upset with a proposal to move a group campsite on Oak Island to a rocky area near a dock that they say would be difficult to use and noisy because of power boats and their generators.
Krumenaker encouraged them to file written comments before Oct. 23. After that, the service will consider changes to the plan before finalizing it in about a year.
Lighthouses and other plans
Other recommendations deal with island buildings owned by the Park Service but occupied by a handful of previous owners through long-term leases or "life estates" that expire when someone dies. Some of the structures are historic and might be rehabilitated.
The service restored a lighthouse on Raspberry Island in 2006, and wants to do architectural and landscape studies on half a dozen others in the park. Krumenaker hopes that at least two can be rehabilitated and the others preserved in their current conditions.
The plan also calls for a new visitor center on or near the Bayfield waterfront, allowing tourists to learn about the islands without visiting them. The center is now in the old Bayfield County courthouse several blocks away.
One person at the meeting questioned whether a new building should be considered when money is tight. Krumenaker said the project would happen only if funding becomes available and a willing seller steps forward. The service also wants to replace an aging visitor center at Little Sand Bay with a small information station.
Dave Hedlund of Minneapolis, an avid kayaker and sailor, said he thought the Park Service is heading in the right direction by recommending more access to islands while ensuring their protection. Most of Lake Superior's shoreline in Minnesota has been "overdeveloped" and suffers from "mansion pollution," Hedlund said, so it's more important than ever to keep the Apostle Islands pristine.
"This is the last chance to redeem ourselves as far as protecting the wilderness character of Lake Superior," he said.
Tom Meersman --612-673-7388
Read More online Information about the Apostle Islands draft management plan and how to submit written comments can be found at www.nps.gov/apis/gmp.htm.
-- Copyright (c) 2009, Star Tribune, Minneapolis/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services