The campaign to preserve Isle Royale

Isle Royale from the north shore of Rock Harbor, looking west.

On most days, moose outnumber the people in Isle Royale National Park.   It is a natural treasure – a Lake Superior archipelago of more than 400 forested islands that provides a safe haven to hundreds of rare plant and animal species, including the much-maligned timber wolf.

Isolated by miles of water, the islands remained virtually untouched in the 300 years since French explorer Etienne Anto Brule stumbled across them in the early seventeenth century.

But by 1920, virtually all of Michigan’s native white pine forests had been cut down, and copper and iron mines dotted much of the Upper Peninsula. The islands – particularly the 210-square-mile main island of Isle Royale – were attracting lumber and mining companies hungry for new resources to tap.

Most days the moose outnumber the people on Isle Royale.

They weren’t the only ones interested in the remote real estate, however. Albert Stoll, a conservation columnist for The Detroit News, thought this wilderness should be preserved. His editors agreed and The News launched a 25-year campaign to turn the islands into a national park.

In 1920, the newspaper sent a photographic expedition to the area. William Kuenzel, head of the photographic department, shot 300 still photographs and 7,000 feet of film to be used in lectures and exhibits. Public officials became interested, then enthusiastic. Governor Alex Groesbeck endorsed the proposal. Within two years, an “unknown donor” gave Michigan 26,000 acres of land in the islands.

But there were many more years of searching for more land for the park. Through it all, Stoll kept campaigning to preserve the wilderness for future generations.

In 1940, 133,225 acres were deeded from the State of Michigan which, together with the public domain set aside by President Roosevelt, created Isle Royale National Park.

Detroit News conservation columnist Albert Stoll Jr., at left, sets out for Isle Royale with two Detroit News photographers.

      The formal dedication was delayed until 1946 because of World War II. The Great Lakes cruise ship, South America, sailed from Detroit in August with 500 passengers, including officials of The News and Albert Stoll.

A bronze plaque recognizing Stoll’s “untiring efforts” is embedded in stone, marking the Albert Stoll, Jr. Memorial Trail, part of a 165 mile hiking network in the park.

Special letter – Superior jewel celebrates 50 years

This plaque honoring Stoll’s conservation efforts sits alongside the Stoll Trail on Isle Royale.

I wish to call attention to a milestone in the history of an island jewel in Michigan’s Lake Superior waters, and also its similar position among the properties of the National Park Service. Aug. 27 marked the 50th anniversary of the dedication of Isle Royale as a national park. The Detroit News and two staff members were a major force in achieving this status.

The movement to preserve the wilderness paradise began in the early 1920s, prompted by the threat of lumbering and mining activity by some of the major landowners. The News’ conservation editor, Albert Stoll Jr., and Editor-in-Chief George E. Miller proposed at a meeting in 1921 that the newspaper “launch a movement to save the island from despoliation by lumber interests.” The initial proposal was for a state nature preserve. However, by 1924, the objective became federal recognition for Michigan holdings and their transfer to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Stoll’s writings and other efforts resulted in broadening interest and support for designation of the Isle Royale archipelago as a national park. This culminated with the March 1931 passage of federal legislation for its establishment, which was signed into law by President Herbert Hoover. This was followed by acquisition of privately owned land, a requirement for establishment of the park. This proved to be a drawn-out process during the 1930s depression, but it was shortened by the use of New Deal funds.

Isle Royale was established as a national park on April 3, 1940. But world events and World War II interrupted dedication of the park. The ceremony finally took place on August 27, 1946, just 30 years and two days after the establishment of the National Park Service. At the ceremony, special recognition was given Albert Stoll Jr., who was in attendance, and Editor George Miller, who died in 1934.

Today, the Stoll Trail extends from Rock Harbor to Scoville Point, where a memorial monument recognizes The News’ campaign to turn Isle Royale into a national park.

Albert G. Ballert,

Ann Arbor

(This story was compiled using clip and photo files from The Detroit News Library.)By Patricia Zacharias / The Detroit News