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The mother duck led her little ducklings, obediently in single file, over the shallow water and through the beds of weeds whose tips had broken the surface.

I surmised she was heading for Mermaid Island, a frequent hang-out for waterfowl, no doubt good feeding territory in the shallow water. Someone has to keep that snail population under control.

But she stopped suddenly, and it was easy to see why. A couple of personal watercraft riders pulled up to the rock pile to do whatever personal watercraft riders like to do in a foot of water out in the middle of Little Lake Wissota. Indeed, waterfowl are not the only creatures who like to hang out there.

Mermaid Island, for those not familiar with the reference, is basically a pile of rocks not far from what was once Hunt’s Pay Beach.

An American flag on a short stick is placed on the rock pile in the early spring (by whom, I do not know) and it serves as a signal to boaters not familiar with the lake that you’d best not be tearing full speed in that direction, as you’ll quickly run out of water long before you get to the bay.

Many years ago, when the lake was much younger, Mermaid Island actually was an island, or so I’ve been told. The sandbar extended above the surface, and so naturally became a popular spot for boaters to beach their crafts and frolic in the shallow water around it, much like they do at what’s left of Wissota Island on the big lake today.

Alas, the natural forces of the waves and the unnatural forces of the constant pounding from boat wakes eventually eroded the sandbar until nothing remained over the surface except the rock pile that was placed there as a marker. It’s as if an island that has long since passed away has its own gravestone.

The name comes from the legend of the mermaid statue that someone placed on the rock pile years ago. It was promptly stolen and hasn’t been seen since.

A new mermaid has appeared recently – a small doll attached to the flagpole. You have to get pretty close to see it. Please do not disturb. Other items have shown up on the island over the years. Including, last year, a sign warning motorists to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk. The sign no doubt strolled over on its own from County X near Ray’s Beach.

Despite being reduced to a rock pile, Mermaid Island is still a gathering spot on the lake, and throughout the open water season you can observe the different ways the lake is used by keeping an eye on the island.

The waters around it are a popular spot for musky fishermen. I only dabble in musky fishing and I have caught three there in my life. Waters nearby, where the weeds are not yet over the surface, can be good spots for walleye, bass and panfish, depending on the time of year, but you’re likely to find more catfish than anything else.

Early-morning kayakers, canoeists and paddle-boarders make their way there. The water is suited to their shallow-running craft.

But on weekends, the pleasure boaters dominate.

The personal watercraft riders and boaters pulling people on skis or tubes are smart enough not to venture into the shallow water a high speed, but they sometimes take a break there. Pontoons are often seen at the island, with kids jumping off the sides into the shallows. That activity surprises me somewhat. With the number of waterfowl and seagulls that hang out there through most of the week, I suspect it’s not the cleanest water in the lake to be swimming in. Someone should take a bacteria reading out there sometime.

The island is not for any one particular user group. They all take their turns, and that includes the wildlife, who are my personal favorite among the island users. The waterfowl and seagulls share it with turtles, who like to sun themselves on the rocks.

I have not seen otters out there, but I know they swim in the adjacent Mermaid Bay, and would be surprised if the island is not part of their fishing territory.

I did not stick around to see, but I hope the personal watercraft riders did not stay at the island long and gave the mamma duck and her ducklings a turn.

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