Preserving Chambers Island

The landowners on Chambers Island are aging, and many fear seeing their big tracts of forested land developed and split into small parcels.

Photo by Dan Eggert.

“As we pass away, there’s a need for paying attention to where the land is going,” Dick Baudhuin said. “The opportunity to be involved in the direction of where it goes is now.”

Baudhuin, whose family has owned property on Chambers Island since the 1940s, is part of a group of landowners that want to see land in the middle of the island turned into a 1,000-acre nature preserve.

Chambers Island is part of the Town of Gibraltar, and sits in Green Bay about five miles from the mainland. It’s about four square miles and primarily privately owned with one public marina, a small town park and few public roads. It has a large interior lake, an island on the interior lake, and lots of forested land.

Keeping Chambers Island quiet and forested motivates landowners looking to preserve their parcels.

Baudhuin has already made personal investments in the preservation of Chambers Island. About 35 years ago he and his brother purchased a parcel of sensitive wetland property that became available, even though it lacked valuable timber, because they wanted to make sure it was protected.

“If someone with our mindset didn’t buy it, it would be developed,” Baudhuin said.

Keeping development at bay isn’t just for aesthetics. The proposed nature preserve is dense, contiguous old forest that is home to unique plants and animals and nesting habitat for rare birds such as Bald Eagles, Red-headed Woodpeckers and Yellow-billed Cuckoos, according to a Door County Land Trust report.

“The lands that are being talked about are very high quality from an ecological standpoint,” said Dan Burke, Door County Land Trust executive director. “They’re very important for the migratory flyway. Some of the wetlands that are potentially involved are of very high quality. From an ecological standpoint the opportunity is exciting.”

But the landowners don’t want the preserve to be totally left alone – they want the forest to be managed and the mature trees to be logged.

The interior of the island was once a popular spot for timber, Baudhuin said, and 720 of the 1,000 acres slated for preservation are covered by the state’s Managed Forest Law, which allows private landowners of forested land to submit to forest management in exchange for lower tax rates. That means approximately every 15 years a crew of foresters heads to the island to harvest mature trees and ship them to a mill.

Continuing to manage that forest means a lot to Baudhuin and the other landowners, who included it in their list of things they want to see happen in a land preserve.

Landowners also want to keep the area open to the public for hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking, cross-country skiing, with horseback riding, biking and motorized vehicle riding on logging roads.

“We’d be looking at 1,210 [total] acres that would be open, plus the approximately 40 acres the town owns,” Baudhuin said.

The nature preserve on Chambers Island is still in the discussion stage. Project partners – landowners, the Chambers Island Association, Door County, the Town of Gibraltar, the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point and the Department of Natural Resources – still need to agree on what would be done with the land, then find funding to buy the parcels.

Baudhuin said the landowners hope to find grant funding to pay for the land, then give it over to the Town of Gibraltar. He presented the topic at the last Town of Gibraltar meeting to spread the word that groups were working together to preserve land on Chambers Island.

“It’s been overwhelming, the amount of support we’ve gotten from all the different people we’ve talked to,” Baudhuin said.