Madeline Island

Big Bay State Park

Arriving at the Bayfield ferry over to Madeline Island, we had 10 minutes until the departure of the ferry, but due to minimal demand we were able to slip on board.  Around four months from now the 25-minute ferry over to the Island will not be needed.  This portion of the Lake Superior will be frozen solid and we would be able to drive over, hard to believe. 

Madeline Island boasts a year round population of 240 and a summer count around 2500.  Our primary reason for venturing out to the island was the Madeline Island School of Art.  Last spring, Alan had tracked down a plein air art class, for himself, with Tony Van Hasselt.  Tony is considered one of the top ten watercolor painters in the country. Luckily (for me), Catherine Watson, former travel editor for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and a widely published travel writer, was teaching “Effective Travel Writing and Memoirs” the same week.  Wisconsin had been on the agenda, but this arrangement couldn’t have been more ideal.

Big Bay Town Park
Arriving on the Island on Saturday, we had two days to explore before our classes started on Monday.   Big Bay State Park provided our campsite.  An extensive self-guided boardwalk near the waterfront and numerous other hiking trails run through the park.   The roads inside the park offer a nice wide trail for biking with few vehicles to worry about.  The park is 7 miles from the ferry, with bike lanes on both sides of the roadway.

The Birthday Deer
Saturday evening, we celebrated Alan’s birthday with grilled steak and fish, a special chocolate chip cake, and a campfire.  A mother deer and two fawns came next to our campsite and hung out for several minutes munching on the grasses before moving on, so this was a nice note added to the evening.  

Wisconsin provided primarily sunshine, but also nighttime temperatures dipping down into the 30’s for 3 of the 8 nights of our visit.  Driving to and from, or around, the park during early morning or dusk was a bit of a challenge due to the large number of deer.  Creeping along the roadway was the only way to insure not hitting one.

Our classes started on Monday at 9 A.M. and they met daily through Friday.  Unfortunately, for Alan’s plein air class, the nippy weather prevented painting outside, except on the first two days.  Regardless, the class provided multiple new techniques and was a productive and positive experience.

Madeline Island School of Art
The writing class was held in the second story of an extensively remodeled barn originally built back in the 1800’s.  High ceilings and numerous windows provided a light and airy setting which surely helped foster our creative side.  With only six students in the class, we had plenty of time to discuss and review the writings we produced on the previous evenings.   The all female class certainly affected the dynamics.  By the end of the week, we were creating a bond.  We had shared a lot of our personal histories, in many cases more than we’ve communicated with family and friends.

Big Bay Town Park
Madeline Island has a long history.  First inhabited hundreds of years ago by the Ojibwe (Ojibway) Indians, French fur traders followed them in 1659 and then, British and American fur traders, missionaries and commercial fishermen.  The local museum in La Pointe, offers an extensive collection of historical items and a film that squeezes the last 400 years of history into a 20-minute snapshot of the islands’ past.

Multiple small galleries around town display and offer for sale the creative talents of the islanders.  Woods Hall Craft Shop, a few block away from the center of town, presented the most diverse and original jewelry, pottery, rugs, fabric and more.  I’m always swept away by the number of incredibly talented people and this shop was a prime example. 

Madeline Island Ferry
Finishing our trip on the island with a lovely campfire on Saturday evening, we hustled the following morning to make it to town for the 8 A.M. ferry.  Not that we needed to worry.  On this cloudy, chilly morning, no one was coming to or leaving the island.

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