On two historic days in the month of November, two-thousand thirteen, students residing at Fort Conserve, in the Wisconsin Territory, received the honor to embark on an incredible expedition into the wilderness north of camp. The assignment: to gather artistic evidence of the unknown aquatic territory in an effort to generate justification for the permanent protection of the area known as Sylvania. Upon leaving the classroom, students were transformed into the roles of photographer William Henry Jackson, painter Thomas Moran, and writer Lieutenant Gustavus Cheyney Doane, who in 1870 and 1871 were charged with a similar assignment and expedition to the area which we know today as Yellowstone National Park.
A week later, the students of Fort Conserve gathered together to present the evidence collected on their expeditions in the form of photographs, paintings, and journal entries. Alongside the evidence, the explorers presented testimony before a congressional committee made up of their peers, Senator Salat, and Representative Rennicke (History teacher, Michael and English teacher, Jeff). This assignment is intended to give students the experience of both participating in an expedition into a wilderness area, and gathering evidence to be presented as formal testimony before a congressional committee. Enjoy the following selections of testimony.
~ Donelle Scaffidi, Graduate Fellow
“This is an Eastern Hemlock, in fact a very old one, found on the west side of Big Bateau Lake. These trees are one of the beauties of Sylvania, which has the largest culmination of hemlocks left in the Midwest region of the U.S. This particular tree has been growing for about 150 years, probably even longer.”
– Kristi Parsons as photographer William Henry Jackson
“In this photo, you can see that a beaver has cut down several of the surrounding trees. From this photo you can see that beavers definitely inhabit the area, but there are many other species too. On our expedition, we saw a porcupine resting in a tree and footprints of many different animals. Some other known inhabitants of Sylvania include owls, red squirrels, white tailed deer, and our national bird, the bald eagle.”
– Charlie Hooghirk as photographer William Henry Jackson
“This region of the world is breathtaking and beautiful, but not so much as it used to be. The logging that took place in this region was devastating to the natural beauty of the landscape. But by the hand of fate, Sylvania was spared from the destruction of the logging era. It more than anywhere else preserves the purity of the Northwoods. It would be a horrible loss if it were to be unprotected.”
– Erik Wilson as painter Thomas Moran
“When coming into Sylvania you don’t know that to expect, so you expect everything. . . . A place of countless shapes to gaze upon, the vast bogs, the grand lakes, and the endless woods are beyond the stretch of imagination, until you see it for yourself. Sylvania is the gateway to worlds beyond. The smooth lakes are portals to another dimension of time and space. Looking down into the clear water is looking at a distorted image of another universe entirely. The woodlands, with mighty trees growing forever high are ladders ascending into the heavens above. As you see these things for the first time, Sylvania slowly seeps into your subconscious. Its roots stretch out and extend into your mind and down into your soul. They grow tightly around it, and once it covers everything and your heart, it warms you. Away from its comforting confines, the memory strengthens you. It will be a pleasant nuisance, always goading you to come to its lands once more.”
– Alexander Pardo as writer Lt. Gustavus C. Doane
“It is my hope that one day I will be sitting by a fire, surrounded by my grandchildren and telling stories of all the adventures I had in my life. What I hope for even more, though, is that when I speak of Sylvania, my grandchildren won’t think of it as a fairytale land with gnomes and fairies, but a place where they themselves can go to find peace and sanctuary.”
– Kate Noll as writer Lt. Gustavus C. Doane