New Isle Royale Fees and Restrictions Affect Sailors

by Karen Larson

Two independent decisions made by the National Park Service (NPS) at Isle Royale are affecting sailors and other park visitors. The first is a user fee charged, beginning in the spring of 1997, for visiting the park. The second is a continuing study, known as the General Management Plan, which will determine in the years ahead who can visit the park, where, in what numbers and with the types of transportation.

User Fees

The user fee was instituted by the NPS in the spring of 1997 as part of a National Recreation Fee Demonstration Program approved by Congress. Fees of $4 per person per day are now assessed when visiting boaters, hikers or campers check into the park. There is no charge for children under 11 years of age. Frequent visitors can buy season passes: $50 for an individual and $150 for a boat and its passengers. This fee demonstration program is expected to last for three years but could be extended by Congress.

Park managers say the fee supplements funding for backlogged repair and maintenance projects and improves visitor services at the park. Funds collected at Isle Royale are expected to be used primarily for dock repair and trail maintenance. These improvements will begin to be visible next season, since 1997 funds will be used starting in 1998.

Prior to this demonstration program, which is also in effect at 99 other national parks, money collected at the park was returned to the national treasury for general use. Under the new program, 80 percent of the money collected at the participating park remains in that park, giving Isle Royale park managers access to more funds than in previous years. Isle Royale collected $230,000 in additional funds in 1997, so $184,000 should stay at the park. Chief Park Ranger Peter Armington says that money will fund the hiring of four new trail workers and three to five dock maintenance workers. There have been no funds for dock maintenance in recent years and limited funds for trail maintenance.

Season passes can be purchased at the Houghton (Mich.) Visitor Center or at the Rock Harbor or Windigo Ranger Stations on the island. Passes can be purchased by phone, fax, e-mail or letter. Numbers and addresses are: phone 906-482-0984; fax 906-482-8753; e-mail; or Isle Royale National Park, 800 East Lakeshore Drive, Houghton, MI 49931. A request for an individual season pass should include the recipient's full name, address and telephone number. A request for the season boat rider pass should include the boat owner's name, address, telephone number, boat registration number, length, make, color, type of craft and name of the boat.

Everyone who spends the night at the park, whether on land or in a boat, must obtain daily camping permits. There is no charge for the permits, but there is a fine if they are not obtained. Most sailors get these permits at Rock Harbor or Windigo upon arrival, when checking in with the rangers. However for those who do not check in at Rock Harbor or Windigo first, the permits now can be ordered at least two weeks in advance by mail, fax or e-mail by anyone who has a season pass.

General Management Plan

Although Isle Royale only receives 18,000 visitors a year (a paltry number when compared with approximately 3.5 million visitors who travel to Yellowstone National Park each year), Isle Royale has one of the highest number of users in the back country per acre of any national park, and the numbers of users are increasing. Because the current management program does not attempt to limit this use, the park's policies are being reviewed with an eye on the future.

Planning began in October 1995 with the development of a planning team which gathered and analyzed information about park resources, visitor use and visitor preferences. Additional information was requested from members of the public, government agencies and special interest groups. Natural and cultural resource inventories were evaluated with an emphasis on special sensitive needs such as loon nesting grounds, wetlands, water bird colonies, stream corridors and archeological sites. In addition, park visitors were surveyed each summer between 1995 and 1997.

According to a park newsletter, "the goal of this work was to ensure that the team did not propose anything in the draft alternatives that had no public support or that had unacceptable effects on the park resources or visitors." The planning team developed five draft alternatives and tried them out on members of their constituences through newsletters and public meetings. Summarized, the alternatives are:

Alternative A - No change alternative. Continue managing the island as it has been manage in the past.

Alternative B - Separation of wilderness experiecnes alternative. Concentrate services at the ends of the island. Remove services from the center. Manage numbers of visitors.

Alternative C - Primitive alternative. Scale back services. Manage visitors through a reservation system.

Alternative D - Separation of motorized/non-motorized vehicles alternative. Maintain zones for different uses. Manage number of visitors.

Alternative E - Cut back on visitor alternatives. Curtail visitors numbers through a reservation system.

Using seven criteria in an analysis process, taking costs into consideration and requesting ideas from the constituency groups, the team settled on Alternative D, the vehicle separation alternative, and is developing the concept in more detail. This alternative will be discussed in a draft that should be shared with those who have been involved by January or February 1998. Park managers say public and agency comments on the draft will be considered and incorporated into the final plan, which should be completed in June of 1998, if all goes as planned. The plan will set forth a series of short-term and long-term actions which will begin to be implemented over time but not before the 1999 season.

Sailors have been concerned primarily about the possibility that some anchorages would be off limits for boats with motors, eliminating them as refuges when the weather deteriorated. The NPS newletter states, "While not communicated in the description of the draft alternatives, it was never intended that nonmotorized zones would exclude boaters from taking shelter for safety reasons." It should be emphasized that it will be important, for safety reasons, to keep this option open as the plan is implemented.

Changes suggested in the draft plan:

Front country zones would be located near developed areas where educational programs would be emphasized (lighthouses, bogs, scenic views, etc.).

• Wilderness portal zones would serve as water taxi and ferry stops. To help control numbers of visitors entering the wilderness, pickups and dropoffs could be limited. This would include moving the McCargoe Cove dock to the middle of the cove, eliminating hiking access to Chippewa Harbor and setting up a new group camp at Belle Isle.

Backcountry zones would have campgrounds allocated to specific user groups such as boaters, hikers or paddlers. This would include removing the dock and breakwater at Siskiwit Bay.

Primitive zones would be set aside for primitive camping and are primarily located along certain trails: Minong, Ishpeming, Lane Cove, Mount Franklin to Lookout Louise and the southern protage loop.

• Pristine zones would be limited to off-trail cross country experiences. To accommodate this, the dock at Duncan Bay would be eliminated; paddlers campgrounds would be provided in Duncan, Five Fingers and Conglomerate bays; and a hiking trail from Lake Ritchie to Chippewa Harbor would be removed.

• Motorized sensitive zones would be established to reduce noise and wake effects. These are proposed for the half of McCargoe Cove near the mouth, Lane Cove, Duncan Bay, Tobin Harbor, Hay Bay and some areas near Rock Harbor.

• Non-motorized zones would be established in Pickerel Cove and the back end of McCargoe Cove.

In addition:

To see a map of regions marked as motorized sensitive and non-motorized, or to comment on the proposed plan, contact Superintendent, Isle Royale National Park, 800 East Lakeshore Drive, Houghton, MI 49931.

Wolf Survey at Isle Royale

The report from the annual wolf survey at Isle Royale has been released with disappointing news: the wolf packs have experienced a dramatic decline. Of the 24 wolves counted in early spring of 1997, only 14 remained by early spring 1998.

Rolf Peterson, a biologist who has studied the relationship between the wolves and moose for the most recent 28 years of the 39-year study, said the reason for the sharp decline may be related to the dramatic decline of moose the previous winter. That year nearly 3,000 moose died, many of which were the older or weaker animals (the type vulnerable to wolf predation). With those individuals already culled from the moose population, it may have been more difficult for the wolves to feed themselves adequately.

Karen Larson is a freelance writer who cherishes Isle Royale and publishes Good 'ol Boat.

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