The Wilderness Preserve—20 Years Later

An Article Written by Bob Coffin, Founding Member, in 2007


Twenty years ago last summer a group of residents from the north end of Madeline Island gathered in the living room of Bob and Norma Schaub. We discussed that as the lakeshore property of the Island was filling up, the pressure of subdivision would move to the interior of the Island. We could lose the very essence of what we all, summer and full-time residents, had come to enjoy the most, the undisturbed wilderness—forest and bog.



Using the example of a citizen-led land conservation effort on Nantucket Island, located off the shore of Massachusetts, we decided it would be prudent to acquire and preserve open natural land while it was still available. David Thomas pointed out that a 200 acre tract, next to the Blueberry Bog at the north end of the Island, was proposed for subdivision and sale. From this fireside chat, came the decision to form a non-profit land conservation organization, The Madeline Island Wilderness Preserve—incorporated on May 30th of 1987. Five families stepped forward and made the down payment. It was a risky proposition. There was no clear plan for paying off the mortgage. There was no assurance that there would be broad support for the creation of a land trust on Madeline Island.

A Board of Directors was formed and officers were elected. Our first full board included Island luminaries like Bill Wheeler, Nucy Meech, and Chas Bennett. An appeal to Madeline Island residents was made. 

March l5 ,1989


Last summer I joined the Board of The Madeline Island Wilderness Preserve. The Preserve which was organized in 1987 has taken off in a manner, which if not beyond our wildest expectations, has certainly been most gratifying, and has demonstrated that it is an idea whose time has come. In one year more than 100 families joined as members and we received two challenge grants, one of $40,000 and one of $100,000. Our efforts to date have allowed us to put under contract 200 acres of upland hardwoods and a wild blueberry bog. Now, encouraged by such an enthusiastic response, the Board of Directors has identified two additional parcels of land, these at the south end of the island, that would ensure that some of the Island’s most sensitive ecosystems are preserved forever….


Twenty years later….. The Madeline Island Wilderness Preserve owns and manages 2500 acres of wild and natural land on Madeline Island supported by over 300 family memberships. We have developed a trail system in partnership with the Town of La Pointe and sponsored the production of a Madeline Island geographic information system. Our annual activities have become established traditions—the Memorial Day luncheon featuring a speaker on a timely environmental topic, a group 4th of July parade entry (often a winner!), summer field hikes and co-sponsored lectures at the Madeline Island Museum. 

As I look back, 74 years now since I first arrived with my family in 1933, much of what I see on Madeline Island is different. Time is a clear instructor of change. But, the character and natural beauty that attracted our family to Madeline Island is still largely intact. If we, as an organization, hadn’t acted 20 years ago, it is unlikely with soaring land values that we could have afforded to conserve these lands today. Our efforts, as a group of citizens, have made a difference. Our work is not yet finished but we have much to be proud of in this celebration of our conservation work of twenty years.