Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Apostle Islands study - University of Vermont

The first time I visited what is now the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore was on a UWEC geology field trip in 1975. Later that year I returned with the FrugalFisherman and we backpacked from the Presque Isle dock on Stockton out to Trout Point, bushwhacking because there was no trail at the time. My first kayak adventure on the lake was in 1997. Coincidentally, both of those years were surveyed in the University of Vermont's Apostle Islands Longitudinal Research project.

I encountered the Research Project for the first time on a bar stool in Morty's Pub in Bayfield. I had arranged to meet Walt Kuentzel from the University of Vermont, who was spending the summer in Bayfield working on the project, to talk about the kayaking component of the study over a pint of South Shore Nut Brown ale. The conversation did move to the water when Walt, Pod, the BearWhisperer, and I paddled from south of Bayfield down past Washburn and back. It's a pretty interesting and extensive survey and it was only in 1997 that the kayaking component was added. Up until then the main focus was boaters and sailors. Its interesting to see peoples perceptions of the park and how they have changed over the roughly 35 years of the study. There is an incredible amount of data in there and its well worth studying, as are the numerous attachments and related materials. If you spend some time clicking around and thinking about the answers and distribution, it gives a concerete snapshot of how people view the park and the differences between boaters and kayakers views. The wilderness and crowding related questions are interesting and its instructive to see how little they seem to have changed over the years. As a guy who managed to dodge every statistics class offered by any and all university departments, I can only go by pure dumb instinct but I guess I'd summarize the report with one long run on sentence: visitors seem to be getting older, include fewer children in trips, are more likely to be retired, are twice as experienced with the area and take shorter stays with smaller parties, are not really sure if its a wilderness area or not, and are pretty satisfied with the lack of crowding and environmental quality (take a breath here...). The most hilarious result was the absolute self righteousness of the kayakers, a trait I've always noticed when power boaters pull up to an island dock. According to kayakers perceptions, absolutely no kayakers are loud or arrogant and a miniscule number are reckless or unsafe. They also think that kayakers are by far the most friendly of the three groups. The power boaters on the other hand, are the loudest, most arrogant, reckless, and unfriendly of the groups, far more so than sailors or kayakers. In my humble opinion this perception is a complete crock of shit and we kayakers can step up on to the podium, listen to the playing of the kayaking national anthem, and have the gold medal in the Smugness event placed around our collective necks. Come on people! It's going to take me awhile to thoroughly look at this survey, a great project and a great tool for understanding the park. The NPS data summary is included as well in the link.

I have to mention one other study that I heard about on Minnesota Public Radio yesterday. The army Corp of Engineers announced a study to see how they could prevent the Asian carp, a subject of more than one post on this space, from reaching the Great Lakes. The study is expected to be completed and a recommendation made by 2015. This study was authorized in 2007 and funded last year, but it sounds like they haven't done a damn thing with it yet. Meanwhile that's five years of spring flooding, Chicago barge movement, and god knows what other attracitve routes to the lake for these hundred pound environmental disasters. I'm sure they will just be biding their time in their little carp family rooms while this study crawls along. It kind of sounds like a Jurassic Park situation to me. More smugness combined with a dash of denial, this time on an institutional level.

Finally, today is the 35th anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, an event that serves to remind us that the lake is indeed always the boss. Every November 10th the light at the Split Rock lighthouse is lit and the names of the 29 crewmen are read. Several of those crewmen were from the northern Wisconsin area and they should be remembered whenever we are making our risk assessment as to whether or not to paddle in a particular situation.

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