The National Park Service is currently developing a Cultural Resource Management Plan for Isle Royale National Park.
As part of that effort, the Park Service is holding four public meetings, or “listening sessions,” beginning this week. Seth DePasqual is Cultural Resource Manager at Isle Royale National Park:
“This is at the very head of the environmental assessment," says DePasqual. "What we’re doing, at least for these initial listening sessions, is just a way to sort of gather thoughts and impressions that the general public has about cultural resources on Isle Royale National Park, and how they think the park maybe should manage these different resources on the island.”
The term “cultural resources” refers to Isle Royale’s human history, which dates back more than 4,000 years.
“It’s pretty extensive,” says DePasqual. “You have the annual visits coming from the north end from ancestors of the Ojibwe, to the Ojibwe, to more recent years. It’s a thick, rich history, and pre-history out here. It’s not like the prehistoric presence is gone. You can see very vivid reflections of their presence on the island just through some of the mining features that they left behind. So, it’s a great island in that sense, is that it’s all there for you to see, especially for those with a keen eye. It’s just a matter of how are we going to share this.”
More recent human history on Isle Royale dates back to the 1800’s, when Scandinavian immigrants arrived in Northeastern Minnesota, establishing small scale, family fishing operations all along the North Shore and on Isle Royale. By 1925, there were an estimated 75 small fishing operations on Isle Royale, referred to in a 2002 report prepared for the National Park Service as a “Scandinavian folk fishery.” The island was also a popular tourist destination at the turn of the century, complete with summer residences, a resort and a bowling alley.
When efforts began in the 1930’s to designate Isle Royale as a national park, the fishermen, summer cabin and resort owners were bought out by the Park Service. Some were granted life leases, allowing them to continue using their cabins and fishing camps, but only for the remainder of the original property owner’s lifetime. As the original property owners passed away, some families obtained temporary Special Use Permits (SUPs) or Volunteer-in-the-Park (VIP) agreements, which allowed them to continue using the properties. But in many ways, with no real security from year to year, and little incentive to maintain the properties at their own expense, this marked the beginning of the end of the Scandinavian folk fishery on Isle Royale. Things only got worse in the 1950’s, when sea lamprey invaded the Great Lakes and decimated the lake trout population. One of the main fisheries sustaining the fishermen was gone. More properties were either given up or seized, in some cases because occupants failed to make annual visits as required by the Park Service. Many buildings were burned or dismantled in what is now widely viewed as a misguided attempt to return the island to a state of “pristine wilderness.” Still, many families hung on and maintained a presence on the island that continues to this day. But they’re in a constant state of limbo, unsure from year to year whether they’ll be allowed to stay. This is one of the main reasons the Park Service is developing the Cultural Resources Management Plan (CRMP).
“That’s going to be a big part of it,” says DePasqual. “In the past, there were quite a few agreements made between property holders when the park was established and we’re coming to terms of expiration. Various leases are expiring and we’re considering options for management of those facilities. And so that’s going to be a big part of it. We have existing cabins that have been used in the past as fisheries, some of them are transitioning into summer residences. Some of them were summer residences from the get go. And as these leases expire, we need more definitive guidance on how we’re going to proceed in regards to just their general management and that sort of thing.”
The Park Service has been grappling with the issue of how to deal fairly with descendents of the original fishing families and summer cabin owners for many years. In 1998 the Park Service commissioned a study to examine the island’s Scandinavian fishing culture. The report, “An Ethnohistory of the Scandinavian Folk Fishery of Isle Royale National Park
,” was prepared by the University of Arizona and found significant cultural value in both the history and the continued presence of the fishing culture on Isle Royale. The authors recommended that the descendents of Scandinavian folk fishermen be allowed to stay on through cooperative agreements and that they be allowed to continue fishing, serving as live-in cultural interpreters for park visitors. The report also recommended they be invited to participate with Isle Royale National Park to renegotiate the future of their relationships with the Park and determine future policy for the preservation of the folk fishing cultural history there.
The Park Service says it will take about two years to complete the Cultural Resource Management Plan (CRMP) for Isle Royale National Park. The process gets underway this week with four listening sessions intended gather public input. The sessions will feature informal gatherings where the public can interact with Park personnel on plan goals and processes, issues, ideas, and concerns. All sessions run from 4:00-7:00 p.m.
Minneapolis Listening Session: Tuesday, November 30
Mill City Museum
710 S. 2nd St.
Duluth Listening Session: Wednesday, December 1
710 S. 2nd St.
Houghton Listening Session: Thursday, December 2
Franklin Square Inn (Best Western)
820 Shelden Ave.
Lansing Listening Session: Tuesday, December 7
Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center
55 South Harrison Avenue