State Natural Resources Board Approves High-Profile Land Swap

State Exchanges Rest Lake Frontage For 42 Acres On Mann Lake

Danielle Kaeding/WPR

The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board approved a land swap on Wednesday that has prompted speculation of political favoritism.

The state will exchange 1.75 acres of waterfront on Rest Lake in Vilas County for 42 acres on Mann Lake, recently purchased by businesswoman Elizabeth Uihlein. Uihlein and her husband donated millions for Gov. Scott Walker’s presidential bid last year.

Board Chair Terry Hilgenberg said the exchange has a significant benefit for the state.

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“That particular parcel (Mann Lake) is bordered on three sides already by state public-owned lands,” he said. “So we’re able to then be able to control much more water frontage with this traded property than what we had before.”

Hilgenberg said the Uihlein family had nothing to do with the board’s decision on the land exchange.

Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission Chair Mic Isham testified against the land exchange, saying Rest Lake is important to tribes in the ceded territories.

“We don’t believe land that’s being traded here on Mann Lake is equal to what’s on Rest Lake,” he said. “To us, again, it’s a walleye lake. It’s a wild rice lake. It provides access to tribal members. To us, it’s like trading away Aaron Rodgers for Cutler.”

The land swap has also faced opposition from conservation groups who fear public access to Rest Lake would be restricted, but Hilgenberg said substantial access to the water remains.