Maintaining Gibson Island
Purchase pays off for township
By Greg Seubert
Permanent homes and seasonal cottages take up most of the shoreline of Shawano County’s Cloverleaf Lakes.
That’s not the case with Gibson Island, however.
The town of Belle Plaine has owned the 25-acre undeveloped island, which sits between Grass and Pine lakes off of County Trunk Y, about halfway between Clintonville and Shawano.
The island is open year-round to foot traffic and can be accessed from a parking area off of Cloverleaf Lake Road.
Alvin Bartz, the town’s chairman since 1974, played a big role in keeping the island undeveloped.
“It’s the only area around the lakes that doesn’t have a home on it,” he said. “It was to preserve the quality of the lake. It’s a chance for people to view nature close-up. There are deer out there and there are bald eagles nesting by the boardwalk where you go out on the island.”
The island’s ownership changed hands over the years, according to Bartz.
“It was owned by some bankers in Clintonville and then they gave it to the Boy Scouts,” he said. “The Boy Scouts had buildings out there and camped out there. When the Boy Scouts came on hard times, they wanted to sell it. I offered $125,000 for it and some guy that was associated with the Boy Scouts got it for $80,000, if you can imagine that.”
A small strip of land provided access to the island.
“When we bought it, there was a road going to the island,” Bartz said. “Somehow, the people that owned the house next to it got a hold of somebody and they got possession of the road. Since that time, we’ve gotten access to the road again, so we can get out there with whatever we need to. We put a boardwalk in, which makes it really nice.”
Grant money, donations help pay for island
The town purchased the island from Lynne Lenius for $1.025 million.
That sounds like a lot of money for a rural township to spend on land it had no intention of developing.
“We really didn’t spend a million,” Bartz said. “Way before we even bought it, we were doing some work at our boat launch there. One of the people from the DNR that appropriates money was there and we were talking about how we didn’t get it when the Boy Scouts sold it. He said, ‘If you ever get a chance to buy it, go ahead and buy it and we’ll get you the money.’
“Of the $1 million, Lynne Lenius donated $200,000,” he added. “The DNR grant was about 50%. We had a lot on the lake that we sold and the rest was from private donations.”
The island would probably be developed if the town didn’t step in to purchase the land, Bartz said.
“We had different proposals,” he said. “They were going to buy it and turn it into 26 lots, but people didn’t want more development on the lake.”
In 1998, 12 years before the town purchased the island, the Belle Plaine Town Board identified the island in its Land Use and Development Plan.
“It did take some time,” Bartz said. “They thought they were going to get more money for it or whatever, but we just kept at it. The fundraising took some time, but once we got rolling, it went pretty good.”
Walkers can follow a trail that goes around the entire island.
“It takes about an hour and a half, depending on how fast you walk,” Bartz said. “We’d like to see more people use it. There’s a bicycling group here in Shawano and we’ve advertised it in some of the trail magazines. We’re always talking about what can we do to get more people to use it. We don’t get outside people as much as I thought we might.”
Most of Gibson Island doesn’t get much foot traffic, as walkers stay on the main trail.
“Eventually, I think we’ll put something across the top,” Bartz said. “It’s not that you can’t walk there, it’s just easier walking on the trail.”
Oak wilt and invasive species are an ongoing problem on the island, but volunteers have been working on ongoing restoration project.
“We have an oak wilt problem in that whole area, all around the lakes,” Bartz said. “We clean up the oaks when they die and take them out of there.”
The island will serve as the location for a wedding this year, Bartz said.
“She said her grandfather took her out there all the time,” he said. “Now, she wants to get married there.”