Historians express concern over islands artifactsThey are a pair of small, nondescript wood-framed buildings tucked away in an obscure corner of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore's mainland facility at Little Sand Bay. Behind the locked steel doors of the two structures is a treasure trove of artifacts that are tied in with the storied history of the national lakeshore; the material things that tell the rich history of the islands.
By: Rick Olivo, The Ashland Daily Press, Superior Telegram
BAYFIELD, Wis. (AP) — They are a pair of small, nondescript wood-framed buildings tucked away in an obscure corner of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore's mainland facility at Little Sand Bay.
Behind the locked steel doors of the two structures is a treasure trove of artifacts that are tied in with the storied history of the national lakeshore; the material things that tell the rich history of the islands.
There is a ship's wheel from a fishing tug, a white gasoline stove from a restaurant on Sand Island, bits and pieces from the wreck of the cargo vessel Lucerne. The hundreds of items in the collection are fragments of history, links from a bygone time whose chief value is not in their intrinsic worth, or even their collectability, but in their direct connection with time and place that make up the collective heritage of the Apostle Islands.
As such, they are irreplaceable.
And that's what makes historians and administrators from the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore nervous. They are charged with conserving and protecting the historical artifacts associated with the national lakeshore, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant. Over the years, a large collection of artifacts has been gathered and stored at Little Sand Bay and the conditions of the facilities where those artifacts are housed has troubled national lakeshore officials for some time.
"We are primarily worried about fire," said National Lakeshore Chief of Planning and Resource Management Jim Nepstad.
Nepstad said there had been plans to install Halon fire suppression systems in the buildings, but that plan was dropped because of environmental concerns.
Another issue is that the structures were never intended for the conservation of historical artifacts. Entering the structures, there is a pervasive smell of mildew.
"It's in here somewhere, it's a constant environmental problem," said Park Ranger and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Museum Manager Susan Mackreth. "There would need to be a lot of things done to this building to bring it up to standards."
Because of this concern, the national lakeshore is considering sending part of the collection of artifacts, none of which is on public display, to a secured, environmentally-controlled storage facility on the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan.
That proposal is troubling to area residents with an interest in local history, including Bayfield resident Jerry Phillips of the Bayfield Heritage Association, and Bayfield resident Bob Nelson, who both said that the area's historical material should remain here.
"I think the Park Service needs to budget money on a yearly basis towards the maintenance of these items," said Nelson. "It's probably been 30 years that they have been in storage here and it's kind of amazing to me that the budgets in the past haven't alluded to fixing up these facilities to begin with."
"More critical perhaps, even than that, might be the staffing," said Phillips, who observed that the curator for the Apostle Islands artifacts is only on staff for six months out of the year. "That's astounding to think of. No wonder they haven't been able to accession things or properly account for things, when they just don't have the staffing."
In a museum, an object is "accessioned" into the collection when it becomes the legal property of the museum. It is then assigned a catalogue number, and formal information about its provenance is noted and recorded.
Addressing the issue, National Park Service officials held a meeting with interested community members recently to talk about the artifacts collection.
"It's always good to sit down and talk to folks when they have expressed concerns," Nepstad said.
In that session, Park Service officials and area residents agreed to work together on the issue. Both parties left the meeting on an upbeat note.
"I am really impressed with the initiative the park is taking to form collaborative relationships within the community at large, including the Bayfield Heritage Association and other non-profit organizations," Nelson said.
"It's a great step forward," agreed Phillips. "Now we need to follow through. That is going to be the critical issue."