west sister island

West Sister Island is located in the western Basin of Lake Erie. The 82 acres island is jointly owned by the United States Coast Guard and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is home to Ohio’s only designated wilderness area, the West Sister Island National Wildlife Refuge.  Most of the island is covered with trees with tall hackberry trees making up most of the canopy.  Polygonatum, and other ferns, poison ivy, wildflowers, mushrooms, and other a variety of other plants make up a majority of the undergrowth

The island is part of the Pelee Archipelago which also includes East Sister Island and Middle Sister Island (both in Ontario, Canada). West Sister Island is roughly 13 miles west of Rattlesnake Island, 14.5 miles east of Turtle Island, and 8.75 miles due north of the Ohio mainland.

 West Sister Island National Wildlife Refuge

The West Sister Island National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt “as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife…,”.  This land was  specifically designated to protect the largest wading bird nesting colony on the U.S. Great Lakes. In 2000 the island was recognized as being part of a globally important bird area.  The refuge is managed by the staff of the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge as a wilderness area, as provided under the Federal Wilderness Act.  To protect it, public access is permitted exclusively for research personnel.

The West Sister refuge was featured in a 2007 episode of Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe. His job was to band and count baby Herons.  Cute, huh? Nope, Due to the large population of birds visiting the island and subsequently vomiting and defecating from high in the trees the island was referred to as “Vomit Island” in the program.

West Sister Island’s sorted past.

West Sister Island was a popular stop for bootleggers during Prohibition. The island provided a  level of visual cover from the authorities for rum runners crossing the lake. When approached by these authorities, bootleggers would often dump their illegal stash overboard. Legend has it that bottles of prohibition-era alcohol can still be found on the bottom of the lake around the island.

After being established as a wildlife refuge in 1937, the island was used by the United States Army for artillery practice during World War II. Although the wildlife population and the lighthouse were not significantly damaged, the keeper’s house was destroyed. It is also reported that fuel tanks jettisoned by dive bombers can still be found on the island.

West Sister Island was once rumored to be the final resting place of  Jimmy Hoffa. It was speculated that after his abduction in Detroit, he was brought by boat to the island and buried. The island’s jungle-like environment would have made discovery of his remains difficult; however these conditions would also have made the deposit of his remains difficult, therefore the island is not one of the more widely-considered possibilities in the case.

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