Isle Royale National Park launches wilderness planning process with request for public input

Waterfall near Todd Harbor at Isle Royale National Park (Ray Dumas/Flickr)

The National Park Service announced this week it is commencing work on a comprehensive plan for managing the extensive wilderness areas on Isle Royale, known as Minong in the Ojibwe language, in Lake Superior. Almost all of Isle Royale’s land base, 98 percent, was designated as a Wilderness Area by Congress in 1976. Only 1,677 acres of land is considered non-wilderness.

“Preliminary inventory and monitoring of wilderness and backcountry resources indicate a difference between existing conditions and desired conditions,” the agency writes. “Changes in backcountry use, management actions, increasing visitation, and associated human-caused adverse impacts suggest an underlying need to more proactively manage human activities that directly or indirectly affect wilderness conditions.”

Alternatives include efforts to either improve access to the wilderness, with new trails and campgrounds and other features, or reducing infrastructure and implementing new policies to reduce human impacts. There may be changes to group size limits and a new camping permit system. Other significant actions under consideration include designating new parts of the park as federal wilderness and either the preservation or removal of some historic structures located in the wilderness area.

Opportunities for winter use

The National Park Service will also consider opening Isle Royale up for winter use. Currently, the entire island shuts down to human visitors, except some management and scientific activity, during the frozen season. Access is difficult because the ferries that carry most visitors to the park are not able to run, leaving small planes with skis for landing gear as the primary means of transportation to and from the island.

Isle Royale National Park (National Park Service)

Public comments period

The National Park Service is accepting public comments through November 27 on the initial scoping phase of an environmental review that will consider several factors and alternatives.

“The purpose of this plan is to outline strategies for preserving wilderness character, including the treatment of cultural resources in wilderness, while also providing for the use and enjoyment of the park by current and future generations,” the agency wrote. “This plan would determine preservation and use of historic structures in potential and designated wilderness.”

Decades of effort

This is the first phase of a process expected to last about one year. It will complete previous work done over the past three decades, fulfilling a National Park Service requirement for such management plans in any parks with designated wilderness. The agency conducted an environmental review of such a plan about 10 years ago, but never made official decisions about historic structures in wilderness.

The Park Service anticipates releasing a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Wilderness Stewardship Plan next spring. Final decisions could come in the winter of 2023-2024.

Comments may be submitted online at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/ISROWilderness, or by mailing or hand delivering comments to Superintendent, Isle Royale National Park, Wilderness Stewardship Plan, 800 East Lakeshore Drive, Houghton, Michigan 49931-1896.

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