TtRAVERSE CITY — Dave Hooper may know more about North Manitou Island than just about anybody living.
Hooper, of Cedar, was a National Park Service backcountry ranger on the island from 1989-96. That’s when he got to know islander Rita Rusco, who became island store manager and postmaster in 1943.
“I was lucky enough to find the place that I was meant to spend a lot of time on, someplace that really spoke to me,” said Hooper, 67, now a Leelanau Historical Society volunteer who leads an annual day trip to the island. “Rita wrote a book about the island and through listening to her and her research, it really intrigued me.
“Aside from being an island, it’s just a great example of what it was like in the early days in this country. Everything was far away, everything was a chore to get to,” he said.
Hooper estimates that he’s explored about three-quarters of the eight-mile-long island, all by foot — the only way to get around. The now uninhabited island is managed as a wilderness area by the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, except for about 27 acres around the former village.
He’ll guide visitors to some of his favorite spots around the village, including the former light-saving station, on this year’s tour, scheduled for Aug. 20. Participants will get to learn about the history of the island, explore its natural beauty and view the progress of restoration projects by Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear, a group dedicated to preserving the historic structures and cultural landscapes of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Current restoration projects include the Katie Shepard Hotel, also called “The Beeches,” a blufftop dining hall and inn built in 1895 as part of North Manitou’s “Cottage Row.” And the “Blossom Cottage,” or the the Monte Carlo House, rumored to have been designed and built in 1893-94 by a young Frank Lloyd Wright for George and Carrie Blossom of Chicago.