Helicopter “Heavy Lift” Project at Isle Royale

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Date: June 21, 2016
Contact: Phyllis Green, 906-487-7140

HOUGHTON, MICH. –What do you do when you have 64 tons of bridging planks and logs to move into remote trail locations in an isolated National Park? In the case of Isle Royale, you convene interagency expertise and regional crews to support a helicopter operation;Project Heavy Lift. On the scoreboard of human to machine, the 33 humans working on this project will move the 64 tons by hand to support the helicopter lift and then move the materials two to three more times building boardwalks and bridges so visitors can cross swamps, bogs, and beaver ponds while sensitive orchids and other plant life in these wetland areas are protected.

Helicopters are rarely used in this remote island park as it is 99 % Federally-designated wilderness. The last helicopter mission was 12 years ago. Securing the helicopter as the minimal tool to get the job done quickly, safely, and efficiently was relatively easy. Deploying the work crews to remote drop zones required a complicated coordination of boats rides and miles of hiking. The Isle Royale National Park trail crew, who hail from Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, was aided by a volunteer conservation work crew from Wisconsin (WisCorps) and US Forest Service helicopter crews from 4 national forests and three states. They are working in teams at 30 drop sites scattered across the Park. By the end of the 10 day project, the crews on the ground will have doubled the tonnage of lifting by hand what one helicopter lift will do.
Due to constrained budgets through the National Park Service over the past decades, the trails maintenance backlog at Isle Royale stands at approximately $2.5 million. This amount includes the cost of addressing all the currently identified problems along the 165 miles of trails in the park. Project Heavy Lift will eliminate $300,000 of the backlog.

The action was delayed last week by a day and a half due to weather and during the project, the helicopter had to operate intermittently between rain, fog, and high winds. By the end of this week, they hope to have accomplished moving all 64 tons of materials. Then the real work in the bogs and swamps of Isle Royale will begin.

Trail users and others interested in the project can track the progress on the Isle Royale National Park facebook page, the National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation (NPLSF) facebook page, and the NPLSF website.

Last updated: September 23, 2016

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