John Terrell first claimed the Terrell’s Island property back in the 1800’s. Back then the property was actually an island, it wasn’t until the 1960’s that it was connected to the surrounding lands by a road. The property has been split up and brought back together several times over the years. It is unclear when the 5 lots known as the “Robbins’s Property”, for years separated by wetlands, were sold by John Terrell.
In the early 1940’s the Island property was owned by Floyd Shubert. There are many stories about the Island during the 40’s and 50’s. One tragic event was when a freak storm blew in and a group of Lake Buttes Morts hunters were caught off guard. They were dressed in light-weight clothes and the temperature dropped so rapidly that a number of them died of exposure. The rest were able to find shelter in the cabin on Terrell’s Island.
The island had a mink ranch in those days operated by Johnny Jenze for Floyd Shubert. Mink were raised for the Terrell’s Island Hunting Club. After World War II the mink trade slowed and the land was sold to Wally Siebert who bought it for his son to hunt on. But shortly after that his son went into the service and he sold the land to Lowell Robbins, Sr. in 1955.
In the late 50’s and 60’s , with help from the State of Wisconsin, Winnebago County and the Hunting Club the Robbins family coordinated the building of a break-wall where the Fox River enters Lake Buttes Morts. Truckloads of rock were hauled over the ice to build the break-wall. The project cost was $10,000.
Lowell Sr. sought to improve the land and stop the heavy erosion. After each heavy storm large chucks of bog would just float away. Sometimes they would create dams near the area where the Hwy 41 Butte des Morts bridge is now located. He laid car bodies along the edges of the marshes to halt the erosion. They are still there to this day, overgrown with vegetation.
In 1968 the Terrell’s Island property was sold to Harry Molinski. The land had its own power plant, donated to the Hunting Club during its era, which Molinski tore down, along with the trapper shack when power lines and a road were extended from the mainland. A drainage channel was dredged along the main road so it wouldn’t flood and Terrell’s Island became a peninsula. The actual island area got an overhaul at this time as well when the surrounding area was dredged, raising the elevation in the School House area about three feet, which in turn reduced high water damage.
Enter the Butte des Morts Conservation Club
When Harry Molinski decided to sell the Terrell’s Island property in 1998 the BDMCC seemed like a perfect fit. Harry wanted to ensure that the land would be protected. He did not want to see it become just another string of waterfront condos.
In July 1998, the Butte des Morts Conservation Club, with the assistance of public contributions and WDNR grant programs, purchased the 1,183 acres of wetlands, known as Terrell’s Island, for $500,000. $348,000 came from WDNR grants while the Club raised the other $152,000 through community donations. The land was then placed in a ‘public trust’ for perpetuity. Terrell’s Island is exempt from property taxes.
In 2010 the Club added another 18 acres with help from the WDNR and community donations.
This wetland area has all the basic ingredients necessary to rebuild and restore a healthy and productive wildlife habitat and spawning grounds for a vast variety of marine life. Terrell's Island is open to the public and offers a variety of educational and recreational opportunities. It is the goal of the BDMCC to apply CPR to this habitat so that it will continue to provide these and many other opportunities for our generation and generations to come.
Since the Club took over stewardship of the 1200 acre property the water clarity in the area has increased significantly, wild celery and wild rice are growing again and the endangered common tern has returned to nest on some of the newly built islands. There have been over $2.5 million dollars in improvements and the Club has fostered a strong and positive relationship with the surrounding community.