Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

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Map of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin.
Map of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin. Source: [1]

Located on the northeastern tip of the Bayfield Peninsula, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is a coastal park consisting of 21 islands and a 12-mile unit on the mainland. The park offers visitors a rich cultural history and natural beauty. The islands contain numerous beaches along Lake Superior, old growth forests, sea caves, a collection of thirteen lighthouses, and many other natural features open to public exploration. [1]


Map of the Lake Superior lands the Chippeway Indians ceded in the treaty of 1842.
Map of the Lake Superior lands the Ojibwe Indians ceded in the treaty of 1842. Source: [2]

The park was established in 1970 and originally included 20 islands and 2,500 acres on the Bayfield Peninsula. In 1986, Long Island was added, and in 2004 the Gaylord Nelson Wilderness was established.[2] Currently, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore encompasses a total of 108 square miles along the Bayfield Peninsula and 720 square miles which include the islands and surrounding water.[3] The islands feature various sandscapes, sea caves, cliffs, and glacial features.

There is evidence that people have inhabited the Chequamegon area as early as 11,000 BCE. The land that the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is located on originally belonged to the indigenous people of Wisconsin. By the 1660s, this area had become home to fur trading posts and towns. It continued to be a prosperous fur trading area until the 1830s when it was replaced by the fishing industry. The remnants of this period of the Apostle Islands history are seen in the lighthouses built to guide fishing and trading vessels, shipwrecks in Lake Superior, and abandoned dwellings on the islands. In 1837 and 1842, the Ojibwe ceded eleven million acres of land in Wisconsin and Minnesota. This included land along the southwestern shore of Lake Superior where the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is located today. More people were drawn to the area because of the Homestead Act of 1862. This caused an increase in logging, fishing, and quarrying industries on the islands. Sandstone that was deposited in the late Precambrian era was mined on the islands beginning in 1870 with the establishment of the first sandstone quarry. Logging and fishing continued on small and large scales into the 1900s. Large farming communities, specifically on Madeline Island, began in 1910 and spread to the smaller islands. In 1930 the National Park Service began investigating the Apostle Islands with authorization from Congress. The investigation ended in 1936, but it was not until 1970 that the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore was founded. [4]


The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has a plethora of plant and animal life because of its relatively isolated environments. The lakeshore's plant and animal life is unique to North America because it lies in between boreal and temperate forest zones. The forests present in the park today are much different from those present before large scale logging took place. Today the forests are primarily made up of balsam fir, white cedar,white birch, and sugar and red maple trees[5]. Animals such as the red fox, beaver, coyote, and otter as well as game species such as deer, waterfowl, black bear, and snowshoe hare are all seen in the park. The Apostle Islands also stand as important nesting areas for migratory bird species. Since 1972, over 300 species of bird have been observed in the Chequamegon Bay. [6] Aside from mammals, the park includes eleven species of frogs, one species of toad, and large fish populations.[7]


There are a variety of activities to do inside the park. Non-guided activities include boating, camping, fishing, hiking, kayaking, hunting, and trapping. Guided activities include lighthouse tours, a nature walk through Stockton Island, campfire discussions about topics like shipwrecks and bears, and a tour of the Hokenson Brothers Fishery. All guided activities run from June to September, but visitors should check Operating Hours & Seasons before planning a visit.

Park Partners

Currently, Friends of the Apostle Islands and National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation are the only authorized non-profit partners of the Apostle Islands. However, The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore does accept donations from organizations, individuals, corporations, foundations, and other entities, as long as fundraising campaigns follow federal law and policy and are authorized with a written agreement. [8]

Current Park Issues

Besides human-caused factors such as pollution, one of the larger issues facing the Apostle Islands is erosion. Erosion has occurred since the glaciers receded after ice ages of the Pleistocene Epoch.[9] The islands still experience constant landform change. Large-scale erosion is caused by intense storms, varying water levels in Lake Superior, and exposure of materials along the shores. [10] Invasive species are another issue that face the Apostle Islands. Among these are the zebra muscle, gypsy moth, emerald ash borer, garlic mustard, and spotted knapweed. [11]

