|Establishment||Size and Visitation||The Archipelago||The Island History|
|Greenstones||The People||Moose and Wolves||Wilderness World|
Isle Royale National Park was authorized by Congress on 03 March 1931 by President Herbert Hoover "to conserve a prime example of North Woods Wilderness." Isle Royale National Park was established on 03 April 1940 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The park was designated part of the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1976, under the Wilderness Act, and remains today as an example of primitive America. In fact, over 98% of the land in Isle Royale is designated wilderness. Further honors were bestowed in 1981, when Isle Royale was designated an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations, giving it global scientific and educational significance.
Size and Visitation
The total park acreage is 571,790.11, of which 539,281.87 is federal and 32,508.24 nonfederal. Land area is 133,781.87; wilderness is designated in 132,018 of the land-based acres.
Total Recreation Visits for 1999 were 23,493
In Lake Superior's northwest corner sits a wilderness archipelago - a roadless land of wild creatures, unspoiled forests, refreshing lakes, and rugged, scenic shores - accessible only by boat or floatplane. Travel on and around the island by foot, boat, or float plane. There are 165 miles of trails on Isle Royale, and the island boasts numerous inland lakes. And for more seaworthy craft there is, of course, Lake Superior itself.
Wolves and moose, the wild North Woods forest, everchanging weather and a cool climate, and the crystal clear waters and rugged shoreline of Lake Superior characterize Isle Royale National Park. This wilderness archipelago is 45 miles long and nine miles wide at it's widest point. The park encompasses a total area of 850 square miles including submerged lands which extends four and a half miles out into Lake Superior. The archipelago is composed of many parallel ridges resulting from ancient lava flows which were tilted and glaciated. Isle Royale has 165 miles of scenic hiking trails and 36 campgrounds for backpackers and recreational boaters. There is excellent fishing, historic lighthouses and shipwrecks, ancient copper mining sites, and plenty of spots to observe wildlife. Roadless Isle Royale is accessible only by boat or float plane. Isle Royale is relatively untouched by direct outside influences and serves as a living laboratory and Unites States Biosphere Reserve.
Isle Royale exists as an island in many ways. It is an island of wilderness and home to wolves in a modern world. It is an island in time, a natural space in which you operate on natural time and experience the rhythms of light and dark. Days are measured by footsteps, possibly under a backpack. Walking the island you are struck by its striated layout, its elongated forested-rock and lake patterns that parallel its backbone, the Greenstone Ridge. The island, it seems, must have been forcibly combed from northeast to southwest. The surface scene you see from the island's heights is the product of 10,000 years of natural sculpting, soil-building, and plant- pioneering and succession. Back then - actually not long ago by nature's time scale - the island appeared beneath glacial ice, rising as the lake level dropped. The island developed soil and was colonized by plants and animals. Its many inland lakes first formed in basins gouged out by glaciers and then began to shrink, as lakes and ponds inevitably do.
Beneath the ponds, the forests, and the light soil covering, however, is a story which must be told not in the increments of centuries, but in millions and billions of years. The ridge-and-trough pattern of the rocks is the work of millions of years, predating even the formation of Lake Superior and its islands.
The story begins some 1.2 billion years ago with a great rift in the earth's crust which may have extended from here southward all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. As this series of cracks poured forth molten lava covering thousands of square miles, the land along the rift zone sank to form the Superior Basin, which has shaped all of the subsequent geological events in the region. The rock record of this cataclysmic happening - the volcanics, sandstones, and conglomerates - forms Isle Royale's bedrock today. Clues to the island's past abound. Smoothed, rounded, and even grooved rock belies the crushing power of the last major glaciation, known as the Wisconsin. It ended here only a thousand years ago. On the southwestern part of the island, where this glacier paused in its retreat, are small linear hills made of its deposits.
On the Stroll Trail out toward Scoville Point, you pass three small pits in the rocks. These form another clue, a clue to the prehistoric peoples who mined copper on the island. They came to the island only in mild seasons, taking what resources they could, and leaving before winter. As early as 4,000 years ago, these people mined here, continuing for more than 1,000 years. Isle Royale and Lake Superior area copper made its way by trade as far as New York, Illinois, and Indiana. These early miners were probably most active here from 800 to 1600. By the 1840's, the only American Indian encampments white miners encountered were a maple sugaring camp on Sugar Mountain and a seasonal fishing camp on Grace Island.
Aquatic environments abound both on and around the island. In fact, some 80 percent of the national park is under water, as shallow, warm-water ponds, streams, and rivers, and the deep, cold, foreboding Lake Superior waters. Commercial fishing has been one of the mainstay economic activities on the island throughout historic times. It began before 1800, to feed the fur trade. Since about 1840, it has been a largely individual enterprise. The major economic species were lake trout, whitefish, and herring lurking in the range of water depths and bottoms along miles of Isle Royale shoreline. Most of the commercial fishing enterprises had closed by the mid-20th century; that world is now preserved by the historic Edisen Fishery and programs conducted by the National Park Service.
