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In 'exceptional gift,' family donates miles of natural shoreland on Lake Katherine to land trustSubmitted: 11/29/2018
Story By Ben Meyer

In 'exceptional gift,' family donates miles of natural shoreland on Lake Katherine to land trust
HAZELHURST - For 125 years, one family owned hundreds of acres on the undeveloped shoreline of a crystal-clear lake in Oneida County.

But they don't anymore.

The descendants of the Yawkey family made state history with their land donation on Lake Katherine in Hazelhurst this fall.

"It's an exceptional gift, and just a truly remarkable gift to future generations by this family," said Bryan Pierce, the executive director of the Northwoods Land Trust (NWLT), which accepted the donation.


Now owned by the NWLT, most of the 430 acres around the east, south, and west sides of Lake Katherine are open to the public.

The land was owned for more than a century by the Yawkey Lumber Company. Cyrus Yawkey moved to Hazelhurst in 1889, and opened a sawmill four years later. He bought hundreds of acres of land around the lake. Most of it was never developed.

"It's just different, that's all. And it's lovely. It's lovely land," said Rob Hagge Jr., Yawkey's great-grandson.

Hagge grew up on the lake and still lives on the east side of Lake Katherine. He and four cousins, who inherited the land, decided to donate it to NWLT to keep it protected in perpetuity.

"The real thinking behind all of it was, what can be done to protect the lake?" Hagge said. "You don't get to pick your great-grandparents. We were just accidentally in a position where we could do this."

The donation includes 4.4 miles of undeveloped shoreline, the largest such donation to a land trust in state history.

"Lake Katherine is really a pretty spectacular lake," Pierce said. "The scenic value of this property is exceptional."

The name of the lake itself has a memorable story. It was originally called Brown Lake, a reference to the Brown family, which helped the city of Rhinelander grow in its early days.

But, according to Hagge, the name changed soon after his great-grandfather bought up land around the lake and opened the sawmill. A nephew of Yawkey was courting a woman named Katherine. He asked Yawkey to name the lake after her in an attempt to win her over.

The nephew's courtship failed, but the name stuck.

"I think almost anybody in their right mind would take a look at this lake and say, 'Anything other than Brown Lake would be an improvement,'" Hagge said with a laugh.

Publically-accessible areas of the new NWLT property include the tip of Tigertail Point, an esker-formed peninsula jutting into Lake Katherine.

"[People are] going to be able to enjoy it the same way that the family has enjoyed it over 125 years," Pierce said.

NWLT plans a formal dedication of the property next August, when all of Yawkey's descendants can gather.

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