News from the Greater Munising Area: Pictured Rocks search and rescue capabilities
With millions of people recently exploring the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and surrounding area, U.S. Park Rangers and volunteers continue to protect visitors on land and water as well as helping preserve the park’s pristine beauty.
Last month, I spent a weekend learning about some of the PRNL’s search and rescue operations as I joined rangers and a volunteer on the park’s patrol boat for an afternoon. The following morning, I was a spectator at a high angle rope training that took place at Miners Castle, which was conducted by the park service and Superior High Angle Rescue Professionals, or SHARP – an all-volunteer rescue team based out of Munising that’s led by Bill Thompson.
Since I grew up in Munising, I’m no stranger to the dangers posed by Lake Superior and the surrounding wilderness. However, we all know that sometimes it doesn’t matter how prepared you are – unfortunate situations can still occur.
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon; the lake calm and welcoming to paddlers and boaters as no gales were forecasted that day. We boarded the PRNL search and rescue boat at Munising’s marina and cruised into the bay through the east channel, entering the crystal-clear waters near the national lakeshore. The rangers and volunteers patrol on the lake 5-7 days a week.
The first hours onboard were spent ensuring kayakers and other boaters had proper gear such as life jackets in case emergency situations arose. If anyone was without, the rangers and their volunteer would supply them. While we were enroute to the Chapel Basin area, one of the most congested places in the park due to its gorgeous sights, we came across a family on their boat being towed by couple a few miles past Miners Beach.
The family traveled from Cheboygan hours earlier and put their boat in at Grand Marais – the eastern gateway of the national lakeshore near the Grand Sable Dunes. Their boat’s engine seized along the way and after numerous failed attempts starting the vessel, a couple offered to help pull them to the west.
After coming across the situation, the PRNL team took over helping the distressed family by having them board the search and rescue boat, hooking up a tow, and pulling their vessel to Munising’s marina. Since the family’s vehicle and trailer were still in Grand Marais, rangers reached out to Altran, Alger County’s public transportation system, to try and help the group get a ride back.
Prior to this family, the PRNL team evacuated 36 people for various reasons since the Fourth of July.
Shortly after, we went back into the big lake eventually making it to Chapel Basin to walk the trails, check on the back country campgrounds, and make sure there were no illegal fires, camping, and so forth. After circling around the area ensuring all was well, we cruised back to Munising, soaking in the sights along the way.
I’ll never tire of the sheer beauty of the Pictured Rocks and often think about the Ojibwe and how they believed the towering cliffs and sandstone formations were “alive with spirit”. One of the first French explorers that traveled to the area hundreds of years ago claimed that Native Americans gave gifts to the rocks such as tobacco offerings to appease “the great spirits”. I think about this often, too, especially when I see trash strewn around beaches and trails, which breaks my heart every time.
The following morning, I learned of another rescue capability at the park during a high angle rope training at Miners Castle, which generally happen 3-4 times a year. According to Thompson and PRNL Chief Ranger Joe Hughes, these events help rescue teams refresh their skills so it becomes second nature to them.
Several years ago, a climbing expert from Yosemite National Park traveled to the area to train park rangers and SHARP volunteers in how to handle search and rescues at high angle areas like Miners Castle, which is one of the most popular areas in the Pictured Rocks as it’s one of the only places visitors can see the cliffs without doing a lot of hiking. Although there are barriers and warning signs posted throughout Miners Castle, some people disregard them, putting themselves in dangerous situations that sometimes lead to fatal blunders. The silver lining, however, is that there are trained professionals passionate about what they do that are just moments away to help.
Editor’s note: Jaymie Depew is the communications and special project assistant for the Alger County Chamber of Commerce/Greater Munising Bay Partnership for Commerce Development, Munising Downtown Development Authority and Munising Visitors Bureau.