Abstract Marshes and swamps covered nearly 1400 square miles in central Wisconsin. In turn they were exploited for fur trapping, lumbering, gathering of wild hay and moss, and cranberry growing, but none of these activities supported a large population. In the first 20 years of the twentieth century, about 700 square miles were organized into drainage districts and over 600 farmers moved in. Drainage was a costly failure and by 1930 almost all farmers had departed. Much of the land reverted to public ownership and its wildlife attracted hunters, fisherman and other visitors. At first they came for short vacations in summer. In the 1950s some began to build permanent houses.' Gradually, wildlife habitats were displaced by commercial recreational facilities and solitude was lost. This article chronicles actions taken by successive occupants in changing the marshlands and examines reasons for the failure of settlement.