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Isle Royale National Park opens back up to visitors with some restrictions

Isle Royale Queen IV
Mark Brush
Michigan Radio

Isle Royale is the least visited of our national parks, but it's also one of the most revisited. The pandemic threw a curveball at the Lake Superior island. Ferry service was suspended due to the pandemic, making it nearly impossible for visitors to travel to the island. Restrictions on ferry service have now lifted, but the island has changed in unique ways due to human inactivity.

“So the trail crews are out right now and they're going down the trails to see what shape they're in. And we really are expecting that the Minong trail-- that was the trail that was closed too last year-- we're expecting that we'll probably see some trees down, maybe some more beaver dams,” said Liz Valencia who's head of the Cultural Resource Division at Isle Royale. 

But after some trail upkeep, Swanke said the Island will be ready for visitors. There will be ferries and seaplanes running from Minnesota and Michigan. But, “many of the ferries actually are getting full or some trips, some dates are already full,” said Denice Swanke, Park Superintendent of Isle Royale. Private boats and seaplanes also have access to the island.

The CDC’s newest guideline says fully vaccinated people do not have to wear masks indoor or outdoors, but visitors should still expect to wear masks while inside park buildings and lodging areas.

“Right now, the guidance is that masks are required indoors. There are certainly exceptions. And that would be like in a hotel with your hotel room, with your family. You don't need to be wearing the mask. But if you're interacting in a lobby environment, for example, the physical masks are still required,” said Swanke.

Isle Royale tells an impressive history of copper mining within Michigan. The Minong Mine is a preserved mine operation on the north side of the island which was recently documented and designated as a national historic landmark. The island was used to mine copper in the 1870s and 1880s, but mines from indigenous communities were also discovered. Visitors can explore these historical sites, but also have a step back from the fast-paced movement of everyday life.

“The real really choice experience of Isle Royale is being there and being immersed in the island and slowing down. And your cell phone doesn't work. And you can take the time to watch the sunset if you want to. You can listen to the loons. It's all really about the overall experience and about relaxing. And you can really get that anywhere you go on the island,” Valencia said. 

But no matter the reason you visit the island, Swanke emphasized that “you'll be surprised, no matter what you come looking for, you might find something entirely different.”

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Catherine Nouhan

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