My dear friend charged me with having avoided the core topic of the post, “On Women, Safety, and Hiking Isle Royale,” a point that may well be true. So how does the potential for rape or violence against women impact hiking Isle Royale? After all, this is the central issue voiced in the responses to my first post on women solo hikers to which my follow-up intended to respond. And does Isle Royale National Park, because of its truly remote location, actually reside outside the areas where this violence is a real concern? And who should be concerned about violence? Is it reserved for women only? Can we actually say that the potential for violence disappears because you have to take a boat to get to the island?
“On Women, Safety, and Hiking Isle Royale” generated a broad response. Interestingly, some comments disputed the fact that bear spray and firearms are prohibited on the island, and thus might not provide suitable protection. I think these people were trying to assert that these weapons might be useful to deter any potential attack. However, bear spray is prohibited in all national parks, except for three in the lower 48 states which are granted exception by their park superintendents. Isle Royale National Park is not one of the three.
I do stand corrected in that firearms are governed by Michigan law, so a person can bring a firearm to IRNP, but the discharge of the firearm is prohibited by order of the superintendent (Greenstone, 2022, p. 5). There are also rules for transporting a firearm on a vessel, which requires it be surrendered unloaded to the ship’s captain in a locked case who will return it to the owner upon disembarking. These regulations render firearms a less than effective choice for protection. In terms of protection or safety, I recommended a Garmin or other satellite communication device as a first-line of communication to help in the event of accident or emergency.
Still these fine points regarding what is and is not prohibited do not speak to the primary point the blog which was trying to address, which is the violence in our culture that women fear and which limits their abilities to recreate as they choose. And I want to extend my understanding of the fear of potential violence to recognize it as a broader phenomenon that is not reserved only for women but which has been addressed most directly to me by women as I lead with Wise Old Man ofbIsle Royale Guide Services.
In response to the blog, women solo hikers asserted that they plan carefully for their safety and for the conditions of the hike, specifically for the context. They plan to reduce risk and will not be cowed into foregoing the tranquility and peace of their solo adventures. Similarly, others noted how Isle Royale is indeed “as safe as it gets” for women and other solo hikers, affirming my initial point that the isolation of the island makes it less prone to risks for violence against women. The women who weighed in generally recommend a satellite device to signal help in event of emergency.
Other women were less effusive in assertions of Isle Royale’s safety, wanting some more immediate mechanism for protection. I understand that urge, especially when you engage a broad understanding of backpacking and through hiking. Many people who feel vulnerable do not hike alone. I can also understand their reasoning and applaud their choices to provide themselves circumstances in which they can take the most enjoyment from their recreation.
But at the end of the discussion, the questions about potential violence, self-protection, and preserving the best experiences of our recreational adventures remain. Can IRNP be any different than any other park? After all, it is open to the pubic, and there is no particular litmus test one must pass to enter, as though a test would be able to identify people who would pose a threat to others, to women, to non-white hikers, to the LGBTQ+ community, to all hikers.
Hiking Isle Royale is different from hiking other parks or established trails, such as the Appalachian Trail or the North Country Trail, because it does not have a resident population nor any residential communities through which a hiker would pass. For that reason, the only group that could pose a threat to any other person must come from the visitors and staff of the park itself, the fully transient population that occupies the island during the season. So who hikes and works on Isle Royale?
The Isle Royale backpacking and hiking community cannot be any different from any other group of humanity hiking any national park or established trail. Are we “better” than visitors to other parks because we think “our” Isle Royale is different and special? I don’t think so. Is our parttime and transient population different from those present in other parks or working and hiking on other trails? I don’t know.
As human beings, we will share the same proclivities of the demographics of people who visit the park. But what are they? You can find out how many people go to Isle Royale, the purpose of their visits, how they got there, how long they stayed, how many were staying only for a day, how many canoe rentals there were, and more. However, the park itself, as far as I can ascertain, does not collect demographic data on its users. So I am left to surmise that we are likely a representative group of people who love the outdoors, who hike the backcountry, who work in national parks, and who work for concessioners and other service providers.
When all is said and done, in order to hike or work on Isle Royale, we place some faith in our fellow hikers and in the people who work there. We believe that park law enforcement will enforce laws. We believe that hikers will continue to help other hikers on the trails. We bring our best intentions to prepare well, to follow the rules, and to leave our island in the same condition that we found it, a beautiful wilderness in which we find rejuvenation.
In spite of our larger culture which is plagued with violence, including violence against women, minorities, LGBTQ+ people, and others, we hope that our Isle Royale community will continue to live up to its best potential by extending its history that is free of violence by people against people.
And, finally, I send many thanks to my friend for helping me find my voice in addressing this topic head on.