Mountz has 37 years of Lakeshore service and memories
So the Flushing native got a job at the Lakeshore in 1975, and he has no plans of leaving soon.
“I didn’t know that I’d be here all this time, but I’ve had a very positive experience,” said Mountz, who has been with the Lakeshore for 37 years as a woodcrafter and maintenance man.
Mountz said his first impression was lasting.
“When I was a kid, my parents brought the family to the dunes and we climbed the dunes as pre-schoolers and loved it,” Mountz said. “And we continued to come here periodically through out my childhood years.”
Today the 59-year-old Mountz is the longest tenured employee in the Lakeshore. He spent the first half of his career as a seasonal maintenance man in Empire. His first assignment, however, was on South Manitou Island. He started in June of 1975, one month after graduating from Northern Michigan University.
“I always wanted to work in natural resources, wildlife or outdoor recreation,” said Mountz, who joined the Park Service right after federal agency had taken over control of the area. “They hired a slew of people that year and I was one of the fortunate.”
Mountz said he has created some great friendships through the years. He’ll never forget George Grosvener, owner of the Manitou Island ferry service, nor Lou Raynor, a Michigan State University professor and first island resident that he met.
Mountz said living on the island for one year was memorable. It was a community of about 25-30, many college professors and teachers — summer types.
“It was very rustic,” said Mountz, who recalls cleaning restrooms and doing light maintenance work on the lighthouse and museum and clearing trails on the island. “We didn’t have phones or television.
“And if you wanted a bath, you’d go in Lake Michigan.”
There was a hand pump on the island to draw water from, but no electricity, he said. There were gas lights but only a few people had generators.
“It was like living in the days of the blacksmith,” he said. “And we all liked it.
“We quickly saw the value with having good neighbors.”
The summer job of 1975 ended on a historic note. He left the Coast Guard station on South Manitou on Nov. 11, the day after the sinking of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior and the loss of its 29 crew members.
“I was the last one off the island,” Mountz said. “The night before I remember the wind was shrieking through the quarter’s building.
“The old windows were rattling and vibrating. And then there was the horrible accident. It was unforgettable.”
Mountz remembers the trip back to the mainland on Nov. 11 with George Grosvenor and his son, Mike
“It was heavy water, a lot of residue and connectivity from the storm,” Mountz said. “We had twin engines.
“The swells were up to 30 feet. There was a chug and chug and up and we’d see the sky and then back down and you couldn’t see the land. I got so sick and George thought it was kind of comical.”
Mountz spent his early years with the Lakeshore constructing things or updating buildings.
“The Park Service was still in growth mode,” he said. “We were building or updating and refurbishing.
“I did that for many years.”
Mountz remembers working out of maintenance shop on Welch Road and M-109, right across from Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. He also fondly remembers working for foreman Tom Haywood of Long Lake.
“He was a fabulous supervisor,” Mountz said. “I enjoyed working for him.
“He made us work very hard, but was at our side with us. He too is highly respected.”
Mountz said he did a lot of maintenance at the campgrounds in the Lakeshore.
“We installed benches and picnic tables, added additional toilets for the public,” Mountz said.
The roads in his early days were not paved.
“The roads frequently had to be graded at the Lake Michigan overlook,” he said. “The sand would blow in.
“And after storms, there was always timber across the roads.”
In the 1980s, Mountz was glad to help reconstruct 7.4 miles of roadway on Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive off M-109 along Lake Michigan.
“It’s been a big draw for folks who are not as ambulatory,” he said.
Mountz enjoyed working with the late Earl Plowman on the Scenic Drive construction and other projects.
“Earl was a heavy equipment operator who gave the Park Service 65 minutes an hour,” Mountz said. “He was as skilled as a neurosurgeon with the equipment and taught me the most.
“He was a pleasure to work with. He was also a consummate historian. He knew everybody and where they lived.”
Mountz lived one year in Glen Haven at the old boarding house which is now an administration building. He also spent a couple years house-sitting for a friend who lived on Shalda Creek. That’s where he discovered one of his favorite Lakeshore spots — a grasscovered hill to watch sunsets over Lake Michigan.
Mountz is currently a woodcrafter for the Lakeshore, working out of the Platte River campgrounds.
“I began just doing a lot of woodworking, counters and molding and trim,” Mountz said. “It was all machined work, cabinetry or metal shop.”
He also oversees a half dozen seasonal employees at the campground which has 70 flushed toilets, 16 private showers and three miles of roads.
“I have great co-workers,” he said. “They are top-notch.
“It’s a small group that does a lot of work. And they perform like they are self-employed.”
Mountz works 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily. His shift starts with a gathering of staff to determine immediate needs.
“If there is something urgent like a tree branch across a campsite, we’ll go take care of that,” he said. “But our primary thing is custodial, checking 70 bathroom stalls and private showers.”
About noon the group returns to look at work orders.
Mountz has observed many changes through the years in campers.
“Backpacking was popular and a lot of the younger people slept in small tents,” he said. “But I observed as time has gone on, the same folks have aged.
“They’ve gone from pop up campers to trailers and motor homes to Fifth Wheels.”
Another thing Mountz has noticed is that the Lakeshore has a way of refreshing people, including himself.
“When they come here and do things, it relaxes them and rejuvenates them,” Mountz said. “They value the interaction with the resources.
“And I enjoy working with visitors who have those values.”
He enjoys it so much, he’s not sure if he’ll ever leave.
“Many people can tell you when they are going to retire,” Mountz said. “I haven’t planned that.
“I like to come to work every day. I like the work and the mission. And I like to see people get their children in the woods or floating in the river or just engaging in the resource. It think it’s good for our society and our mental health.”
Mountz, who also has early childhood memories of exploring the farms in Port Oneida, raised two children with his wife in the Lakeshore.
“We’ve all enjoyed the Lakeshore,” he said. “ ... having beach fires, watching stars ... and using the resource.”
Mountz, who lives near the Leelanau/Benzie county line, loves his ride to work each day.
“It forces you to turn your head off, it’s that beautiful,” he said.
The announcement last year of the Lakeshore being America’s Most Beautiful Place by ABC has had an impact, Mountz said.
Mountz said he doesn’t have to count the visitors who were swimming, fishing, kayaking or tubing to see attendance is up.
“The numbers are up tremendously,” he said. “It was confirmed by water used in the restrooms and the amount of toilet paper.”
Mountz compared the No. 1 ranking with the 1989 movie Fields of Dream.
“If you build it, they will come,” he said. “If you tell them it is beautiful, they’ll show up.”
Mountz said he’s known the Lakeshore’s beauty for nearly four decades.
“There were some wise people around who acknowledged and worked hard to preserve it and I’m glad they did,” he said. “I also realize there was a ton of heartache from the many residents who sold their property to the government.
“Some still have offspring in the area and they usually remind me. But this was done for the good of millions.”