Sport fishing has now replaced commercial fishing. Species sought are lake, brook, and rainbow trout; northern pike; walleye; and the yellow perch. Spring and fall produce the biggest catches, but fishing is considered good throughout the season.
Isle Royale's animal life also expresses its island nature. In the recent past, both wolf and moose have come in search of better hunting and browsing grounds. Other animals you might expect here are missing, however although it is but 15 miles to the Canadian shores where they are found. But even those that are missing, like the black bear and the whitetail deer, somehow underscore Isle Royale's wild solitude.
Isle Royale is indeed an island of superlatives for wilderness and beauty. And here is yet another superlative: Siskiwit Lake's Ryan Island is the largest island in the largest lake on the largest island in the broadest freshwater lake in the world! You will find your own superlatives here as you meet the island on its own terms: fishing, boating, hiking, backpacking, taking a guided interpretive walk or hike, or just relaxing, which are what vacations are for.
Greenstones in Isle Royale National Park
What is a Greenstone?
That's a good question. On Isle Royale, greenstone has two entirely different meanings. Hiking along Isle Royale's loftiest ridge, you might encounter an outcropping of basalt with a greenish hue. Welcome to Greenstone Ridge, backbone of Isle Royale and its highest and longest ridge. Running more than 40 miles along the ridge, the Greenstone Trail provides excellent island-wide views. The ridge is named for the color of the underlying Greenstone Flow. This basalt flow is up to 800 feet thick and extends deep under Lake Superior in a continuous flow which reappears 50 miles later, on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan. It is one of the earth's largest and thickest lava flows.
Strolling along a pebble beach on Isle Royale, you might stoop down and find a pea-sized greenish pebble amongst myriad other stones. Upon closer examination, you may be looking at the mineral pumpellyite, the "Isle Royale Greenstone" and Michigan's state gemstone. Chlorastrolite, which means "green star stone," is uncommon outside of Isle Royale. Chlorastrolite originates in lava flow cavities, is weathered out, and then is washed out into Lake Superior and sometimes wave-washed onto beaches. These stones usually show a mosaic or segmented pattern of "facets," sometimes called "turtleback." The facets are symbolic of the many faces Isle Royale's wilderness shows. As with the greenstone, each facet is unique and integral to the whole. And just as untrammeled land across the face of the United States was once much more common, so were greenstones and related minerals on Isle Royale beaches and under Lake Superior.
Summer of 1997, in a remote campground, Rangers found ten large zip lock bags filled with over 300 pieces of datolite (a semi-precious gemstone) that two individuals had collected from Isle Royale's Lake Superior waters. A reexamination by the U. S. Attorney's office and Interior Department lawyers of mineral collection laws revealed that the submerged Lake Superior minerals are afforded the same protection under Park Service-wide regulations that protect all natural, cultural, archeological, and mineral resources. What this means is that the traditional use of beach combing, looking for greenstones, agates, and other mineral can continue, but visitors will not be permitted to collect and keep them. Instead, visitors can enjoy their discoveries via photographs, drawings, and memories. Many old time collectors admit that the quantity and quality of minerals have become scarcer due to years of collection. This new protection ensures that these nonrenewable resources will continue to be seen and may even increase through storm deposition, allowing for generations yet unborn to enjoy them.
The People at Isle Royale
Long before Europeans saw Isle Royale, American Indians mined copper her. Using hand-held beach cobbles they hammered out chunks of pure copper from the hard bedrock. Archeologists have excavated shallow mining pits, some dating back 4,500 years. The French claimed the island in 1671. In 1783, it became a US possession; it was defined as Chippewa Territory until 1843. Modern copper mining took place off and on from the mid-1800's until 1899. During that era large areas were burned, the forest was logged, and settlements developed. The 1700's saw the advent of commercial fishing. The American Fur company used the ancient method of gill netting to take whitefish, lake trout, and siskiwit. This tradition has been handed down through the fishermen's families. Early this century Isle Royale became popular for summer homes, excursions, and as a wilderness retreat. Detroit journalist Albert Stoll sparked the fight for the national park, which was established in 1940.
Isle Royale's Wilderness World
Had we visited Isle Royale around 1900, we would not have seen wolves or moose. Instead, we might have glimpsed a lynx or a herd of caribou - no longer seen today. The undergrowth would be thick with American yew rather than thimbleberry. Since then, the coyote has come and gone. The whitetail deer was introduced and has since disappeared. Sometime early in this century, moose immigrated to the island, probably swimming from Canada's mainland. With abundant food and no predators, their population grew unhindered. By the early 1930's the moose had destroyed their own food supply and began to die off in great numbers. A fire in 1936 burned browse over a quarter of the island, and by 1937 the moose population crashed. But the fire stimulated growth of new browse and the unchecked moose population began to grow, only to crash again when the food ran out.
