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Becoming Wilderness: Nature, History, and the Making of Isle Royale National Park Perfect Paperback – July 22, 2011
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About the Author
Amalia Tholen Baldwin was born in Traverse City, Michigan, and grew up camping, hiking, swimming, and playing around the Great Lakes. Following her sophomore year at Yale University, Amalia interned with the Student Conservation Association at Windigo Ranger Station on Isle Royale. She fell in love with the island and national park work during that summer. After graduating from Yale with a BA in Anthropology, Amalia spent five years as an interpretive ranger for the National Park Service in Yellowstone, Denali, and Death Valley National Parks, in addition to several more summers at Isle Royale. In 2006, Amalia enrolled in a master's program at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin--Madison. This book is an adaptation of her master's thesis. Amalia now lives in Madison with her husband and son, works as an educator for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and dreams of returning to Windigo.
Top customer reviews
It hasn’t always been wilderness. A hundred years ago there were many resorts scattered through the archipelago, many fishing operations, a little lumbering, and other miscellaneous activities. Creating the national park meant stripping all that human activity out of the landscape.
Baldwin’s book tells this story, emphasizing the key decades of the 1920s and 1930s. I haven’t seen this part of the story told anywhere else, other than little vignettes by the residents. This book is valuable simply for her work in the archives to get this story.
She also does a good job telling of the wider political environment, such as the growing wilderness movement and the competition between the Forest Service and the National Park Service for both land and visitation. Some of her inferences here are more speculative than most historians would feel comfortable making, but she points us to look more closely at the relationship between Isle Royale and Superior National Forest (Boundary Waters).
Baldwin also tells a story of how the definition of “wilderness” changed in the 1920s and 1930s, as conditions on Isle Royale were also changing. Briefly put, “roadless” and not “virgin forest” became the key characteristic of the island, which made possible a major logging operation just as the park was being established. Some wider comparisons would strengthen her analysis - the Great Smoky Mountains come to mind - and I would have liked more discussion of wilderness theory. Consulting Gary Wockner’s book on Isle Royale (National Park Conundrums) would also strengthen the conceptual work here.
All in all, however, this is a very interesting and readable book - a master’s thesis written for the general public that also raises some good questions for the wilderness scholar or national park fan.