As our Natural Resources Foundation (NRF) tour left the sheltered dock at Houghton, MI, and headed toward open water and Isle Royale, I was wondering: What did Lake Superior have waiting for us?
The Michigan shore slowly disappeared below the stern of the Ranger III and the skies remained clear. Winds were favorable for our five-hour voyage across Lake Superior to Isle Royale National Wilderness Park. It was a beautiful day and our excitement grew as the headlands of Isle Royale took shape off our bow.
Isle Royale is a wilderness park managed by the National Park Service to preserve the natural, historic, cultural and recreational value of this incredible place. Isle Royale has a very unique geology and a long history. More recent island history includes mineral exploration, commercial fishing, Great Lakes shipping, lumbering, and recreation. Isle Royale National Park is a fascinating place with beautiful scenery that is very lightly touched by human impacts. Our tour group was eager to see and learn more about the island wilderness park.
Our trip to Isle Royale was curated by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin (NRF) in cooperation with Door County Nature and Travel. Paul Regnier, our tour leader, is an experienced naturalist and excellent communicator/teacher, and he has completed over 20 trips to Isle Royale.
Northern boreal forest and Passage Island
Paul began our visit with an introduction to the flora and fauna of Isle Royale, an excellent example of the northern boreal forest.
We saw spruce, firs, and scattered pines interspersed in places with poplar, birch and alder. The understory offered a variety of mosses, lichens and mushrooms. There was ample evidence of the large moose population browsing heavily on favored plants in the forest community.
Later in the week we traveled beyond the treacherous waters of Blake Point to Passage Island where there is still no record of moose, deer or any other browsing animal ever living there. The lush and diverse understory on Passage Island offered a stark contrast to what we saw on the main island of Isle Royale where heavy browsing has reduced plant diversity and limited growth of some species.
Paddling Tobin Harbor and Lookout Louise
With crystal clear water and fabulous scenery, the protected inlets and inland waters of Isle Royale were wonderful places to explore by canoe or kayak.
On a beautiful sunny morning we paddled the Tobin Harbor inlet to Hidden Lake and the trailhead to Lookout Louise. The hike to the top was worth every step as the view from Lookout Louise NW to Thunder Bay and the Canadian shore is spectacular.
Historic Edisen Fishery and research station with Rolf Peterson
We explored the unique history of Isle Royale with a trip on the water taxi, Sandy, to the Rock Island lighthouse and nearby historic Edisen fishing camp.
The lighthouse and fishing camp have been preserved in their historic condition with many artifacts on display, and the interpretive staff and materials are great resources for learning.
A short hike from the fish camp brought us to the log cabin research station used by Rolf Peterson, wildlife research scientist.
Rolf is internationally renowned for his lifelong research of the predator-prey relationship of wolves and moose on Isle Royale. We were very fortunate to catch Rolf and Candy at home, and they graciously spent a couple of hours discussing their work and answering our questions.
Learning from Rolf was a highlight of the trip for me.
Many on our tour were hopeful to see the northern lights while on Isle Royale, and one night early on our trip was predicted to be a high probability of northern light activity. Many of us stayed up into the early morning hours hoping to catch a glimpse, but after a brief low intensity glow on the northern horizon, the northern lights just fizzled.
The following nights were predicted to be much less of a chance to see the light. However, a few of the most dedicated among us took up the watch again at Tobin Harbor dock, while the rest of us caught up on sleep. These dedicated few were rewarded with a fabulous display of the northern lights lasting nearly two hours.
Fortunately for us sleepers, Greg Hottman was among the dedicated. Greg is a skilled photographer and captured several stunning still photos that he shared with the group—absolutely a trip highlight for many. A special “Thanks” to Greg for sharing the photo below.
Our last night on the trip we shared our Isle Royale experiences of beautiful scenery, the historic sites, explorations and other outdoor adventures. Each person brought something unique and special to our group experience on Isle Royale, and made our weeklong adventure a very special time for all. We met as fellow travelers and left as friends who shared a wonderful outdoor experience on Isle Royale. Thanks to Paul Regnier and Door County Nature and Travel, for a great trip.
The Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin organizes travel experiences like this throughout the year to locations near and far. Check out our current domestic and international travel experiences at WisConservation.org/Travel.
By: Bill Smith, NRF Board Member