The main focus of the park is to maintain the lakeshore for future generations. To do this, there are two preservation efforts currently proposed for areas around the park. The first is a national marine sanctuary, called the Lake Superior Sanctuary. It is proposed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and would surround the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. The second is an effort to stop the creation of a concentrated animal feeding operation in Bayfield. This proposed operation would be located approximatley twelve miles upstream of Chequamegon Bay and would house 26,000 pigs. It would store liquid manure that would be used on nearby agricultural fields. The company proposing this operation, Badgerwood LLC, claims it would not affect the Park's watershed, but The National Park Service and Friends of Apostle Islands have encouraged the Department of Natural Resources to complete a detailed environmental analysis. [12]


  1. Bayfield Chamber and Visitor Bureau, "Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Named One of the Best National Parks," accessed April 26, 2017, http://bayfield.org/bayfield-activities/apostle-islands-national-lakeshore-named-one-of-the-best-national-parks/
  2. Bayfield Chamber and Visitor Bureau, "Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Named One of the Best National Parks," Accessed April 25, 2017, http://bayfield.org/bayfield-activities/apostle-islands-national-lakeshore-named-one-of-the-best-national-parks/
  3. Encyclopædia Britannica, "Apostle Islands National Lakeshore," September 9, 2005, https://www.britannica.com/place/Apostle-Islands-National-Lakeshore
  4. Busch, Jane C. "People and Places: A Human History of the Apostle Islands." Omaha: Midwest Regional Office,National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior, 2008, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=wu.89095999165;view=1up;seq=5
  5. Busch, Jane C. "People and Places: A Human History of the Apostle Islands." Omaha: Midwest Regional Office,National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior, 2008, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=wu.89095999165;view=1up;seq=5
  6. National Parker Service, “Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Birds,” Accessed May 2, 2017, https://www.nps.gov/apis/learn/nature/birds.htm
  7. National Park Service, “Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Amphibians and Reptiles,” Accessed May 2, 2017, https://www.nps.gov/apis/learn/nature/amphibians.htm
  8. National Park Service,"Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Our Parnters," Accessed April 25, 2017, https://www.nps.gov/apis/getinvolved/partners.htm
  9. Thornberry-Ehrlich, Trista L., "The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Geologic Resources Inventory Report," May 2015: https://www.nature.nps.gov/geology/inventory/publications/reports/apis_gri_rpt_body_print.pdf
  10. National Park Service, "Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Environmental Factors," Accessed April 25, 2017, https://www.nps.gov/apis/learn/nature/environmentalfactors.htm
  11. National Park Service, " Apostle Islands Nationl Lakeshore,Non-native Species," Accessed May 2, 2017, https://www.nps.gov/apis/learn/nature/non-native-species.htm
  12. National Park Service, "Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Current Park Issues," Accessed April 25, 2017, https://www.nps.gov/apis/learn/current-park-issues.htm

Additional Published Resources

  • Updike, William A. "Superior Parks" National Parks and Conservation Association May/Jun 2001, see 40-43.

Archival Resources for Further Research

Holmes, Fred L. "Apostle Islands Located Off Bayfield Peninsula, Sublime in Isolation, Sandy Shores," The Wisconsin State Journal, October 7, 1923 http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Content.aspx?dsNav=Ny:True,Ro:0,N:4294963828-4294963788&dsNavOnly=N:1133&dsRecordDetails=R:BA5030&dsDimensionSearch=D:apostle+islands,Dxm:All,Dxp:3&dsCompoundDimensionSearch=D:apostle+islands,Dxm:All,Dxp:3

Wisconsin Historical Society, "A Summer Place - Image Gallery Essay," Accessed April 25, 2017, https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Content.aspx?dsNav=N:4294963828-4294963805&dsRecordDetails=R:CS353

Ashland Press, "The Apostle Islands are Discovered," April 8, 1916, https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Content.aspx?dsNav=Ny:True,Ro:0,N:4294963828-4294963788&dsNavOnly=Ntk:All%7capostle+islands%7c3%7c,Ny:True,Ro:0&dsRecordDetails=R:BA5158&dsDimensionSearch=D:apostle+islands,Dxm:All,Dxp:3&dsCompoundDimensionSearch=D:apostle+islands,Dxm:All,Dxp:3

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