24 x 24 Northern Wisconsin Cabin

Started by Toyotaboy, March 16, 2012, 09:21:56 PM

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Well I've been lurking here for about 4-5 years. Time to share!

Please pull up a chair and your favorite beverage this is a bit long but worth the read.

We bought 40 acres in Northern Wisconsin back in 2006. We wanted to build a place for weekend getaways and a hunting cabin. We bought near the town where my dad grew up. I spent a lot of time on the family fox ranch as a kid that my grandparents use to run. They raised mink & fox for the pelts the 30's and 40's. It's no longer a working ranch but my 86 year old uncle still lives there.

Several of my cousins bought property in the area for hunting over the years. We bought the property from one my cousins. He needed the cash. Then the problems started.

We found out thru the DNR that the property was mostly wetlands and they were not going to let us build anything on it. The DNR agent was not very helpful. His standard line was, "I'm not going to tell you what you can do, I'm only going to tell you what you can't do."  Great customer service! And my taxes pay this guy's wages. Then he told me to find another piece of property to build on! I was furious!

The property had an old barn foundation from the turn of the century. The foundation was located 100 ft off the road in a field. The old driveway and culvert were gone. Aerials showed the barn and some other buildings in the 20's and 30's. When I showed these to the DNR agent his response was," I don't care what it was, it's a wetland now and your not touching it."

Well with lots of investigating and talking to lawyers and reading thru books and books of wetland codes and landowner's rights we found out that the DNR had to give me vehicle access to the property. We also found out that the old barn foundation was NOT a wetland and that we could build on it.

To make a long story short the DNR agreed to let us build on the old foundation site which is only 20x24 feet. They also authorized ($350 permit fee) a culvert and a parking pad right off the road large enough for two cars. Basically 20x 25 ft. However they would NOT authorize a drive way to the building site. They would also NOT authorize a pit toilet either. I was told to get a metro unit and park it on the parking pad (Yeah and the local kids would have had a field day tipping it over every chance they got.). I also could not have a well because I would then have to have septic. And the DNR would not authorize any digging.

This is the parking pad with the culvert.

So two years ago I had the parking pad and culvert installed. Then I had to put up gates to keep people from dumping garbage and the kids using it as a place to park with their girl friends. Nothing like showing up with your family and finding beer bottles and condoms laying all over. We also have bear hunters that think the can park and hunt anywhere their dogs chase the bears. So the gates had to go up.

Truck(cousins truck, I drive a Toyota Tundra) with old telephone poles that I purchased from my uncle who still lives on the old family fox ranch.

Me dumping in bags of ready mix. We hand dug the holes to almost 6 ft with the post hole digger.

My cousin hanging the cattle gates.

We were off with our measurements. We had measured another gate that had different hinge hardware.
So the gates don't completely come together in the middle. I had wanted a 6 inch gap but ended up with a bit more.

Both gates hung and chained.

No trespassing sign hung. It's a bit of a problem in this area.

When I bought the property my cousin included two old Farmall Tractors. I have a Farmall H and a Farmall M.(They are a total blast by the way.) We hook up a 6 ft wide mower deck and mow all the trails. We make it a guy's weekend prior to the opening of bow season.

Me on my Farmall M. Some day I'd like to restore it.

I use the tractor with the 6 ft mower deck to mow the field around the old foundation. Boy's and their toys!
It's pretty fun until it gets stuck. There are a couple of hole from when the back hoe came out and checked to see how
deep the top soil was. When it rains and in the spring it's pretty wet.

So last July I had the old foundation removed. My cousins, new a local logger with a back hoe and a dump truck. So he removed the old foundation and hauled it away for $400. A pretty good deal. I then covered the site with gravel. My concern was that the DNR would come by and tell me that it was now a wetland without the old foundation in place. Then they would not let me build. I had photos of the foundation removal but they are on my old phone and I have not been able to retrieve them yet.

I found out that barns at the turn of the century were fairly small. Farmers could survive off of 6-10 cows. Nothing like the barns & farms of today. We knew the foundation was from a barn because it had a gutter down the middle.

Part of the old foundation.

This was what was left after the foundation was removed. With the grass mowed you get a better idea of what I was dealing with.

This image show the old foundation location in relation to the road. About a 100ft off the road.
My Toyota is parked on my parking pad just off the road.


Just because something has been done and has not failed, doesn't mean it is good design.


The Farmall's are a ton of fun. They are also really easy to work on and do maintenance.


 w*  It a shame that there is someone in charge of our land that doesn't have a given right by owneship.  But that is what it is.  As far as the gates that can be tricky.  At least yours was wide mine was narrow. d*  But there is always a remedy.  You can find 12" gate bolts. Take the diameter of the post from that you will gain the remainder.  So if you swapped them out on both sides you might come closer to meeting.



