A yearn to return to North Manitou Island


From staff reports

Two Weeks in a Hammock is an education and outreach initiative by Cedar residents Vince and Stacie Longwell Sadowski to inspire regular folks to get out into nature. “As two middle-aged people with average fitness levels and more time than money,” they write on their blog, “we model an active lifestyle of adventure.

“Our vision is to bring more people into natural settings, for physical and spiritual renewal and refreshment away from crowds, technology, and built environments. It’s about getting into the grace of the wild spaces, to equip people with the general knowledge they need and the inspiration to know that they can do it.”

The Sun recently interviewed them about their “Voices of North Manitou Island” project, a series of videos launched this year that explore the history of the North Manitou Island in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore through the people who have lived, worked, played, and been a part of island life over the years.


Glen Arbor Sun: What inspired the “Voices of North Manitou Island” project? How long has this project been in the works?

Stacie Longwell Sadowski: I first visited North Manitou Island in 2011, during a day trip through the Leelanau Historical Society and Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear. I had just read the memoir of the island by Rita Hadra Rusco, North Manitou Island: Between Sunrise and Sunset and I was enchanted by her stories. She wrote not only her personal memoir but also a lot of island history. Visiting the island for the first time was like stepping into a book I had read – absolutely magical. It is a special feeling every time I arrive.

This has been on my mind since 2011, and I have been inspired by Rusco’s book. I have also been inspired by the other memoir and historical accounts of the island. I have also enjoyed the oral history work done by Tom Van Zoeren, capturing the stories on the mainland in Port Oneida. He was kind enough to give me some tips to get started, including lending some equipment. His work is available online on the Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear website and in print in local bookstores.

While my husband and I spend time on the island or talking about the island to others, we often meet people with connections and history there. Just hearing these stories has been so exciting that we want others to be able to benefit from hearing them also. Meeting people like Kevin and Virginia made us realize that there was something very special to capture. Holding space for their stories is an important way to honor the history and experiences of their time on the island. It feels like sacred work.


Sun: What’s your own personal connection to North Manitou Island?

Sadowski: My husband and I met while volunteering on the Katie Shepard Hotel Project in 2014, through Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear. He had been camping there every year since 1999, usually two weeks at a time either alone or with friends. He decided to volunteer to learn more about the historic cottages and enjoy the island from a new perspective. I had come to volunteer because I love history, and I had no camping experience at the time. The only way for me to stay on the island was with a volunteer group, since all others are backcountry campers. After our volunteer trip, we stayed in touch and started dating. He brought me back in the spring of 2015 for a camping trip to explore the island. He proposed to me on the west side of the island, the location of Cresent, overlooking Lake Michigan at sunset. He even brought the ring and a water bottle full of wine. The island is a special place, with many special stories that people hold dear.

Sun: Why are places like this important to you, and to all of us?

Sadowski: Entering into the stories is like time travel, and the island is the perfect place to read or hear about the past and visit the locations that have not been impacted by change or development. With a map and some good navigation, the historic sites on the island are accessible and possible to find. You can still see the roads and buildings back in the forest, largely untouched for decades.

If you have been to North Manitou, you may realize how special of a place it is. there is a beautiful, spiritual, and restful atmosphere there that is wonderful to experience. Rita wrote that if you yearn to return, you have been captured by the Spirit of the Manitou. I feel that the island is a Thin Place, a place where the distance between heaven and earth is thin. It is like having five-bar cell phone reception to the Divine. I often hear other visitors describe it in some similar terms, there is nothing quite like it.

Access to nature and spending time in nature is important for everyone, whether you actually get out into the forest to backcountry camp or if you just walk around the block and enjoy the trees in your neighborhood, we are wired for nature. We need to have the ability to get to it, to rest and restore ourselves, especially to counteract the overstimulation and high-tech environments many of us spend time in daily. Our public lands provide us with this opportunity, and I believe it is a form of social justice for this to be protected and open.

It is my hope that when people learn more about the history of North Manitou Island, they will care more about this special place. That they will be inspired to support all parks, volunteer, or just appreciate it a bit differently when they visit. I especially hope they will care enough to leave it as they found it and keep it undisturbed for the next visitors, and share their own stories.


Sun: Do you live in northern Michigan? Or where is home? How often do you visit? And how do you spend your time here?

Sadowski: My husband Vince and I have been long-time summer visitors to the area and moved here when I began working locally in January of 2022 at the Leelanau Conservancy. We live in Cedar, and spend our free time enjoying hiking, paddling, camping, and volunteering. We volunteer with the BARK Ranger Program, North Manitou Volunteers In Parks Program, and Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear where I also serve on the Board of Directors. I am also on the board of the Leelanau Historical Society. Vince does at-home computer repair, and runs the technical side of the recordings. Together we also have a website, TwoWeeksinaHammock.com, an educational initiative to get regular folks out into nature. From the website, you can find connections to our YouTube channel and other social media.


Sun: Who are you featuring in this project’s video series, and how do you choose to feature them?

Sadowski: We have been meeting people with connections to North Manitou Island through our volunteer work, camping trips, and public speaking events. I have also had a few people reach out to me after reading recent articles I wrote that were published in Michigan History Magazine on North Manitou’s Cottage Row. There are so many stories to tell, and I am most interested in hearing from people who are part of the island’s history that hasn’t been currently written about; the folks who spent time there during the last years before the Park Service began there, and the people who were part of the early years of park operations and camping. There are also others connected to the island that are working on their own written accounts of their time there. I am hoping that we can preserve as many of these stories as possible, either with my project or through the work of others.

Our first two interviews have been completed and published on YouTube. Virginia Marden Kraker, at 97, is the oldest living former resident of North Manitou Island. She shared many of her first-hand memories that were a glimpse into island life when she was a young girl. Kevin Mark was not only an annual summer visitor with his family in the 60s and 70s, but also the first official camper with the island was opened as part of the National Lakeshore, his permit said “Camper #1.” He shared insightful and fun stories about his boyhood visits there, and the transition to the era of the Park Service.

The content of the interviews is being sent to the park, Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear, and the Leelanau Historical Society for their archives. I am in the process of preparing and delivering those files.


Sun: What’s next for the project?

Sadowski: We have a couple more interviews lined up for late summer and fall, with a list of folks who are interested in sharing their stories. While we are still working full-time careers, it can be a bit slower for us to get to everyone we’d like quickly. We are happy to add to the list! When time allows, we will be exploring other formats, such as podcasts and written materials.