Environmental Management

, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 24-34

First online:

Explaining Human Settlement Patterns in a Recreational Lake District: Vilas County, Wisconsin, USA

  • JILL SCHNAIBERGAffiliated withInstitute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 550 North Park Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53706-1491, USA
  • , JOAN RIERAAffiliated withEnvironmental Remote Sensing Center and Center for Limnology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA
  • , MONICA G. TURNERAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA
  • , PAUL R. VOSSAffiliated withDepartment of Rural Sociology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA

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Lakeshore development in Vilas County, northern Wisconsin (USA) is heterogeneous, ranging from lakes that are surrounded by homes and commercial establishments to lakes that have no buildings on their shorelines. Development in this recreational area has increased, and since the 1960s over half of new homes have been built on the lakeshore. We examined building density around lakes in relationship to 11 variables, including in-lake, shoreline, and social characteristics. Buildings in many parts of northern Wisconsin tend to be concentrated around shorelines; in Vilas County 61% of all medium-sized buildings (our proxy for residential development) on private land were ≤100 m of a lake. The probability of development on a lake was largely related to lake surface area, with larger, more accessible lakes showing a higher probability of development. Building density along shorelines varied with travel cost, lake surface area, presence of wetlands, and extent of public land ownership. Building density was greater on larger, more accessible lakes that were surrounded by forest (as opposed to wetlands) and public lands. Gaining a more precise understanding of human settlement patterns can help direct planning and resource protection efforts to lakes most likely to experience future development.

KEY WORDS: Building density; Lakes; Landscape ecology; Wisconsin; Shoreline development; Land use; Land–water interactions