Isle Royale Institute

About the Isle Royale Institute

The Isle Royale Institute is a partnership between Michigan Technological University and Isle Royale National Park.  The Institute is a component of the Ecosystem Science Center within the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Sciences (SFRES).  The administrative office is Room 132 in the U.J. Noblet Forestry Building.

About Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park is an archipelago located in northwestern Lake Superior and is especially popular among backpackers, boaters, paddlers, anglers, shipwreck divers, and researchers.  The Park consists of one large island (approximately 45 miles long by 9 miles at its widest point), about 400 smaller islands, and the surrounding waters of Lake Superior extending 4.5 miles from the outer islands, or to the international boundary with Ontario, Canada.  Less than 20,000 visitors reach the Park each year-- either by ferry, private boat, seaplane, or for the adventurous few, kayak.  Isle Royale’s landscape is commonly characterized as northwoods wilderness, while its enchanting coastal seascape provides the recreational experiences of a maritime park.    

Isle Royale National Park was authorized by act of the U.S. Congress on March 3, 1931.  In 1976, 98% of its land area (including inland lakes and streams) were designated as federal wilderness.  Currently, 99% of its land area is designated wilderness. In 1980, Isle Royale National Park was designated as an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Additional information on the Park is available from the National Park Service and from the Rock Harbor Lodge and Marina.

Educational Programs

The Isle Royale Institute provides several opportunities for lifelong learning, including programs for youth, families, teachers and other educators, adults, and multi-generational learners.  The current menu of educational programs is provided below. 

The Isle Royale Institute hopes to expand its offerings in the future (including family and school programs), based on the results of current pilot programs and assessment of the needs of various educational markets.  Please contact us if you wish to share your thoughts about development of lifelong learning opportunities at Isle Royale National Park.

Youth and Family Programs

KBIC Youth Stewardship Project
May 26 – 30

An educational field trip for up to 10 tribal youth from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC), in collaboration with the KBIC, Cedar Tree Institute of Marquette, MI., and the MTU Great Lakes Research Center.

Fisheries of Isle Royale
June 29 – July 4

Experience the fisheries of Lake Superior and Isle Royale National Park during this unique workshop! Your island adventure includes charter boat fishing, tours of historic sites and natural wonders, plus presentations by fisheries experts. For more information, download the workshop flyer and registration form, or contact Ken Vrana at or 906-487-4335


Family Camp at Malone Bay
July 5 - 10

Five days and four nights of camping, hiking, canoeing, and enjoying the sights and sounds of Isle Royale wilderness! This unique backcountry experience at the Malone Bay Campground is designed for parents/guardians and their children, in collaboration with the Seaborg Center for Mathematics and Science at Northern Michigan University. Information and registration can be found here

Teacher Programs

The purpose of our teacher programs is to assist and inspire teachers to integrate Isle Royale topics into their classroom lesson plans through on-island experiences and curriculum prepared and provided by our instructor-guides.  Our instructor-guides are knowledgeable classroom teachers as well as experts in backpacking, canoeing, and kayaking at Isle Royale National Park.  In 2015, we are offering a three-credit graduate course for residents and nonresidents titled Moosewatch for Educators. The course is offered in collaboration with the MTU Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences and the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Project.  

Moosewatch for Educators   

July 31 – August 8 (openings)

Course information can be found here. Information on our regular Moosewatch “citizen science” expeditions can be found at .  Click on Contribute and Participate in the upper right of the home page.

Road Scholar Programs

The Isle Royale Institute coordinates Road Scholar programs at Isle Royale National Park in partnership with Elderhostel, Inc.  The following Road Scholar program will be offered three times in 2015 during the following dates - June 14-20, July 19-25, and August 2-8: 

Isle Royale, Lake Superior, and the Keweenaw Peninsula:

Program #1583RJ – 7 days total; 3 full days and 2 partial days at Isle Royale

For further information and to register for a program, click here or call 800-454-5768.

Research Support


As a national park, federal wilderness area, and international biosphere reserve, Isle Royale offers a superlative natural laboratory and field site for research in a broad range of disciplines, from the natural sciences to geology, archaeology, and wilderness ethics.  The park is home to long-running research on wolf-moose ecology, boreal chorus frogs, nutrient cycling, and climate change as well as being home to a wealth of cultural heritage related to prehistoric mining, commercial fishing, resort era, and lake shipping (shipwrecks).

The natural history of the archipelago tells the tale of ancient lava flows and glaciers, extreme climates, human impacts from mining and logging, and the ongoing influences of fluctuating moose populations.  Spruce-fir-birch forests dominate the east end of the main island, and northern hardwoods dominate the west end.  However, the archipelago’s habitats are diverse, including over 40 inland lakes, a wide variety of wetlands and forests, and microhabitats within the crevasses and splash pools of the most exposed rocky shorelines.

A real-world example of island biogeography, this isolated archipelago is home to fewer animal and plant species than one would find on the mainland.  However, the islands host an unusual concentration of rare and protected species.  Some of the rare species include disjunct plants and insects that are found more commonly in arctic, alpine and western regions (such as crow berry, butterwort, devil’s club, and a dragonfly Aeshna juncea).  Located within the transition zone between the northern hardwood and boreal forest, Isle Royale also acts as an early indicator of global climate change; effects on boreal and northern species may be detectable earlier here than further north in their range.

In 2008 – 09, the Isle Royale Institute helped convene a “blue ribbon panel” of academic experts to assess scientific research at Isle Royale National Park.  A copy of the final report of the blue ribbon panel titled Strategic Plan for Scientific Research in Isle Royale (2009) is provided for download.  A bibliography of research publications about Isle Royale is also provided for your review.  Additional scientific and popular publications on Isle Royale are available from the Isle Royale and Keweenaw Parks Association (IRKPA).

Moosewatch Expeditions

The Institute assists the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Project in administration of volunteer expeditions into the backcountry of Isle Royale to collect field data essential to the continued monitoring and research of wolf and moose populations.  Additional information on these Moosewatch Expeditions is found at

Message from the Director

Welcome to the website of the Isle Royale Institute (IRI) at Michigan Technological University (MTU)!  In 2015, the IRI will focus on (1) administration of Moosewatch Expeditions for “citizen-scientists” at Isle Royale, in collaboration with MTU’s Wolf-Moose Project and Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences; (2) delivery and development of life-long learning learning programs for youth, families, and Elderhostel Road Scholars, and (3) finalization of a new 5-year strategic business plan.    

Of special note, the Isle Royale Institute continues to assess opportunities, potential markets, and operational challenges for development of programs in scientific research and lifelong learning.  The result will be a new strategic business plan for the IRI.  If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions regarding the mission, approaches, and future programming of the Isle Royale Institute, please do not hesitate to contact me. - Ken Vrana


The mission of the Isle Royale Institute is to foster science and education at Isle Royale and on the waters of Lake Superior.


The Isle Royale Institute accomplishes this mission by direct assistance to Isle Royale National Park through its five-year cooperative agreement with the National Park Service; by designing, funding and offering long-term programs and short-term projects that expand opportunities for scientific research and life-long learning; and by fostering collaboration among universities, government agencies, and private sector to enhance scientific research and education of value to Isle Royale National Park and other stakeholders in Lake Superior.