Our Mission is: "To continue the over 100-year presence of family heritage, culture and rich human tradition on Isle Royale; to assure the preservation of historic family dwellings; to enhance the experience of NPS staff and Park visitors by serving as authentic links to Isle Royale's rich human history."

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About Us

David C. Barnum, President, Board Member

Nancy Ousley, Board Member
Grant Merritt, Vice President, Board Member
Missy McDonald, Board Member
Carla Anderson, Secretary, Board Member
John Snell, Board Member
Stuart Sivertson, Board Member
Ellie Connolly, Treasurer,  Board Member


The purpose of the Isle Royale Families and Friends Association (IRFFA) is to preserve the history, culture and traditions, passed down through the generations from the original families that lived on Isle Royale prior to the National Park Service (NPS). This site is dedicated to our ancestors who through their foresight and love of Isle Royale, helped to preserve its treasures. Today the last remaining original families, who are representative of the fishing, resort and cottage culture that existed from the late 1890’s are clinging to a history and heritage that may soon be lost forever. We are unique in 21st century American culture. In the information age society that is changing at rate never before seen in human history many old values and traditions are disappearing. The remaining original families are capable and committed to the conservation of the rare and irreplaceable connections to early 20th century experiences and traditions of Isle Royale. This history and culture is ingrained in our lives by virtue of the fact that we have had the privilege to live on Isle Royale immersed in the distinctive lifestyles practiced by our ancestors and who came to Isle Royale in the late 1800’s before Isle Royale became a national park.

Just after World War II the NPS officially took over Isle Royale. During the nearly 60 years that we have interacted with NPS our relationship has experienced many difficulties. The older island folk remember when their land was either purchased or simply taken (since many of the immigrant fishermen were considered squatters) and many remember their homes burned, in some cases with the contents still inside. Some families left the park, either as a result of the now admitted deceptive practices by unethical land agents of the or in frustration and anger toward heavy handed policies of the government after the island became a park. For those that stayed, many rules and regulations that seemed inconsistent and nonsensical were imposed on the island folk by the “government men”. The burning of property sent a clear message that extinguished any dissent.  A cultural divide existed between the island folk who were born and raised in the area, and had a comfortable relationship with the lake and the typical ranger who came to Isle Royale for a few years as a temporary stop on a long career path with the government. These “green horns” (as they were perceived by the island folk) were usually unfamiliar and uninterested in Lake Superior. They seemed to view the lake as the great unknown whereas the island folk understood that Lake Superior was the key to what made Isle Royale so special. For the first 30 or 40 years attitudes of suspicion, resentment and anger were prevalent toward NPS. As NPS became more established the park employees and the residents began to develop some common ground. Over time the tensions eased and a bond has developed between the island folk and many park personnel, based on a shared love and respect for the island and the lake. Still today, many of the ill feelings are present and passed on through the generations, exacerbated by the continued practice of the NPS of removing families from their ancestral residence there by terminating many generations of history and culture.

Members of the Isle Royale Families and Friends Association connected to one another based on shared experiences on Isle Royale. As children we all experienced beginning summer with the knowledge that we were going to “the island”. As the packing and planning became more intense for our departure the excitement grew. The night before we couldn’t sleep in anticipation of the adventures ahead. Getting on the boat with all of our gear to the amusement of the campers, who looked at us as if we were idiots to think we could really hike the island in such an overloaded condition, was an annual ritual. The sight of the island rising above the fog assured us that we had made the lake crossing safely. Finally getting to our dock and seeing our aged cottage still standing from another harsh winter brought an overwhelming feeling of joy and relief among kids and adults a like. As children, the first thing we wanted to do was run down the path to check our old hideouts and play areas. Our parents, while knowing how much work lay ahead getting unpacked, starting cranky outboards, cleaning a winters worth of bat s___t, and making the necessary repairs were nonetheless accommodating to the children’s excitement as if reliving their own past youthful feelings. As the summer passed and our days on the island dwindled feelings of dread, sadness and pain came over us. We wondered, is this it, is this the last year? Will NPS take our heritage and destroy that last direct and precious connection to our parents and grandparents? When the day came to get back on the boat, there was a feeling of grief, and fear we will not be allowed to return. Our thoughts were of our ancestors, who came before us to this special of place, with whom we had the opportunity to share the same experiences and traditions.  This has become a painful and burdensome part of Isle Royale to many of us, but at the same time we know that it has been a wonderful privilege to experience Isle Royale as we have.

Today, only a few lease holders are left. NPS, to its credit has allowed some of the island folk to stay on via Special Use Permits or Visitor in the Park programs. To some extent NPS has come to appreciate the intrinsic value of many of the buildings and sites related to the fishing, resort and cottage era. It is no longer politically correct to burn the buildings or to allow treasures of history to rot and decay. But the preservation of the buildings does not preserve the knowledge, heritage, or culture. Many in the park and the public have come to agree with us that to evict these original families would not only be an injustice, but would be a kind of ethnic and historical cleansing of Isle Royale. There is a growing understanding that this “pristine wilderness” will become a “sterile wilderness” with out the original families, for it is the diversity and contrast of human history to the wilderness that gives it texture and meaning.

As we settle into the 21st century there now appears to be some hope that NPS is coming to recognize the significance and integral part that these last remaining families play in serving the public and the park personnel at Isle Royale. We want to be participants in the preservation of the history, heritage and culture that was deeply ingrained, not only at Isle Royale but throughout the north shore of Lake Superior. Especially now, in this time of world uncertainty, there is a great desire for people to link with the traditions of our ancestors. The original families have the ability to connect the dots between the past and the present that a “interpretive” program managed by NPS cannot do in an authentic way. A recent study commissioned by NPS called “Rethinking National Parks for the 21st Century” ( states “NPS should help conserve the irreplaceable connections that ancestral…people have with [Isle Royale]”. The study goes on to say that NPS should “ensure that existing connections are maintained”.  If the management of NPS and specifically the Isle Royale management team accepts this premise and is committed to achieving it then it has found a willing and able partner to make it a reality. It is the goal of Isle Royale Families and Friends Association to coordinate with NPS to fulfill the objective in a way that serves both the public and NPS, while at the same time allows the original families to maintain our connection to our history and ancestors as we have throughout the years.

This site is a step toward bringing the original families together in a unique way. We believe that each family has a different story to tell about their experiences and life on Isle Royale. Some of that history can be shared on this site through pictures, text and dialog. We believe that the maintenance of this history is highly beneficial to the enjoyment of future generations that come to Isle Royale. We believe that the most important way that this history can be preserved and shared is by allowing the original family members to remain on Isle Royale to share our experiences and history directly with the public and NPS. We are dedicated to honoring the memories and heritage of those that came before us. The Isle Royale histories of those like the, Sivertson's, Merritt’s, Edison’s, Gale’s, Johns, Barnum’s, Rude’s, Holte’s, Anderson’s, and others needs to be preserved, cherished, and honored on Isle Royale so that we can all understand the true history of the island. Who better to do that then the original families in partnership with NPS?

I invite members, friends, and anyone else who cares about Isle Royale to share your ideas, thoughts and suggestions on the message board and guest book. If you have pictures you want to upload, a community album is available and is easy to use.  Thank you for taking the time to read this and reflect on the purpose of the Isle Royale Families and Friends Association.

David C. Barnum
April 2002


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Last modified: June 28, 2007