Feud over Maple Bluff Pier heads to court

Lake Mendota

MAPLE BLUFF, Wis.– Families have counted on a path to get to Lake Mendota for nearly a century, even though they don’t live on the shoreline itself. That path is still open, but the pier about 100 homeowners enjoyed is gone and might never come back.

For Chris and Trish Cain, Lake Mendota offers a nearby place to make memories.

“Just sitting on the pier. I love fishing with my nephew. It’s just good fun,” Trish said.

The Cains’ Maple Bluff home isn’t actually on the water. They walk two minutes through what’s called Outlot D to get to a community pier.

The founders of Maple Bluff created Outlot D in 1929. The land was granted a right of way, which allows people to pass over land owned by someone else. The right of way is written into the deeds of nearly 100 homes in the neighborhood.

“I felt like ‘Wow, this is a wonderful thing to have, because we are not living on the lake,'” Trish said, referring to the right of way passage being an influential decision when buying her home.

In 2018, Outlot D went into foreclosure after years of unpaid real estate taxes.

Robert Dunn bought the property in an auction and asked families who used the pier to remove their belongings. Dunn’s attorney said he didn’t get a response.

Dunn said he had only heard from the Cains and another family in the lawsuit, the Drewes, on the matter; both argued that they had the right to have a pier on Outlot D.

Dunn said that wasn’t the case and removed part of the community pier; neighbors eventually took the rest.

“That’s when we had offered to just sit down with him neighbor to neighbor,” Chris said. “When he filed the suit against us we had no choice but to defend ourselves.”

Dunn told News 3 Now via email his intention by filing a lawsuit is to uphold the right of way interests, but that he wants a clear and absolute definition of these rights recorded with the Dane County Registrar of Deeds.

“Once we get a definitive ruling on the right of way it will forever resolve these matters,” Dunn wrote.

The judge is expected to determine whether the right of way grants the ability to place a pier in the water.

“Since we have a rocky shore here, it’s always been interpreted as the right to have a pier. So, there’s always been a pier there,” said Jon Axelrod, the Cains’ attorney.

Dunn said otherwise, arguing right of way doesn’t give people the right to use the shoreline the way a property owner can.

“Fortunately, the Village owns and operates a very nice marina for the benefit of all residents of Maple Bluff so everyone has equal access to piers and boats on Lake Mendota,” Dunn wrote.

Dunn’s attorney Michael Green said a right of way does not grant riparian rights, adding those rights are reserved for the landowner.

The Cains hope they can keep their path to the lake without having to go through court.

“This is a small community,” Chris said. “We’re neighbors at the end of the day, and the fact that we got dragged into a lawsuit we think is sort of perplexing when it didn’t need to happen.”

Axelrod said he reached out to Dunn’s attorneys again late this week hoping to settle this without going to court, but had not heard back yet.