Nature & Science
"Nature, even when she is scant and thin outwardly, satisfies us still by the assurance of a certain generosity at the roots."
- Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
Set in a matrix of Lake Superior, the largest and most pristine of the Great Lakes, the Apostle Islands archipelago includes 22 islands and is located in far northwestern Wisconsin, off the Bayfield Peninsula. Twenty-one of these islands, and a 12-mile segment along the shore of Wisconsin’s north coast, comprise the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
The beauty of the islands are enhanced by the area’s geology. Colorful precambrian sandstone have eroded into interesting cliff formations, including sea caves, and there is a highly diverse collection of sandscapes, including sandspits, cuspate forelands, tombolos, a barrier spit, and numerous beaches. These sandscapes are among the most pristine left in the Great Lakes region.
The lakeshore is at the continental northwestern limits of the hemlock-white-pine-northern hardwood forest and also contains elements of the boreal forest. The lakeshore’s forests have a wide variety of disturbance histories, ranging from pristine old-growth forest without a history of deer browsing, to forests that have been subjected to logging, fires and extensive deer browsing. At present, most of the Lakeshore is covered with unbroken mature second growth forest. There is an interesting interplay of cultural and natural resources that occurs in the Lakeshore. The old-growth forests that remain on Devils, Raspberry, Outer, Sand Islands due so because they were part of lighthouse reservations set aside by the U.S. Lighthouse Service.
The island’s wildlife includes a diverse population of nesting and migratory birds and a variety of mammals, amphibians, and fish. Following logging and associated fires, favorable habitat for deer and beaver was created on many of the islands. Pre-disturbance forest had a fairly dense ground cover of Canada yew, which is still present on islands without a history of deer. On Islands with deer, however the yew was rapidly browsed to near extinction, and some areas remain at that level today. Deer numbers peaked in the early 1940-50’s but by the early 1960’s, deer were driven to very low numbers through liberal hunting quotas. Today the deer population is relatively low but appears to be increasing on Oak and Sand Island.
This fascinating unit of the National Park System features a combination of spectacular natural beauty and rich cultural history. The rich history of the islands includes Native Americans, voyageurs, loggers, quarrying, farmers and commercial fisherman. The six historic light stations in the park, built here to aid Great Lakes navigation, are the largest such group found in any unit of the National Park System.
The islands offer various water- based recreational opportunities such as sailing, power boating, sea kayaking, fishing and scuba diving.
Did You Know?
In his “Report on Apostle Islands National Park Project, January 20, 1931”, landscape architect Harlan Kelsey noted that “the hand of man has mercilessly destroyed the islands’ virgin beauty, and, therefore, a largely controlling element as outstanding national park material even if other reasons made them eligible…this project does not meet National Park Service standards.”