By Howard Meyerson
Campers who like rustic state forest campgrounds will have a few more choices in 2014. State officials are planning to reopen at least four of 12 that were closed in 2009 due to budget constraints. It’s an idea they began talking about earlier this year – and a welcome indication that things are improving for the state’s rustic campground program.
“We’ve had requests from the public to open them,” said Anna Sylvester the DNR’s northern Michigan field operations section chief for Parks and Recreation division.
“They (the four) don’t bring in a lot of money, but they also don’t require a lot of money to run them. We have a population who likes to use them.”
“No sweeter words…,” the saying goes. The 2009 closures were followed by an attempt to close 23 more in 2011. The program had long been underfunded and neglected. It was low-hanging fruit when budget cuts had to be made.
But the 2011 closure effort ran into stiff headwinds in the state legislature and the idea was dumped by then DNR director, Rodney Stokes, who called for more creative ways to run the program, including finding others to manage its parts and pieces.
BIG CHANGES CLEARED THE PATH FOR SUCCESS
Both events also occurred before money from the state’s then new recreation passport began flowing into the financially strapped program which was then shifted from DNR’s forest, mineral and fire management division to the DNR’s parks and recreation program, where it has received more attention.
The four campgrounds that are slated to reopen include: Muskrat Lake in Oscoda County, Twin Lakes in Cheboygan County, Lake Marjory in Otsego County and Thunder Bay River in Alpena County. None is very large, which is part of the charm of state forest campgrounds. They are less crowded and noisy than state park campgrounds and more typically attract tent campers or those with small RVs, providing only a place to park, tent pad, picnic table, fire-ring, outhouse and pumped water.
Thunder Bay River State Forest Campground has 10 sites located along Thunder Bay River. There is good fishing there for panfish, bass and northern pike. It’s not far from the popular Norway Ridge Pathway which offers seven miles of hiking. The 1.5 mile Wah-Wah-Tas-See Trail onsite can be accessed by foot or mountain bike. The campground is also canoe-accessible for those who are paddling the Thunder Bay River.
Sylvester said it will now be operated by an Alpena-based private concessionaire who took it on this past summer as an experiment.
Muskrat Lake State Forest Campground has 13 campsites. It will cater to the off-road-vehicle crowd. The lake has good fishing for panfish, pike and bass. The campground also provides direct trail access to 25-miles of motorcycle and ATV trail along with 12-miles of trail for full-sized ORVs. The push to reopen it came from the off-road community.
“There aren’t many campgrounds dedicated to ORVs which is one reason to reopen it,” Sylvester said. “There are a lot of trails in that area.”
Twin Lakes State Forest Campground has 12 campsites. It too offers good fishing for bass, bluegill, splake and pike. Good hiking is found six miles away on the state’s Black Mountain 30-mile pathway complex. Those trails are open for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing and horseback riding. There is also a 1.3 mile barrier-free paved trail through the forest.
Twin Lakes is being reopened by popular demand, according to Sylvester.
Lake Marjory State Forest Campground has 10 campsites. It is located on top of a bluff overlooking the lake. The campground is just a few minutes from Otsego Lake State Park. It is being reopened with the idea of it taking overflow from the state park when it is full. The lake there has bass and panfish. Other good fishing is found nearby.
Once those four are open, campers will have 132 rustic state forest campgrounds to choose from across the state. A complete list can be found online at: Michigan.gov/dnr. Click Camping and Recreation, then State Forest Campgrounds and Dispersed Camping down in the left column.
There are others too that may be reopened next year. Sylvester said DNR staffers are working through an internal process to determine their status.
A likely candidate is: The Forks State Forest Campground on the Boardman River in Grand Traverse County. It has eight campsites and offers good brown trout fishing on the river. The 11.5 mile Muncie Lake Pathway is located nearby. That pathway is open for hiking, biking and cross-country skiing.
“It is primarily a canoeing and fishing campground, but there is a real demand for it,” Sylvester said.
Other possibilities include: Big Oaks State Forest Campground in Montmorency County and Cedar River State Forest Campground in Menominee County. Both would be opened as equestrian camps.
“We hope to open Big Oaks next summer,” Sylvester said. “And we are trying to get a rule change so that horses can be unloaded from trailers at Cedar River. We want to make it more user-friendly for equestrians. The goal is to have that done by next May.”
And a worthy goal it is. The current effort to reopen the closed campgrounds is good to see. It says the agency is now clearly listening to the people it serves and the state forest camping program is finally getting the attention it deserves.
This column appears on MLIVE/OUTDOORS.