This paper is part of the Proceedings of the Maritime Cultural Landscape Symposium, October 14-15, 2015, University of Wisconsin-Madison

David Cooper
Apostle Islands National Lake Shore, National Park Service

The Apostle Islands are a National Lakeshore, a unit of the national park system. In a sense they are a maritime cultural landscape (MCL) conceived of through an act of Congress. Some of the problems that other agencies and organizations have had in conceptualizing MCLs were dealt with rather simply at Apostle Islands by Congress drawing a sufficiently large park boundary around the islands to encompass the area’s major maritime cultural resources, associated landscapes, and surrounding waters.

Much of what I will be talking about in this presentation is the actual nitty-gritty problem of managing MCL resources. A designation process is just the first step in management. If you are going to designate a “protected” resource, you are eventually going to need to manage it. That is our daily challenge at Apostle Islands: moving from the abstract “60,000 feet up” view down to management on the ground — and water!

There are twenty-two islands in the Apostles archipelago, which is located on the southwest shore of Lake Superior. Apostle Islands sits near the twin ports of Duluth-Superior, which were and are still two of the busiest shipping ports in the world. The Apostle Islands maritime history is very much tied to the development of Duluth-Superior, and both areas are part of a larger Lake Superior maritime cultural landscape. The Apostle Islands is the homeland and spiritual center of the Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) people, as well as an important place in Great Lakes fur trade history. Logging, fishing, farming, shipping, lighthouses, and quarrying were later important Euro-American maritime activities. The park preserves a broad spectrum of cultural and natural resources reflecting the story of both native heritage and European-American use of Lake Superior. Apostle Islands is also home to the largest collection of lighthouses in the National Park system (seven light stations containing ten historic towers). The lights are important tourist attractions, with the local tourism industry, cruise boats, and the community all promoting lighthouse history and the iconography of lighthouses.

Every one of the Apostle’s lighthouses has an interesting maritime story tied in with shipping and shipwrecks. The light stations (or at least their individual towers) are all listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The cultural landscapes for each light station have been individually evaluated and determined eligible for the national register. The National Park Service (NPS) has a specific process to inventory and evaluate cultural landscapes, as well as develop treatment recommendations. The NPS Cultural Landscape Inventory is the basic documentation for each landscape. Following the inventory, Cultural Landscape Reports are developed which are the treatment documents for physically managing the landscape. The Apostles light station cultural landscape reports are available online at the park website (https://www.nps.gov/apis/learn/management/hlrclr.htm). These are good examples of on-the-ground NPS cultural landscape management documents.

Some of the Apostles light stations have multiple light towers, and all have multiple structures, everything from boathouses to barns, so each station is different in its complexity. The light stations have a great deal of historical integrity down to original flowerbeds and ornamental plantings, even graffiti from the keepers’ children in some cases: they are altogether a very rich resource. The light stations collectively are configured as a means for safely bypassing the islands or navigating within the islands. The outer chain of lights helped keep cross-lake Duluth-Superior shipping safely away from the islands, while an inner chain of lights guided shipping traffic in and out of Chequamegon Bay.

The Apostle Islands is a very ancient maritime landscape. We have at least 5,000 years of documented human use in the islands, and on the mainland around 10,000 years of human usage. Because the islands had inundated due to inter-glacial lake level changes, much of the area’s earliest archaeology is now underwater or was disturbed by lake level change. Still around one hundred archeological sites from the Archaic and Woodland periods have been documented in the Apostles area. Fishing was probably the most ancient of human activities here and carries through to the present day. The Apostle Islands still has an active commercial fishery, dominated both by native Ojibwe fishermen and also by Euro-Americans, particularly descendants of the Norwegians, Swedes, and French. These represent many ethnographic traditions with an evolved mix of fishing technologies, practices, and watercraft.

There are also a number shipwrecks through the islands, remnants of historic shipping in the iron ore, logging, grain, stone, passenger, package freight, and fishing trades. Other underwater archeological resources include remnants from allied industries, such as stone quarries, sawmills, and wharves. The Wisconsin Historical Society with support from the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute has been conducting an inventory and evaluation of these underwater resources since 1990. Many of the Apostles’ underwater archeological sites are listed on the national register, and many are popular recreational sites for sport diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and visitation by glass-bottom boat.

Logging was an important activity throughout the western Great Lakes, and the Apostle Islands were generally logged somewhat later than the mainland because of difficult access. This challenge brought about some interesting “maritime” methods of logging, foreshadowing some of the technologies used later in coastal Alaska. These methods included the use of bush planes, logging railroads, mechanized equipment, and barges, although conventional horse-logging was done in the islands as well.

In the wake of the loggers came the hard-scrabble Apostle Island farms. These farmers were predominately Scandinavians. Many of them were farming as part of a subsistence fishery, or farming for subsistence with fish as the “cash crop.” A study of the Sand Island commercial fishing and farming community is currently under way, with the goal of preserving and managing the cultural landscapes that have survived from those activities.

The human inhabitants of the Apostle Islands have left behind many physical imprints on the landscape. These include surviving structures, features, ruins, and artifacts and of course major changes to the vegetation. All of these resources require varied preservation approaches. In some cases it is a matter of keeping natural forces or human forces from impacting the resources. But in a lot of cases, it means direct management and treatment by the park. This means examining a range of options, depending on management objectives and available funding and resources. This process can get very complicated: you cannot take something that was built with a steam hoist and try and manage it with a pencil.