During the exceptionally cold winter of 1948-49 an ice bridge formed between Canada and the island, and a small pack of Eastern timber wolves crossed over to Isle Royale. Since then additional packs have become established on the island - offshoots of the original pack. The wolves are important to maintaining a healthy moose population on Isle Royale. Very young, very old, sick or injured moose are the wolves most likely prey. By culling the weak and the old, wolves contribute to the overall health of the moose population. When the number of the predators decrease, the number of prey increases and the dynamic cycle begins again.
Wolves are highly intelligent and social animals that form well organized packs. Every individual from the dominant pair to the weakest pup has a place in the pack hierarchy. Few wild animals can match the wolf's devotion to its young. In late spring the pregnant female will dig a den and prepare it for the pups. Before and after the pups are born, the pack remains close to the den, they are cared for by all pack members.
In lean years the wolf pack's reproduction and survival rate may fall off dramatically, but these rates are normally increase when the population of moose begins to age and become easier prey for the wolf.
As a wilderness, Isle Royale is more than just a sanctuary for wolves and moose. As a national park it is more than a pleasuring ground for humans. The island's uniqueness lies in its complex yet simple system of natural processes; moose are dependent upon both wolves and beaver - wolves to control their numbers and beaver to provide dams and in turn the aquatic vegetation upon which the moose feed. The beaver also serve as a summer food for the wolves and beaver ponds eventually become meadows that support a variety of smaller animals. The red fox eats the hare who, if left unchecked, would destroy the forest that supports the moose that supports the wolf. In such a system a dynamic equilibrium is struck in which each species has an important role. And our part? We must leave this balance to natural law, observing but not manipulating. Isle Royale has been designated an international biosphere reserve under the Man and the Biosphere program. Ninety-nine percent of the park's land area is legally designated as wilderness.
|Caribou (Rangifer tarandus)||Last recorded sighting - 1927||Likes twilight|
|Coyote (Canis latrans)||Last recorded sighting - 1950's||Diurnal|
|Lynx (Lynx canadensis)||Last recorded sighting - 1981||Nocturnal|
|Norway Rat (Rattus norvegicus)||Last recorded sighting - 1915||Likes twilight|
|White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)||Introduced early 1900's
last recorded sighting - 1930's
Moose and Wolves
The world�s longest running wildlife research project � the 43nd year of the wolf and moose monitoring program � continued during January and March of 2001. This annual "Winter Study" project provides the best opportunities for aerial surveying of the wolf and moose populations, with leaves off the trees and snow on the ground. More detailed information may be obtained inexpensively in the visitor centers for Isle Royale National Park.
There are fewer wolves on Isle Royale this year than last, but those that remain are experiencing the best of times, according to Dr. Rolf Peterson, a Michigan Tech wildlife biologist who has directed annual surveys of the predators for the National Park Service for the past 31 years.
Peterson said the just completed 2001 survey showed total wolf numbers had dropped to 19 from 29 a year ago, mostly because of inter pack warfare and a decreased crop of moose calves born in 1999, following the hot, dry summer of 1998.
"Mild winters like we had in 2000 may be welcomed by humans, but they can be tough on wolves that rely on moose for their main source of food," said Peterson. "When snow cover is light, moose can move around easily and are much more difficult for wolves to catch and kill." During the easy winter of 2000, wolves on Isle Royale weren't able to kill as many moose as they needed to maintain robust health. The hot, dry summer of 1998 made life difficult for moose because they don't perspire like people do--instead they become overheated and hyperventilate and have to use a lot of energy just trying to keep cool. Those same conditions led to an increased tick infestation the following winter, which further weakened the island's moose. The result was that probably fewer than 100 calves were born in 1999--and calves provide the most reliable prey for wolves.
With heavy snow cover on Isle Royale this winter, wolves in the National Park are having a much easier time. "The 2000 calf crop produced between 200-300 animals," said Peterson. "And heavy snow makes traveling tough for calves, so this winter wolves have the advantage and two-thirds of all the moose kills we examined were calves.
"This is about as good as it gets for a wolf." Peterson said the island's West Pack has been eliminated and their territory taken over by the Middle Pack, which numbers six animals. The East Pack, also numbering six wolves, has maintained its territory on the moose-rich east end of the island. "And there is a third pack of just a reproducing pair and one surviving pup that has carved out a territory for itself on the northeast side of the park and the other packs have respected its territory," said Peterson. "There is also another mated pair and two single wolves wandering about the island and making do as best they can."
He said all the wolves seen in the park this winter seemed in good health. However, biologists plan to trap some of them later this spring to check for diseases. No parvovirus, a deadly canine disease, has been found in Isle Royale wolves during the past 10 years.
Peterson said the park's moose herd has increased slowly since the summer of 1996 and now numbers about 900 animals. He said a major challenge for moose on Isle Royale lies in the poor winter food supply, especially on the west end of the island, where the animals often have to try to survive on lichens. Moose on the east end fare better because of the large balsam fir stands growing there. The annual wolf-moose study is funded by the National Park Service, the National Science Foundation, and Earthwatch, Inc.
For more information, contact Rolf Peterson at 906-487-2179 or email: email@example.com.
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