Managing Your Shoreline

Summary of Selected Requirements Contained in Sawyer County Shoreland Regulations


While this information is intended primarily for residential property owners, much of it is applicable to nonresidential uses (i.e., commercial activities, resorts etc.). However, nonresidential property owners should contact the Zoning Office for information pertinent to their particular situations. This information does not replace/supersede the requirements of the Sawyer County Zoning Ordinance or that of any other ordinances or regulations enforced by the Sawyer County Zoning Department or that of any other State or Federal agency.

An Assessment of Sawyer County's Water Resources


An ongoing environmental priority in Sawyer County is to improve water quality and maintain or repair endangered shoreline ecosystems. The value of clean and beautiful lakes, streams and rivers has been essential to the county's growth and tourism industry. For many years healthy aquatic ecosystems were the norm in the sparsely populated county. Within the last ten to fifteen years the county has experienced tremendous growth as former tourists become full-time residents or owners of water front property and vacation homes. The majority of lake lots are 100 feet wide and have been developed. As can be expected, loss of shoreline habitat and reduced water quality have been results of this growth. The county has developed a lake classification system in an effort to maintain the quality of undeveloped lakes.

In addition to an abundance of surface waters, wetlands account for approximately 14% of the county's acreage. Non-point source pollution is the primary threat to resources within the county. Development along shorelines contributes to the degradation of waters from building site erosion, dramatic increases in impervious surfaces, improper application of lawn care chemicals, reduction of shoreline buffers, and disturbance of the near shore aquatic habitat. Secondary non-point concerns are sedimentation caused by poor logging and agricultural practices.

Chain of Lakes


Sawyer County has 205 named lakes and hundreds of miles of streams and rivers, many of which are designated by the Department of Natural Resources as exceptional resource waters. A unique resource for Sawyer County and northern Wisconsin is the Chain of Lakes which includes:
  • Big Round
  • Grindstone
  • Lac Courte Oreilles
  • Little Round
  • Osprey
This chain of clear water consists of approximately 11,700 acres of surface water. The rare trophic qualities of these lakes make them an important resource that must be preserved for future generations. Additionally, the county's surface water (lake) acreage is approximately 54,000 acres bordered by 850 miles of shoreline.

Guidelines for Common Activities


Shorelands are defined as "Lands within the following distances from the ordinary high-water mark of navigable waters: 1,000 feet from a lake, pond or flowage; and 300 feet from a river or stream or to the landward side of the floodplain, whichever distance is greater." Sawyer County Zoning Ordinance section numbers are provided if applicable.

Retaining walls: Retaining walls within 75 feet of navigable waters are prohibited. Contact the Zoning Office prior to the replacement or construction of retaining walls.

Riprap: Riprap is a layer of loose rock or other material placed to prevent erosion. A DNR permit is required for the placement of rip-rap.

Sand blanket: A sand blanket is a thin layer of sand placed on the bed of lakes for improving the condition of the beach. A DNR permit is required.

Shoreline clearing guidelines: (Section 4.410, Shoreline Vegetation Protection Area) The intent of shoreline clearing policies is to preserve a 35 feet shoreline buffer zone of natural shoreline vegetation; yet allow shoreline property owners access to the waters abutting their property. Shoreline property owners must recognize that they have a responsibility to all users of the water resource to maintain the shoreline and its buffer zone, in as near to a natural state as possible. The clearing of shoreline vegetation becomes a responsibility balanced between the rights of the property owner, the recreational user and the local wildlife.

For any 100 feet of shoreline, a property owner may create an area 30 feet wide and 35 feet inland (a 30 feet wide x 35 feet deep corridor) more or less perpendicular to the shore, by the mowing, pruning and the selective removal of trees, stumps and shrubbery. This corridor may be no closer than 10 feet to a lot line and no closer than 70 feet to any other access corridor on the same lot. This corridor is the property owner's access to the shoreline. The remaining 70 feet by 35 feet portion of this 100 feet strip of frontage is to remain in its natural state with the exception that dead and diseased trees and noxious vegetation (i.e., poison ivy, poison oak, ragweed etc.) may be removed at any time.

Stairways, walkways, powered lifts, decks and platforms: (Section 4.49 (6), Setbacks from Navigable Water) Stairways and walkways within 75 feet of the ordinary high-water mark shall be constructed in accordance with the following guidelines.
  • Width shall not exceed 4 feet. Powered lift widths shall not exceed 6 feet.
  • Shall be constructed to avoid erosion (i.e., not constructed on erodible soils, steep slopes or a bluff face).
  • Shall be visually inconspicuous.
  • The cumulative square footage of all landings located within 75 feet of the ordinary high-water mark shall not exceed 40 square feet.
  • With the exception of a "GARD GAZEBO PERMIT" (Section 4.49 (2) Setbacks from Navigable Water), decks and platforms are prohibited. Please contact the office for permit information.
Source: Sawyer County Land and Water Resource Management Plan 2003-2008.