Yes about the gate hinges. I saw some 12inch ones at Fleet Farm. One of those things I can do in my spare time. It works for now.

All I wanted was a gravel drive up to the foundation location. Maybe 75 ft long and only 12 ft wide. The DNR said no. But it's ok for them to dump tons of rock and stone in the local river to widen the highway by 2 lanes. That's perfectly acceptable. Like 75 ft of driveway is going to upset the whole ecosystem of the planet! Don't get me started on this, it's a real sore spot. Like you said, it is what it is. (Ok deep breath)!


I am enjoying your story so far and will be looking forward to the updates.

Your tale is just one more fine example of too much gubermint for my/your/our tax dollars! Good luck fighting the bureaucracy.


I hope you'll be able to build there some day soon.

Wow, you dug them holes 6' deep? I remember the time that I had digging my 15 pier holes 3 feet deep by at least 2' square with a square bottom in 115 degree weather. Maybe your soil wasn't too hard, that's why it's a wetland?
Click here to see our 20x30 and here to see our 14x24.


We had to dig through the gravel and pit run they put down for the parking pad. That was huge pan in the a$$. 


So I was looking at several of Johns plans and decided that they might not work for my situation. The DNR told me the cabin could be the only building on the property. So I was not able to have a pole shed or barn. Then I saw Skagdrifter's cabin here on this site. I thought that this was going to be my solution. A cabin built above a garage! Perfect!

Anyway I hooked up with an architect who was out of work and looking for side jobs. We came up with a design of a cabin with a loft above the garage. The problem was that it was going to be very tall and top heavy. And it was also becoming too expensive.

Then the County Zoning guy called the Army Corp of Engineers because of the wetland issues. The Army Corp of Engineers agent called me. I had dealt with him in the past because of the wetland issues. He was not happy that I was going to build a two story structure on the old foundation site. His concerns were soil failure and the structure tipping over. So back to square one for a design.

After showing the architect John's plans here on the site we came up with a modified version. We decided on the 1 ½ story but with a 4 foot crawl space underneath the cabin. The whole thing was designed to be built on a slab. I submitted my plans and after about two weeks they were approved.

Main entrance facing south so the stairs and deck get the sun during the winter.

Back door side on the north side.

View from the road.


Looks great Ron!  Great pics.
Glad to see you making progress even with all the "help" from our government officials.  It sounds like you have kept your cool - in my experience you have play the game but be firm at the same time.  It' s a dance-frustrating as hell but worth the effort.
Keep at it - really looking forward to seeing your progress.
All the best-

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.
Abraham Lincoln


Before you make a decision, are you 100% positive that you have exhausted all possible options?

From what I have seen regarding the law, you can build there, but you need to take every possible step to limit the impact.


It sounds like if you can prove there is no other option, they can't stop you from building.

Also keep in mind that we have a new(and I think better) administration in Wisconsin.  Some letters to some officials may go a long way, especially since they aren't owned by extreme environmentalists anymore.

One last option, have they disclosed to you what exactly makes your land "wetlands?"  Sometimes it is something as simple as a plant.  PM me to continue this portion of the discussion further.

Edit-One other thought, have you talked to them about the possibility of a holding tank, instead of a septic tank?  It is very common for these to be used in wet areas.  It sounds like they are intentionally not giving you all of your options.  Unless you show them the law, and show them you know your rights, they will be of little help.


Thanks Skagdrifter!

Lots more to come! I have had to bite my lip with government officials several times. I know it's well worth it in the long run. I hope to be hunting out of the place this fall.

Question to anyone: I have will have metal sofits installed under the eaves. Is there anything that I can install to keep the bugs from crawling in the sofit openings and up into the roof underneath the insulation. We have a huge problem with japanese beetles in the area. I know I won't be able to keep all the bugs out. Any suggestions would be appreciated.




Thanks for the info. I've been through that whole thing with the DNR agent. I even found documentation that stated if your project falls under 1/10 of an acre no dnr permit is needed. I even brought that to his attention. His reply was that it didn't apply to my situation. ( I questioned why not in my head.).

I even had the dnr and the Army Corp of Engineers agents do a soil test. They verified and showed me the oxygenated soil, therefore declaring it a wetland. Not far from where we are, I saw on another piece of property that they put in a rubble road thru a wet spot area for vehicles. Basically fist size rocks that allow the water to run thru them not impeding the flow. I even asked about that but the dnr guy said no. I really thing some of the rules are very subjective to the agent involved.