This challenge really comes home when trying to manage something like historic lighthouses. Lighthouses can be very difficult types of properties to maintain, especially when in challenging environments for access. In 2009 Apostle Islands National Lakeshore began a six-year lighthouse preservation project using a special Congressional appropriation. The project was to conduct long-overdue rehabilitation and stabilization work on the light stations, the largest historic preservation effort ever undertaken at Apostle Islands. It was largely done through contractors, from the architects and engineers to the carpenters, roofers, painters, plasterers, landscapers, and masons. The project covered five light stations and their associated cultural landscapes. Planning occupied the first two seasons, including development of goals, management alternatives, environmental analysis, public and agency consultation, design work, and project cost-estimating. Of course, we didn’t have enough money to do everything needed, but we established a prioritized list of maintenance tasks and goals for rehabilitation including detailed landscape treatment recommendations. We were able to fund $4 million worth of the highest and most urgent priorities. Michigan Island Light Station was selected for the most intensive treatment, including interior and exterior rehabilitation of the old lighthouse, creation and installation of indoor exhibits, and rehabilitation of landscape features such as ornamentals, garden beds, and an orchard.

The project presented numerous logistical challenges. These Lake Superior light stations are located on widely separated islands up to thirty miles offshore. Maintaining these lights requires trained personnel and small fleet of work boats, including high-speed landing craft. The park also occasionally uses commercially available vessels including a LCT (Landing Craft-Tank) that is actually the last surviving World War II LCT still operating in the United States. A variety of landing craft are required for the heavy lifting involved in light station preservation, including transport of construction materials (such as concrete, riprap, and ironwork), heavy vehicles (excavators, skid steers, and drilling rigs), and transport of project debris (logs, contaminated soil, asbestos, and broken concrete). All of this was and is done in one of North America’s more challenging maritime environments: Lake Superior.

A key but often overlooked part of maintaining a lighthouse is, obviously, you have to be able to see it from the water. The light cannot do its job if the forest is allowed to grow up and around it. It is amazing how quickly historic light stations can become overgrown, and the level of effort needed to bring the station grounds back to even a semblance of their historic openings. This brings up the problem of vegetation clearing and disposal. It’s not a matter of just whistling up a truck and wood-chipper for hauling away debris. These clearing efforts become small-scale logging operations when conducted on an island and doing the work to modern environmental and work safety standards. The basic tools for light station landscape maintenance are chainsaws, brush cutters, and brush mowers. Portability is critical. The largest equipment that could be transported up the steep slope at Michigan Island were Bobcat-sized skid steers. Much of the vegetative clearing work had to be done using mechanized hand tools. We are generally not able to fully reclaim large historic openings but the park is trying to maintain sufficient openings to preserve structures and the historic scene.

Landscape management serves many important functions. Much of Apostle Islands visitation is by cruise boat. Proper landscape management allows boaters to be able to see and understand the light stations and to experience the lights in the manner they were seen from historic watercraft. Good landscape management provides breaks against wildfire and windthrow which could damage and destroy these historic sites. By reducing vegetative encroachment, landscape management is also reducing moisture and moisture damage in and around the structures. Apostle Islands also uses prescribed fire as part of landscape maintenance and the park is considering larger broad-scale burning operations on some stations to more cost-effectively maintain historic landscapes.

Light station restoration work has included replacing missing or deteriorated landscape elements such as orchards, windbreaks, and garden beds. Some light stations have required major erosion control, including bank and shoreline stabilization, such as riprapping and bio-retainment. Preservation work is also needed on circulation routes such as sidewalks, to meet modern accessibility standards, as well as installation of modern accessible toilets. All of these issues become concerns when developing a location for public visitation. There are numerous concerns, from removal of hazardous materials, to visitor safety, to visitor accessibility that must be addressed. Historic preservation is not of course just a matter of restoring places to historic conditions and appearances, but also meeting modern expectations and needs as well.

Not all MCL management need be as mechanically-intensive as the examples I have discussed. Management approaches and treatments are all scaled to each type of cultural resource and to management goals. For example, we have many non-built landscapes in the Apostle Islands such as seasonal fishing camps, berry and medicinal plant harvesting areas, sugar bushes and spiritual sites. These areas often were and are very important to native peoples and (in NPS jargon) may qualify as traditional cultural properties and/or ethnographic cultural landscapes. Understanding ethnographic MCLs and their management needs is another set of important challenges for Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, and I look forward to joining in that dialogue with our tribal partners.

Before I started working for the National Park Service, I viewed lighthouses and other maritime landscapes in a generalized and perhaps rather romanticized way. After six years of labor-intensive work on these islands I now tend to look at historic landscapes in a very different, very pragmatic way. I am no longer faced with just the question “Why should we do this?” The question has become “Exactly how do we do this?” This is a necessary reality check when we move from the intellectual side of maritime cultural landscapes to the actual management and preservation of these resources.

National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
645 University Parkway
Natchitoches, LA 71457

Email: ncptt[at]nps.gov
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