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Apostle Islands archeologist wins national award
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Dave Cooper’s official gig with the Apostle Island National Lakeshore is archaeologist and cultural-resource manager.

But he’s also a boat captain, a wildland firefighter, a search-and-rescue team member, a diver and youth mentor. He the guy who organizes programs that require cooperation between federal and state agencies, with the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians and anyone else he needs to get the job done.

“Dave Cooper’s work shows the impact one person can have not only within a park, but across a whole landscape,” said Apostle Islands Superintendent Lynne Dominy.

Cooper’s efforts to protect the historical and cultural resources of the National Lakeshore have won him the John L. Cotter award for excellence in National Park Service archeology. The award is given annually to honor the career and pioneering contributions of John L. Cotter, whose career of more than 60 years included a number of positions with the National Park Service and provided many contributions to the development of historical archeology in the United States.

Photo contributed by National Park Service 

Cooper takes a personal interest in his efforts to preserve historical artifacts in the Apostle Islands, including pitching in to re-roof an historic fishing cabin on Rocky Island.

Cooper has held a number of important archaeological positions. He founded the Wisconsin underwater archeology program and initiated surveys of historic Great Lakes shipwrecks, helping to locate and protect a number of Lake Superior’s priceless submerged resources. He also helped establish the U.S. Navy’s first underwater archeology program.

For the past 12 years he has worked at the National Lakeshore, working to protect sunken ships and fishing camps, the legacy of Native Americans who have hunted, fished and lived among the islands.

He is perhaps best known for his leadership in restoration efforts for the park’s lighthouses, which today are recognized as the best-preserved collection of lighthouses in the National Park Service, Dominy said.


“It’s a real honor — I’m still kind of stunned. There are some pretty big names in archeology in the Park Service. I feel a little intimidated being in the same company,” Cooper said.

Nevertheless, Cooper is not shy about discussing the importance of the work he does.

“It is a huge part of our state history. For places like Bayfield, Washburn and Ashland, this is what helped to create these towns,” he said. “The Ojibwe who have been here for thousands of years are a maritime people, so the story of the water and the story of the lake is the story of how we all got here, and how people have made a living from the water and the land.”

Cooper is best known for his work preserving the lighthouses of the Apostle Islands, including the 19th century Long Island Lighthouse. (Photo contributed by the National Park Service)

Right now, Cooper is studying Native American fishing sites, which go back 4,000 to 5,000 years. He is also working on fishing camps from the 1800s into the 1900s and researching other industries like logging and quarrying that also depended on the lake for transportation. He continues to work on the lighthouses of the Apostles.

“They are a big part of Apostle tourism. They are the postcard views that people think of when they think of the area,” he said.

Cooper first became enthused with underwater archeology when as a youth he bought a snorkel and face mask from the local hardware store in Door County where he grew up and began diving on some of the shallow shipwrecks in the region. He developed his strong feelings about preserving archeological sites after seeing sunken ships stripped of their artifacts by recreational divers.

“After a number of years of having this stuff just rusting in garages, it was from the divers that I started hearing, ‘Why don’t we leave this stuff in place, develop the same conservation ethic that hunters and hikers and other people have developed to preserve their sport and resource for the future?’” he said.

Cooper took the message to heart and made it part of his job to preserve the resources so they can tell the story of the region’s history to future generations.

Cooper’s many skills and wide-ranging interests have made him invaluable to the National Lakeshore, said Lakeshore Chief of Resource Management and Public Information Officer Julie Van Stappen.

“Dave has done so much over his whole career. He’s also an exceptional person who goes over and above,” she said.

Van Stappen

Van Stappen said Cooper excels at helping people from disparate backgrounds work toward a common purpose, such as his work on the Lakeshore’s cultural resource program.

“Prior to Dave, cultural landscapes didn’t the attention they needed. He’s managed to really get those into good shape by being willing to pull together a lot of people to help with that. But he’s always first and foremost leading by example,” she said.

Van Stappen said that when restoration of the lighthouses began, the Lakeshore was between maintenance chiefs.

“Dave just took that on. He basically worked with the contractors and their representatives to make sure the jobs were done and done well. He’s always willing to jump into things, and does everything exceptionally well,” she said.

Dominy said Cooper is one of a kind.

