Families want to work with Park Service to retain use
BY JANNA GOERDT
NEWS TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Stuart Sivertson's grandfather began commercial fishing on Isle Royale
in the 1890s.
For decades, Severin Sivertsen hauled in tons of lake trout, whitefish
and herring from the reefs surrounding the island, which became a national
park in 1940. Commercial fishermen and their families once lived on the
island, as did miners, summer vacationers and the cottage crowd. Primitive
cabins and camps once dotted the shores.
Today, the only permanent residents on the mostly wilderness island are
moose and wolves. But the families of the island's settlers are hoping to
forge a partnership with the National Park Service that would allow them
to use the cabins their grandfathers built.
``We can help other people enjoy the island,'' said Sivertson, 65. He
visits the island every summer, and enjoys working with the last active
commercial fishery there.
About 30 members of the Isle Royale Families and Friends Association
gathered in Duluth this weekend to begin forging a partnership with the
National Trust for Historic Preservation to retain their place in history.
They argue that families who built primitive cabins on the island
before it became a national park are part of the island's cultural history
and deserve to stay.
The families also have something to offer the park, said David Barnum,
president of the families and friends association. Barnum's
great-grandfather built a summer home on the island in 1895.
``We offer a cultural connection'' to the island's century-old history,
Almost all of the island's 140 primitive buildings meet the standard
for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, said Liz
Valencia, chief of interpretation and cultural resources at Isle Royale
Only a few, including the Rock Harbor Lighthouse and the John's Hotel,
While a listing on the national register doesn't guarantee permanent
protection for the cabins and other buildings, it does trigger an
automatic review if any governmental agency proposes tearing them down,
said Chris Morris, a preservation official for the Midwest office of the
National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The National Trust believes the primitive cabins and buildings on Isle
Royale are ``significant to preserve because they tell the story about who
you are, and who were the people that lived there,'' Morris said.
The National Trust has proposed a three-pronged approach to work with
the families and friends association in preserving the buildings, Morris
said. They include educating the island's summer visitors about
preservation options, working with the Park Service to develop a cultural
resources management plan and conducting an in-depth study of buildings on
The Park Service is in the midst of developing a wilderness management
plan for the 45-mile-long sliver-shaped island about 20 miles off
Minnesota's North Shore.
The plan was completed in July and is under advisement by the Park
Service. It doesn't specifically address the primitive cabins or non-Park
When the national park was in the process of being created in the
1930s, people who lived on the island were given a choice: either sell
their land willingly or the federal government would appropriate the land
anyway, Valencia said.
Some people wanted to stay on the island, and the government offered
them lifetime leases so they could still visit their family cabins.
But as the original leaseholders died, their families were left with a
hodgepodge of special permits and conditional leases that continue today.
There are about six lifetime leaseholders left of nearly 17 families that
still visit the island, Barnum said. He would like the Park Service to
create a standard set of leases.
The cabins, which have no running water or electricity, are used much
the same way as they were 100 years ago. That's also a valuable historical
connection, Barnum said.
And it's a shift from how park managers once regarded the cabins,
Valencia said. The Park Service had a policy in the 1950s and 60s of
destroying cabins, often by burning them down, when their owners died or
left the island. Isle Royale was considered a wilderness, and the fewer
buildings, the better.
Now, the Park Service sees things differently, Valencia said.
She hopes a partnership to preserve the primitive cabins can be
created, and saw the meeting with the National Trust as a step forward.
It probably will be years, however, before a cultural preservation plan
can be agreed upon, Valencia said.