Big changes could be ahead for Goat Island

HARTINGTON — Cedar County residents and others may soon be headed to an island in the Missouri River just north of Brooky Bottom in northern Cedar County.

The island is known as Goat Island to many Cedar County residents.

Goat Island, approximately four miles long in the channel of the Missouri River that divides Nebraska and South Dakota, may officially become a recreation area.

The portion of the Missouri River that surrounds the island is “wild” in appearance. The river at this location has not been channelized and even though it is below Gavins Point Dam, it is much like the river Lewis and Clark would have encountered on their expedition in 1804-1806. 

The land is currently under the management of the Federal Bureau of Land Management but may soon become the property of the National Park Service, Missouri National Recreational River.

Milton J. Haar, with the National Park Service, recently provided an update on Goat Island to the Cedar County commissioners.

“We hope to provide another recreational experience in this area,” Haar said. “It would be open to the public. It will be a nice place for people who are out kayaking on the river. There could be routes for walkers and opportunities for bird watching or camping. There are lots of deer and other wild life out there.”

The National Park Service would like to provide an improved recreational experience while protecting the natural and cultural resources of the island.

Input from the counties and the state will be gathered and then meetings will be held with the public. The first meeting is scheduled for May 31, although the date could still be changed.

Public meetings will be held to determine how the property will be managed, according to Haar. 

“The National Park Service seeks to partner with willing agencies for management support for Goat Island. We would like to have one of the commissioners from Cedar County be involved with the planning,” Haar said. “We want to have a plan in place by the end of 2018. Lots of things have to be determined and stakeholder input is vital to the success of the planning process.”

How would people be able to use the island? Hunting issues would need to be addressed. Law enforcement may occasionally be needed on the island.

The goal of the planning process is to find management strategies that all parties can agree on for the island.

Some weed management work will be started on the island this summer. The island is becoming overrun with red-cedar trees.

The only way to get to Goat Island would be by boat or canoe.

“It looks like there would be no other access to the island,” Haar said.

Access to the Goat Island from Cedar County would probably come from the Brooky Bottom boat ramp, according to Commissioner Terry Pinkelman. 

“There is erosion at the end of the ramp,” Pinkelman said. “We could use some assistance with this project. I just applied for a permit to do work on this.”

The size of the island is just over 800 acres, which includes 168 acres in accretion/sand. The length of the island is 3.6 river miles.

The close to four-mile island, which is part of the 59-mile District of the Missouri National Recreational River, has a storied past.

The island is also known as Jakes Island by some of the local residents. A Vermillion attorney, Jack Jaquith, had raised watermelons and goats on the island.  At one time, Jaquith produced a deed indicating the island was given to him by an Indian Chief. When Jaquith died, the island was abandoned.

Others have also claimed ownership of the island through the years.

Over 20 years ago signs were posted on Goat Island declaring it was the property of the “Robert A. Suddick Trust of Omaha, Nebraska”. The signs were gone within a couple of hours as local people tore them down. Suddick, an Omaha businessman, and a group of hunters obtained a quick-claim deed to the island and were hoping to get a legal declaration showing they owned the property. A couple of the hunters died and the interested in the claim faded according to Suddick.

The latest claimant to Goat Island was Glenn Foster, a farmer in the Newcastle area. Foster had ferried cattle to the island for close to 25 years. He had used a primitive ferry built with 55-gallon drums, weathered wood and corrugated steel to transport about 70 cattle for summer grazing. The ferry was docked at a low point on the mostly high-banked island. It was said that Foster had built fences, dug a well and erected a windmill, the only traces of development on the island. Foster had tried to obtain a legal deed to Goat Island, but the Cedar County Board told him he would be responsible for paying 10 years of back property taxes. That made it unrealistic. That effort, may have led to a suggestion made in 1998, to have the Federal Bureau of Land Management/National Park Service take over the property.

Goat Island was surveyed by the Bureau of Land Management in 1999 and it was determined the island was in existence at the time South Dakota and Nebraska became states. As the island had not been surveyed at that time the land should be federal property. Nebraska did not object to the the findings, but South Dakota contested the findings. The protest remained unresolved until October 2016, when South Dakota withdrew its protest. The Bureau of Land Management then filed a notice in the Federal Register to establish ownership of the island.

The Bureau of Land Management administers more than 247.3 million acres of public lands in the United States which constitutes one-eighth of the land mass of the country. The mission of the Bureau of Land Management is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.