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Future of Skunk Island still up in the air

November 16, 2018

Skunk Island is seen from a pontoon boat on a cloudy day.

The work to determine the future of Skunk Island in Beaver Dam Lake will continue next year.

Beaver Dam Lake Development Corporation had offered to sell the island, which is near Oak Lane and Edgewater Park, to the city of Beaver Dam for $1. The corporation, which is a nonprofit board appointed by Mayor Becky Glewen, has been meeting this year to figure out what to do with the island, which has been closed to the public for years.

The offer to the city is still technically on the table, but the city has concerns over its ability to care for what would become a new city park with the resources available and the difficulties that would present, Glewen said. She said Beaver Dam Lake Improvement Association would not be able to sign a memorandum of understanding to care for the island on the city’s behalf.

Another option that has emerged is selling the island to the Beaver Dam Conservationists, which cares for another island on the lake already.

“It takes some of the responsibility off the city and some of the questions we were having,” Glewen said. “My feeling is that the biggest thing is that I want to make sure that they have the same mission of making that as public as possible.”

Corporation members said they still need to determine their goals.

“We don’t know what we want to achieve yet,” said John Moser, the chairperson of the corporation. “We’ve got to get there first.”

In the end, the corporation could decide to just leave the island as-is, with “no trespassing” signs that have been in place for a few years. The island was caught up in years of drama over who, if anyone, would be able to access the island for duck hunting as well as concerns over protecting aeration equipment that is on the island.

The corporation could open it up to more public access itself, but would have to pay for insurance. The level of public access is also an issue.

Other questions that came up that will have to answered in 2019 is how to get the island assessed and whether, in selling it, it will have to go out for a bid to look for other interested groups. If it does go to sale, the corporation would have to make sure the next owner will follow the vision it chooses.

Dale Maas of the Beaver Dam Conservationists said his group will continue to hammer out answers to those questions as they consider whether they would want to take ownership of the island.

“We’re going to have to be very careful about how we craft any wording about how we let the public go out there,” he said. “We are just as exposed to any liability issues, so whoever does it needs to be cognizant of that.”

Liability is one of the major issues that has come up about the island, given that whoever takes it over would also take responsibility for injuries. Moser said he thinks the best chances for the most recreational access would be with the city, and that the corporation should give the city a right of first refusal over the island.

“We’ve thought it through as, let’s get rid of it,” said Bill Foley, who is on the corporation. “Let’s stop and say what’s the best use for the community and not any one group?”

Wendy Meier, who sits on the nonprofit, said goals to conserve the island and to open it up to the public could be contradictory.

“You need to be careful. The more people on it, the less conservation-minded you are. That’s just how it is. With people comes mess,” she said. “A lot of people don’t have the right intention or don’t even know they’re creating a problem environmentally. That’s one of the things i’m concerned about. You open this up, who’s going to regulate it?”

A man who grew up on the lake said he used to hunt on the island himself, before it was closed.

“I know that it was something I enjoyed growing up with and that I looked forward to being there for my kids to enjoy and really everybody on the lake to enjoy,” he said. “I wasn’t the only person out there,” he added, saying he made friendships that continue to this day and that they all helped care for the island.

Today, the small island sits quiet with trees, brush and a few objects. The island is also part of another one of the corporation’s responsibilities, which is to fund the Lake Improvement Association’s work to aerate the lake in the winter to stave off fish kill.

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