I know about the new and improved DNR they are touting now. I just don't know if I want to stir up the waters. I got permitted to build, so maybe I should just keep my mouth shut and move forward. I just don't know.  I'll pm you.



The fact is, the agent has to follow the law.  Period.  If you can show that it is under 1/10th of an acre, they have no choice, NR103 does not apply.  Start documenting everything.  If it were me, I would send them a letter, stating that the agent said NR103 applies, and that you need in writing why that is the case.  I suspect you won't hear from them, unless they have legal grounds.

Regarding the driveway, take pictures of the neighbors driveway, document how you intend to do the same when it comes to a driveway, and apply to do the same thing.  If it is denied, have them provide in writing why.

I'm not a lawyer, but the law seems pretty clear, for things to be denied, there needs to be another alternative.  Ask for that alternative, and not building isn't a legal alternative.

If I were you, I would stir up the waters.  This isn't any special kind of law, requiring a special lawyer.  Do what you can for yourself first, get the denials in writing and turn them over to your attorney for his legal analysis.  If they won't provide a denial in writing, it is likely because they have no grounds.  You probably won't even need to go to court.  Many times, a phone call to the officer from the attorney will be enough.  I have heard of lawyers writing letters for $100, and that may also be enough.  They may just grant permission to keep it out of court, as a judgement against them could have HUGE ramifications.

If you compromise, you will always wonder if there is more you could have done.  At the very least, I would try the letter.  It may be the best $100 you ever spend, and if it doesn't work, you can know that you tried.

Disclaimer:all this legal talk makes me think I should include one.  I am not a lawyer, and this is just my opinion based on my personal experience.  The advise above is worth what was paid for it:)


flippin WI DNR, and they wonder why i moved out.

my wife worked ten years for.one of the top land zoning attorneys in WI, he now practices part time and teaches at UWM. i have stories i am sure you dont want to hear.

but when you need it i csn give ya his name. chances are you WILL need it. if you can afford it, thats how dnr likes to win they just outspend you



Thanks for the cheery news!  Can you send me his contact info in a PM please. I'd like to have the info. I'm here in Milwaukee so I could even buy him lunch!



Many moons ago, I think there was a Federal program to create ponds on farm land.  I wonder if it still exists?  You could get the fed rules to trump DNR, build a pond, add trout, and create habitat for waterfowl.  It also might be useful to "dry the surrounding land.


Yeah I asked about that program. It's no longer available. They have decided it wasn't working anymore.



Looking forward to following your build.  We have 9  acres near Spooner and hope to build in a few years.
Home: Minneapolis, MN area.  Land: (no cabin yet) Spooner, WI area.  Plan: 20x34 1 1/2 Story. Experience Level: n00b. 
Build Thread: http://countryplans.com/smf/index.php?topic=10784.0


Hey DucanShannon!

How have you been? Did you find out out if you have any wetland issues?

Keep the faith, I bought the property in 06 and didn't get the chance to build till now. It will happen.



What can I put in the sofits to keep the bugs from crawling into the roofing insulation. My metal sofits have air vents with large holes.

We have a huge japanese beetle problem. I don't want them to crawl into the sofits and then up into the roof.

Any suggestions?  Help?


Are you sure they will fit through the soffit vent holes?  I haven't had an issue with them yet, as the holes seem small enough to keep them out.

If you are concerned, I wonder if screen under the soffits would keep them out.  You will also want screen in your ridge vent to keep them from coming in there.

Another option would be a ventless roof, using spray foam insulation.  It's more expensive, but efficient.


I'm not sure about the size of the vent holes. I will be heading up the property next weekend. I'll have to check it out.


At the end of last October, we had the slab poured, just before it got to cold. They did a 7 bag mixed with the acelerants to help cure in cold weather. Finally I felt we were making some progress.

Forms set and ready to pour.

Foam and mesh in place prior to the pour.

With the silt fence in place.

Cement truck on the parking pad. This truck they mix the cement right on site in the truck. You only pay
for what is mixed. So there is no additional cost for excess cement. I don't remember what kind of truck they
said it was.

Since the ground was soft the truck could not drive up to the site. It would have left ruts or got stuck.
So the poor souls had to wheel barrow it from the parking pad to the forms. That looked like a good work out!

The gas powered screed was pretty cool. I've never seen one before.

Finished pour. Slab size is 20x24.

Bolts in place.

The concrete guy said that they would cover it with thermal blankets overnight to keep from freezing
and help keep the heat in to cure the mix.

Alan Gage