Gaylord Nelson Wilderness

"Away, away, from men and towns,
To the wild wood and the downs, --
To the silent wilderness,
Where the soul need not repress
Its music." -

Percy Bysshe Shelley, (1792-1822)
"To Jane, The Invitation," c.1820


Gaylord Nelson Wilderness Honors Former Wisconsin Senator

Designation Guarantees Access and Ensures NPS Area Will Retain its Present Character

With the stroke of a pen, on December 8, 2004, President George W. Bush approved legislation designating 80% of the land area of Wisconsin's Apostle Islands National Lakeshore as federally protected wilderness. The new wilderness area - Wisconsin's largest by far - honors the late former Governor and U.S. Senator, Gaylord Nelson. This addition to the National Wilderness Preservation System is known as the Gaylord Nelson Wilderness, in keeping with the Nelson family's wishes and to put the name in line with other wilderness areas around the country. The designation guarantees that the present management style of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore will be maintained in the future - emphasizing continued motorized boat access to the mostly-wild islands, but no motorized travel on the islands themselves.

Julian Bay on Stockton Island
Julian Bay on Stockton Island

"We're absolutely thrilled about this," said Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Superintendent Bob Krumenaker. "Senator Nelson was a visionary who fought long and hard to create the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, and for decades he was a leading advocate for our nation's wilderness areas. It is entirely fitting that this new wilderness area be named for him."

The waters of Lake Superior within the National Lakeshore are not included in the wilderness area, nor are the lighthouses or other existing developed areas of the park. Sand, Basswood, and Long Islands were kept out of the wilderness boundary in their entirety, along with the park's 12-mile mainland strip.


Wilderness Law and Policy

In the United States, designation of federal land as "Wilderness" can only be done by the Congress as part of the Wilderness Act of 1964. It is the highest degree of legal protection that exists for federal land, and is an "overlay" on top of its status as a national park or other federal property. There are a variety of laws and NPS policy documents which established the Federal Wilderness Preservation System, and guide the management of all federal wilderness areas.

Apostle Islands Wilderness Management

The park's 2011 General Management Plan/Wilderness Management Plan established the framework and direction for managing the Gaylord Nelson Wilderness consistent with Wilderness law and policy. Since 2008, the park has had a "Minimum Requirement Process" to assure that any management actions proposed within the wilderness are both necessary and appropriate for the administration of the area as wilderness; and, if so, determines how the action will be carried out in a manner that minimizes impacts to wilderness resources.


Last updated: October 4, 2021

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