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U.S. Park Service, Michigan County at Odds : Car-less Isle's Dirt Roads Lead Only to Bureaucratic Standoff

December 14, 1986|MARK FRITZ | Associated Press

There are few plans for the island, Herrera says. The park service would like to see the roads grown over and replaced by hiking trails.

A limited deer-hunting season will continue to keep the herd from getting too big, he says. The 300 deer, descendants of five animals brought to the island in 1926, have substantially reduced low-lying vegetation in the woods, creating a landscape that evokes memories of the forest in "The Wizard of Oz."

"North Manitou is somewhat unique because it is a pristine environment that is open to public use," Herrera says. "I don't think you'll find too many islands in Lake Michigan like that."

For Cathy Bietau, 26, of the National Park Service, life on the island means chilly nights and desolate days, with no one to talk to--but she likes it that way:

"I think that's why I'm out here. I want to live with the bare necessities," she says.

She and another ranger alternate 10-day shifts on the island during the spring, summer and fall months. Part of her job is to serve and keep track of the campers.

Most of her day is spent hiking seven to 12 miles on patrol.

"Any isolated place gets lonely once in a while," she says. "It takes a certain type of person to live like this."

Bietau is not entirely alone. Ken and Rita Rusco also live on the island. Rusco is the one Leelanau County pays to maintain the dirt roads.

Bietau and Rusco, employees of battling bureaucracies, live in a fragile co-existence.

"It has been tense sometimes," she says. "It's too bad there has to be so much turmoil."

The Ruscos meet the ferry that arrives twice weekly with campers and supplies. They would not talk about their lives on the island or the controversy over the roads.

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