The deadline to comment on how Isle Royale National Park should manage its cultural resources closes on January 16. The park is at the beginning of a process to come up with a Cultural Resource Management Plan (CRMP) that will focus on how the park will interpret and preserve the island’s extensive human history and prehistory. The process is expected to take about two years to complete and kicked off with four public meetings, or “listening sessions,” in late November and early December.
Liz Valencia is Chief of Interpretation and Cultural Resources at Isle Royale National Park. She was at the listening sessions.
“The meetings went really well, we got a lot of really good comments. We had some great discussions with folks, just to see what was on people’s minds. And then we have gotten a lot of people going to the website, entering their comments on there. We did have quite a few who wrote out comments and handed them to us at the meeting. And then we also had people who've mailed them in now too."
The Park Service handed out a set of preliminary questions during the listening sessions. The same questions are open for comment on the agency's website until January 16.
“They’re real basic," says Valencia. "They’re focused on what people want to see. One of them is ‘how do you feel cultural resources should be managed on Isle Royale?’ Another one of the questions is ‘do you feel cultural resources are an important part of your experience when you visit Isle Royale?’ There’s a little more specific question, that’s ‘what kind of changes do you think are necessary regarding the cultural resources on the island?’ And then one other question asked is ‘is there a particular aspect of Isle Royale history that you feel is important to your experience on the island?’ As the process goes on we’ll have more specific documents on the website to comment on, so this is just a first initial round to see what people are thinking."
The Park Service’s Cultural Resource Management Plan process for Isle Royale is in its beginning stages, and gathering public input is one of the first steps. Park Superintendent Phyllis Green:
“Right now, this is what you call scoping, so its kind of a point were the freethinking ideas of people in the general public come forward to the planners before they sit down and start kind of thinking through what’s happening," says Green. "The whole purpose of the Cultural Resource Management Plan is to take a real hard look at all of the different structures on the island and talk about which ones should we keep and for what reasons, and then how they help interpret and bring to light different historic periods at the island.
One of the historic periods the Park Service will be looking at is that of the Scandinavian fishing families and summer cabin and resorts of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. When efforts began in the 1930’s to designate Isle Royale as a national park, private properties were acquired by the Park Service. Some property owners opted to accept a lower payment in return for life leases, which allowed them to continue using their cabins and fishing camps. Since that time, some families have managed to stay on after the expiration of life leases through Special Use Permits (SUP’s) and Volunteer-in-the-Parks agreements (VIP’s) granted by the park. Superintendent Green came under fire last year after she sent letters to some of the families telling them the Park Service would be changing the locks and to remove personal belongings. This sent a scare through the Isle Royale families. Phyllis Green:
"Some of the mischaracterizations, I think, have been what’s going on with families right now," says Green. "In the same way that, when a lease, if you leased a summer cabin in the north woods and that lease came to an end, at that point in time, the owner of that property, which in this case is the American public, would say, well, what are you doing with your stuff. Can we make an agreement on when it’s going to be moved out or if you’re staying, we need a new agreement for you to stay and we need to maybe update that agreement to the conditions of today’s time and place. So that’s basically what’s been occurring with the families that have had recent expiration of life lessees, or expirations of Volunteer-in-the-Parks (VIP) agreements. The only place that we've been renewing or changing, updating agreements is where leases have expired. If you have a life lease right now, there is no change in your status or how you interact with the park, period. The changes were with families where the status had actually changed; the expiration of lease or a Volunteer-in-the-Parks agreement. "
The status of the Isle Royale families, and the various agreements allowing them to stay, will be addressed during the Cultural Resources Management Plan process. After the public comment period ends on January 16, the Park Service will move to the next phase. Phyllis Green:
"At this point in time, then they’ll take all the different public comment and they’ll look for, 'oh, a lot of these people are thinking the same thing, maybe we could draft an alternative that’s responsive to some of the ideas they put forward.' And we expect to probably get a range of thoughts," says Green. "We certainly know that with our wilderness emphasis there are folks who feel that the best way to deal with some of these structures is to document them and remove them, and yet there’s also a real strong value for different buildings that are out there. The range of course is that you keep everything or you look at how you document and potentially remove. In between, probably, is the more realistic alternatives. And those get developed by reviewing all these different public comments. Our law, policy, and options that we've seen exercised successfully in other places, and we craft them. So at that point, after we've drafted some alternatives to say 'hey, here's how we see managing the park over the next ten to fifteen years for cultural resources. What do you think of these different alternatives?' So that's the second point and that's our feedback to the public of what we heard and what options there might be for the future. And then we collect another round of public comments on that before we move to a final decision-making process.
The Park Service’s is accepting comments until January 16. Go to parkplanning.nps.gov/comment.