“He’s been amazing. He’s going to be impossible to replace, but he’s created a foundation for the future, for the next manager who comes in to pick up where he leaves off. He’s created a great legacy here,” Dominy said.

Cornucopia airstrip goes public

A narrow strip of grass carved into the woods near Lake Superior now connects Cornucopia with the rest of the world.

At just 1,920 feet long, the Cornucopia airport may not be the most impressive aviation facility around, but it has come back to life as a public access airport, recently receiving approval from the Wisconsin Bureau of Aeronautics for use by the general public.

The new status is the result of volunteers who put forth hundreds of hours of effort to cut brush, mow grass and meet aviation requirements to allow the public to use the runway.

“It means a lot because the old map listing for it showed it to be a private runway, and most pilots won’t even consider landing at a private runway without specific permission,” said Airport Manager Tim Kasino.

Kasino said the airport had its origins in the late 1950s or early 1960s with a group of aviation enthusiasts from around the area who asked the town board to build a landing strip on town-owned land.

“We are not absolutely positive when. The documentation seems to have been lost in the shuffle. But we are pretty confident that the National Guard helped to build it as one of their community projects,” Kasino said.


The airstrip opened as a public airport, but as the years went on it got less and less use until in the mid-1970s the town considered closing it to save on maintenance and insurance costs.

“However, the Cornucopia Club, who sponsor the annual fish fry and are always doing community projects, stepped up and told the town board they wanted to keep the airport open, and volunteered to pay for maintaining it since then,” Kasino said.

Because the airport was no longer operated by the town, it was no longer required to have insurance, protected as a recreational activity under state law in the way a farmer isn’t liable for a snowmobile trail crossing his land, Kasino said.

The downside is that the airport lost its public standing.

Enter the Recreational Aviation Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses on preserving and improving and creating backcountry airstrips for general aviation use.

RAF Director Jeff Russell of Waunakee said the Cornucopia airport was an ideal candidate for the group’s efforts.

“We try to help out air strips with high recreational value and clearly, Cornucopia is a beautiful destination, right on the shores of Lake Superior. It’s a beautiful little community with a harbor,” he said.

The organization with 10,000 volunteers got behind the effort in Cornucopia. Russell and Kasino began to collaborate on the kind of improvements it would take to bring the strip back to public status.

Recreational Aviation Foundation Director Jeff Russell and girlfriend Rhonda Arric. the RAF's volunteers were instrumental in reclaiming the Corny airport. (Photo contributed by Jeff Russell)

“It really required two things,” said Russell. “We needed to officially mark the runway with cones, so we purchased yellow cones to mark the boundaries of the runway. And then we had to do a lot of brush-clearing.”

Over the decades, the forest encroached on the airstrip. Equipment to clear it was rented at a discount from Carlson Building Supplies of Ashland.

“Josh gave us a super rate and he even came out and brushed a lot of it for us, volunteering just to help us,” Russell said.

The effort resulted in the clearing of about seven acres of brush in December.

Russell said the Bureau of Aeronautics granted the public-use status on May 19.

That was just in time for the third annual Corny Solstice Fly-in, an event that brought a full house of 35 aircraft to the airport on June 17-19 for a weekend of socializing, visits to Madeline Island, Bayfield and Cornucopia.

The RAF has made other donations to the airport, including a number of bikes donated from Howl Adventure Center of Bayfield, as well as a pilot shelter. The bikes are available to visiting pilots and their passengers, allowing them to make the one-mile trip to Cornucopia for shopping and dining.

Russell said the airport now sees about 100 planes a year.

“They can’t believe how warm and welcoming the people are,” he said. “I continue to hear that all the time. People are just blown away by the warmth of the people.”

Kasino said the success of the airport project is the result of a process that began over a decade ago. He agreed that RAF’s involvement helped to move the project into high gear.

“The RAF was a huge part of filling in that piece of the puzzle, in helping to get it going,” he said. “I think it has been a fantastic partnership between the town and RAF, and the town’s businesses,” he said.

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Former Ashlanders complete 6,000-mile Great Loop
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When Ashland natives Kyle and Leslie Tidstrom sailed into the Ashland Marina in their powerboat, the Chequamegon Ark last week, they concluded a 6,000-mile journey circumnavigating the entire eastern half of the country.

