Thursday, December 9, 2010

Isle Royale - Our next Cultural Management Plan -

The last time I was on Isle Royale was the week before the 9/11 attacks. I had to get back to work by 9/10 but the rest of my Fall Trip cronies heard the terrible news from the captain of the Voyageur II as they headed back to Grand Portage that day. There was concern as to whether they could return to the 'port' since all ports were closed, but since only two boats used the port at Voyageur Marina, the Wenonah and VoyageurII, common sense prevailed on a day when not much made sense. On our most recent Fall Trip to the Sauna Islands we were rewarded with weather that was clear enough so we could see the island almost the whole time, not the case in prior trips to that part of Gitchee Gumee. Last weekend we attended a lecture by Tim Cochrane, Superintendent of the Grand Portage National Monument and a historian of the Isle Royale area. He wrote a nice book on the native presence on the island titled, Minong- The Good Place and also gave an interview on WTIP about the upcoming process for the Cultural Management Plan for the island which you can listen to here.

Like the Apostle Island General Management Plan, which many of us commented on, this will be a long process with a number of contentious issues. Like the AINL, there had been a human presence on the island for centuries, including native American and white copper miners, loggers, resort owners, and the fishing families, some of whom still hold leases on the island. On my first visit in 1974 (I was on the island when Nixon called it quits and was initially puzzled by the 'President Ford' talk on my way back to Houghton) I visited some native copper mines, camped at the Island Mine campsite, checked out some rusting equipment, and hiked out to one of the fish camps. That was my first visit to any National Park and I was duly impressed. I've been back a number of times, both backpacking and kayaking. It's one of the least used parks due to its inaccessibility, and I think that's part of the charm. Like most public entities, public policies, and government operation in general, it has its wildly competing stakeholders, often with completely opposite goals and visions. The wilderness advocates think that all vestiges of human habitation need to be removed and the other extreme thinks the lodge facilities at Rock Harbor are far too spartan and need to be upgraded and expanded. If you paddle southwest from Rock Harbor Lodge you pass the massive Mott Island NPS maintenance and housing facilities. It takes a lot of infrastructure to run a 'wilderness' park. The tribes have a stake in the process, as do concessionaires such as the charter operations in Copper Harbor, Grand Portage, and Houghton. Fishermen, kayakers, backpackers, birders, lighthouse fans, and the more sedentary lodge guests all have goals and perceptions that need to be addressed.

One of the big issues is the leaseholders. The fact that the NPS has acted arbitrarily and in a heavy handed manner with these people over the years since the 1940 founding of the park is well documented. Pretty much the same thing occurred with the tribes as Tim Cochrane outlines in his book. A local writer and Isle Royale fan, Brian Lambert, wrote a story for the Strib on the recent eviction notices received by some of the remaining families. Its a good read and a thoughtful opinion piece by a fellow who obviously cares about the park. There are a couple well thought out plans he outlines, have your cake and eat it too plans, that seem to have a large element of win-win. Whether they will survive the Cultural Management Plan is another story. More background on the issue can be found in a story in the Cook Co. News Herald.

It will indeed be a process and, as the old saying goes, if you enjoy law or sausage its best that you watch neither being made. In my hometown of Eau Claire in the 70's the powers that be decided that we needed a new bridge over the Chippewa River. In a tactical error they had a referendum asking if voters wanted a new bridge or whether they wanted to upgrade the Grand Ave bridge. Voters overwhelmingly favored the Grand Ave bridge, which went right through the heart of downtown. Two years later the city fathers hit upon the right tactic to get their coveted bridge. The referendum asked where people would like their new bridge, Lake St (their site of choice for the past several years) or two other ridiculous locations., Being collectively stupid, we all voted for the Lake St. location as being the logical one, and now the Grand Ave bridge is a great big pedestrian and bike bridge. I'm not saying that the Preferred Alternative plans will be the equivalent of putting the new Eau Claire bridge in Chippewa Falls or Meridean, but as stakeholders, citizens, and lovers of Isle Royale we need to be both vigilant and vocal. Another more recent analogy illustrates the point a bit more clearly. Our eleven year old mutt, Rookie, has been getting a bit creaky lately and I took him in for a checkup. They needed to take his temperature, which we all know is not done orally with dogs or with one of those heat sensitive strips on the forehead. The technique was for me to distract him with a milkbone while the vet snuck around behind him and 'took the reading'. He looked at me, licked his chops, and focused on the milkbone. When the thermometer reached that critical temperature sensing area, his eyes got a bit wide, he tensed a bit and glanced quickly backwards, and then returned his attention to the milkbone. All I'm saying is that stakeholders need to keep an eye on the entire plan, evaluate the alternatives, accept compromise, and stay focused on the strategic goal of what's good for the park. And when they hold out that milkbone for you, be sure to 'check your six',or look behind you, as the fighter pilots say.


anthony schmitz said...

Nice post. Of course now I feel like I have to read the damn plan. Not to mention the Lake Vermilion State Park draft management plan, which is also open for more public input.

DaveO said...

No kidding Tony. I've read some of the Vermillon stuff and there are some 'interesting' components to that plan as well. I did a blog post back in August and was going to visit the site but we were on the northwest end of the lake. This Isle Royale thing has been a bit of a mess for decades now if you read the literature. It's time to resolve things and make it right.

rocksandfeathers said...

Interesting reading Dave.
Though I must admit, I was mesmerized by your beautiful sunset silhouette photo. Is that Kathy?

DaveO said...

It is indeed the VOR. I cheated however, since Isle Royale is a mere line in the background. The shot is up near the Border Islands.

David said...

Just stumbled on your blog as a result of your post on the Isle Royale Families facebook page. I'm one of the lease holders up there. NPS keeps tightening the screws. They are delayed in the cultural resources management by at least a year. We'll see what happens, but I'm sure we will all be gone soon. The cultural resources such as the cabins boathouses, etc will fall into the lake soon there after. It's a shame. david barnum (