The Madeline Island GIS Project

The Madeline Island GIS Project

The Madeline Island GIS project was undertaken in the late 1990’s, and was premiered at the 2003 MIWP annual meeting:

Our program will feature a premiere of the island’s new Geographic Information System (GIS) by its creator, Dr. Paul Bolstad of the University of Minnesota. Paul’s talk is titled: “ Mapping Madeline: Assessing the Present, Planning the Future”. This flagship project of the MIWP has been a work in progress for several years and has been generously funded by MIWP members, several local foundations, and the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program. Here’s your opportunity for a first-ever computer-illustrated tour of Madeline. Get a new perspective on the geography of our Island and learn just how GIS works and how it can help inform land-use decisions.

Paul Bolstad is Associate Professor in the College of Natural Resources at the University of Minnesota. He teaches courses on GIS and spatial analysis to over 200 students each year. He also conducts research on the impacts of land use and climate change on forest ecosystems, at the behest of NASA, DOE, and the National Science Foundation.
— 2003 Newsletter, Annual Meeting Announcement

The Madeline Island GIS project was a computerized mapping system containing detailed information on then-current Island land-use, vegetation, topography, soils, ownership, roads and trails, etc. This database consisted of 10 separate layers (maps) that were geographically precise so that they could be overlain one with another on a computer or printed output. Because all data were stored digitally, different types of information could be quantitatively "distilled" from the database.

Need for the GIS Project

At the time, Madeline Island was struggling with fast growth and increasing development. In the years after 2003 the Town of La Pointe and Ashland County prepared a comprehensive plan to manage and direct growth in order to preserve community character and quality of life. The Geographic Information System was made available to the Town of La Pointe for citizens to use during the land use planning process. The data provided critical information about the land and enabled informed land use planning.

The maps, charts and graphs helped answer questions about wetlands, steep slopes, future build-out scenarios, etc., to help plan for future growth in appropriate places. Local committees charged with decisions about land use, building permits, zoning, wetlands and other development issues were able to use the GIS database on an ongoing basis. The data was also used for conservation planning of Wilderness Preserve lands on the Island, including mapping the Hiking and Ski Trails.

A Sample from the Madeline GIS Project: 

GIS sample

GIS sample

The center image is composed of 1999 black and white aerial photographs of the island, with updated roads and driveways added. The upper left image is a small portion of the land records data from Ashland County. Each record is linked to its correct location on the map. The lower right is a portion of a 1983 color infrared aerial photo, which was used along with other current sources to map the different types of land cover (vegetation) of the island.

Project Support

The MIWP gratefully acknowledges the following organizations and individuals for supporting the Madeline Island Geographic Information System:


Apostle Island Area Community Fund

Mary H. Rice Foundation

Wisconsin Coastal Management Program

Rogers Foundation

Madeline Island Ferry Line

MIWP Members