Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Madeline Island

Today we explored Madeline Island, the only one of the Apostle Islands that has permanent residents.  We were excited to go out there, having read about it in the literature we picked up at the visitor center, and hearing folks around Bayfield talk about the island.  Also, since Trisha's mom was named Madeline, and that's Trisha's middle name as well, thought it would be a good idea!  It's the only island in the Apostles that's open to commercial development, and that has any permanent residents, as it is the only island that did not become part of the Apostle Island National Lakeshore.  So there's the small village of La Point there, with galleries, shops and 5 restaurants, Big Bay State Park and the town park, both of which have campgrounds, as well as 246 permanent year-round residents.  In the summer the population swells quite a bit with tourists and folks who have summer homes on the island, but much of that ends on Labor Day.  Once freeze up occurs, there is an ice highway from Bayfield to Madeline, lined with Christmas trees stuck into the ice, and people drive their cars across.  There is also a time before complete freeze up, when there is too much ice for the ferry to get through, but the ice is not yet thick enough to support vehicular traffic.  During this time, folks commute via the wind sled, a sort of small ferry powered by two huge propellor fans--think swamp airboat on steroids!  This is all so foreign to us, to think of people driving across a lake.  I think it could be rather nerve wracking to do, and indeed, while some of the island residents we met told us that some officials check the ice for adequate thickness and any cracks that may have developed due to current changes so "you don't have to worry," one other person told us that the first time she drove her family across she had everyone carry a great big timber nail, in case they fell in, they could jab the nail into the ice to have a handhold to pull themselves out of the water!  We also heard that there is one wind sled that's devoted to rescue of folks who get into trouble on the ice before it's frozen thick enough.  Wow!

We took our bikes on the ferry for the relatively short ride to the island, and had just a splendid day there.  Since it was after Labor Day, the crowds were mostly gone, and the island was very peaceful.  We ended up riding about 15 miles and hiking another 5 or 6--just a great day!  We rode out to Big Bay State Park, where we parked our bikes and then hiked on trails that took us along the shoreline of the bay, around this big lagoon to one of the campgrounds, and then another trail that took us through the woods.  It was just a glorious day, with clear waters slapping up against the rocks, and the water was a beautiful blue as it got farther out from shore.  All along most of these islands there are rocks that have been eroded by eons of water crashing into them, and there are lots of sea caves and hollows in the sides of the rocks.  Today as the trail took us along the shore, we could hear the sounds of the water rushing into the caves and hollows and echoing back out--pretty cool.  We stopped along the way and sat out on the edge of the lake to eat lunch, and could see around to the beach in the distance where some folks were out swimming and enjoying the water.  We also saw some groups of kayakers out exploring the shoreline--we're taking a kayaking tour of the sea caves tomorrow, and can't wait!  We're hoping for good weather, and so far the forecast holds good promise, though when I made the reservations the folks there said you really can't put too much stock in any forecast any further out than a few hours, since it can change so quickly.  And they said that the temperature or whether it's clear or not is not nearly so important as is the wind.  If there is too much wind, we won't be able to go into the sea caves, but will have to go on an alternative route, so we're keeping our fingers crossed!

After we got back to our bikes, we rode back toward La Point, but stopped at the Madeline Island School of the Arts, a lovely little collection of an old barn, farmhouse, and several other out buildings.  We had read about it in the little newspaper on the ferry ride over, and were intrigued by the fact that you can come here to take classes during the summer, in things like quilting, photography, writing and painting.  So we decided to stop in and check it out.  We met the founder of the place, a retired investment banker, who obviously had made a ton of money, as he began to describe how he bought the old farm place--his family had come here every summer when he was a boy, and he brought his family here every summer, from London where he spent his career!  Anyway, he decided he wanted to build a place for artists to gather and to have workshops, so he rebuilt the barn, renovated the farmhouse, and built a number of guest cottages, along with several other teaching studio buildings.  They bring in teachers in various disciplines to lead small group workshops throughout the summer, and, now in its third year of operation, he said it's growing quite rapidly to what he sees as the maximum enrollment for most of the sessions.  It is a beautiful facility, so we signed up for their newsletter, as Trisha is really interested in possibly coming for one of their quilting workshops sometime.