It’s called America’s Great Loop Cruise, and it takes adventurous boaters through rivers, lakes and canals, the Gulf of Mexico, into the Atlantic Ocean, then through water highways including the historic Erie Canal and finally back to dry land in Chequamegon Bay.

The Tidstroms talked and planned the journey for the past 20 years, and the voyage itself took them over a year to accomplish.

“We started talking about this in 1995,” Kyle Tidstrom said, his feet planted firmly on the dock at the marina “We finally began the trip right here on Aug. 15 of 2021.”

The course of the trip took them through Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, and the Chicago River to the Illinois River, finally hitting the Mississippi River at Grafton, Ill. They followed the Mississippi to Cairo, Ill., then the Ohio River to the Cumberland River. They had planned to visit Nashville, Tenn., but a collapsed lock forced the couple to turn around and take the Tennessee River to the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway before laying up at the southern end of the waterway at Demopolis, Ala., for the winter.

The trip resumed in earnest around May 1, down the Black Warrior River to Mobile, Ala., and the Gulf Coast. They travelled the length of Florida, visiting the Dry Tortugas and Key West, before heading up the east coast to Port Canaveral where they saw a rocket launch from the Kennedy Space Center.

“It was the middle of the night, but the launch was like daylight,” Tidstrom said.

On Aug. 3, they entered the port of New York, traveling the length of the Erie Canal to Lake Erie and the Great Lakes.

The trip came to its conclusion at about 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 1, as the Chequamegon Ark entered the Ashland Marina to the cheers of a handful of friends and families.

The Tidstroms show off the pennant marking their accomplishment from the America’s Great Loop Cruise Association, joined by their companion on the trip, veteran sea dog Storm. (Rick Olivo/staff photo)

Kyle and Leslie celebrated the homecoming with a bottle of champagne contributed by a well-wisher.

“It’s awesome to have them back,” said Kyle’s sister, Dana Pero. “I am glad to have you guys back.”

Kyle said the trip was not without its difficulties, including repeated failures of the vessel’s electronic engine controls.

“We had a lot more mechanical problems than we anticipated,” he said.

The problems began cropping up on the day they left Ashland.

“We started having problems with the electronic controls. There was a recall that we were unaware of, and the engine would kick itself into gear when you weren’t anywhere near it.”

The problem meant that the vessel could never be left to idle on its own. The issue was repaired, but then on the very first stop, at Ontonagon, Mich., they lost control of an engine.

“If you don’t have both engines you can’t steer,” Kyle said.

The control issues continued maddeningly despite the efforts of repair specialists along the trip.

The problem was finally fixed in Portsmouth Va. It turned out to be an issue with a safety device.

The arrival of the Chequamegon Ark in the Ashland Marina was greeted by well-wishers who welcomed the voyagers back to their home port. (Rick Olivo/staff photo)

“We removed it and we have not had a problem in 2,600 miles,” Kyle said.

The most serious problem came in the Dry Tortugas when a 60 mph wind caused the boat to drag its anchor. That incident cost them their dingy and its outboard motor, which got ripped off in the high seas, never to be seen again.

On another occasion a pinhole leak in the hull allowed a stream of water into the boat that fried one of the vessel’s generators, leaving them without electrical power 35 miles off shore.

Kyle had to make emergency repairs, and the boat managed to limp into port on one motor.

Still, Kyle said the trip was worth all of the setbacks.

“It was extremely interesting. It drew us closer to God and to each other,” he said. “We had a lot of people praying for us, and we were able to persevere.”

“It has been a great adventure,” Leslie said. “One major thing I have learned is, I love the water in Lake Superior. It is clear, clean and beautiful. The Mississippi was tough and it makes you appreciated having Lake Superior in your backyard.”

Upon their arrival in Ashland, the couple broke out a pennant from the America’s Great Loop Cruiser Association attesting to their feat. It is a badge of honor marking an accomplishment that few boaters can boast of.

“It is the fulfillment of a 26-year dream,” Kyle said.

But it’s not the end of the couple’s planned adventures.

“Our son is in Uganda where he has just begun a one-year mission trip, so we are going to go visit him,” he said. “But we are not going to take the boat.”


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