We rode back into La Point, and visited several galleries and shops, and saw some interesting pottery sculptures and beautiful jewelry crafted from stones native to the lake.  We also visited a place called Woods Hall, an artists cooperative, founded a number of years ago by a wealthy family who wanted to provide a supportive place for weavers and potters.  It is in a beautiful old log building, built adjacent to a church, and the woman who was working the sales shop explained how it was originally an outreach mission of the church, but is now its own separate nonprofit organization.  There was a weaver working at one of the looms, and she was so welcoming, and talked to us about her work as we watched her.  Then in the pottery studio we met a woman who was working on some flat little decorative pieces, as she said, to use up the leftover clay from the bowls she had thrown the day before.  Really an interesting place.  We had just missed the ferry when we rode up to the dock, so we went next door to sit outside, have a drink and watch the ducks and the boats while we waited for the next ferry back to Bayfield.  We also saw the tiniest little seaplane take off, but the wind was picking up and it really looked precarious as it made its way out through the waves to the takeoff point--it did make it up into the air, but don't think we'll be taking that plane!  On the ferry they put us in line behind this one old rusty station wagon with these two beautiful big dogs in back, and after we left the dock, the woman got out of the car and we had a nice visit with her during the trip.  She's lived on the island for 6 years and works for a community foundation, raising money for various projects on the island, and was on the way over to the mainland to go grocery shopping.  She explained how the permanent residents of the island all have older cars they leave over there all year, how much she loves living there for most of the year, but she did admit that during the winter it's a tough life.  She works on the mainland, so she commutes via the ferry in the summer, windsled and ice highway during the winter.  The way she described it, during the winter, once she gets back to the island, it's sort of like being in lockdown, as you pretty much don't go anywhere, as most of the places open there during the summer are closed.  We also learned that her dogs were spinones, apparently an Italian retriever breed, but they were really beautiful.

Then back to the campground for supper and a quiet evening, while Trisha finished one knitting project and began the next--the yarn bins are getting a little low, so I sense a trip into some neighboring towns to hunt out some yarn shops later today!!

Leaving the Bayfield dock on the ferry
 Some kayakers heading out for a day of fun
 Big semi truck on the ferry, taking supplies over
 Another shot of the tour boat we had taken to Raspberry Island, now done for the season

 Folks on the tour boat for the Grand Tour around the islands, the only one that's still running since it's after Labor Day

Approaching the island

 Riding out to Big Bay State Park
 Shots along the hiking trail in the park

 Just a beautiful place!

Where we stopped for a snack along the hike

 You can see a little of the way these hollows and caves are formed along the rocks on the shoreline

 The water is just so clear in this lake!

 Some interesting looking ducks

 Lovely moss covered rocks along the shoreline
 Beautiful ferns
 Amazing how these trees grow right out on the rocks

 Some pine tree needles and fledgling cones that had dropped off a tree
 Looking out toward the beach from the trail
 Pretty strong winds, I'd say!
 Where we stopped for lunch

 Not sure exactly what kind of berries these were, but they sure were pretty!
 Walking back on the Woods Trail, some of these big ferns made us think of the rain forest on the Olympic Peninsula

 Animals better be gathering and storing these acorns, 'cause it's gonna be a long, hard winter!

 At the end of our hike
The Art School--rebuilt barn

Cottages where workshop attendees stay
Inside the farm house, where teachers stay

Love these pottery sculptures at one of the galleries in La Point

Little seaplane struggling against the wind
Beautiful spinones in the back of the stationwagon on the ferry

A newlywed couple, honeymooning in the Apostles!
A picture of the Ice Angel, the windsled used for rescuing people in trouble on the ice before freeze up; obviously these were in storage when we were on the island, but the woman at Woods Hall said the one that ferries people across commercially is just like this one--only passengers, no vehicles on these sleds


  1. Great pictures of the island ,makes me want to go there now

    1. Chuck, hope you get a chance to go, it's really beautiful. We really hope to get back to the Apostle Islands next year, and maybe spend some more time on Madeline Island.