Campgrounds eye busy summer
ESCANABA — Coming off a successful and jam-packed Memorial Day weekend, campgrounds in the Delta County area are gearing up for the influx of families that stay at their facilities during the summer months. With the regular school year coming to a close, road traffic is expected to increase as people seek refuge and relaxation in outdoor recreation and activities. Rory Mattson, CEO of the Delta County Conservation District, expects campgrounds to be busy this summer.
“Now that we are fully-operational after COVID shut us down two years ago, we have seen more people coming out to camp especially when the weather is nice,” Mattson said. “Holidays, like the 4th of July, are pretty much fully booked at this point. Most weekends fill up pretty fast as well.”
Both Pioneer Trail Park and O.B. Fuller Park, located in Gladstone and just of M-35 in Bark River, respectively, are managed by Mattson. As the Upper Peninsula is typically a drive-in destination for most summer travelers, the two campgrounds house mostly locals and people from bordering states during the summer months. The demographic, however, varies with the season.
“We have annual campers, who will rent a spot from mid-May all the way to mid-October. Otherwise, we see more families with children during the warm summer months as they get out of school,” Mattson said. “When it gets towards late August and early September, older people make up a majority of the campers because there is cooler weather, mosquitos are going away, and kids are heading back to school.”
New to both Pioneer Trail and Fuller Parks are a set of 11 rustic cabins, five at Pioneer Trail and six at Fuller. These cabins, which are set to be fully operational mid-June, contain a coach, chair, and indoor picnic table. Campers have the option of staying in a cabin with a master bedroom and carpeted loft or a master bedroom containing both a double-sized mattress and bunkbed. Due to their rustic nature, these cabins do not have running water, electricity, or a heating source. However, they have a front deck providing a view of the surrounding waters.
“The rustic cabins at Pioneer Trail Park sit just above the Escanaba River, so you can see the water from the front porch. It is really nice,” Mattson said. “The ones at Fuller Park are on a great hemlock ridge overlooking Lake Michigan. We originally had them sitting closer to the water, but with the rising lake levels we changed our minds.”
These cabins, which require campers to bring their own bedding, pillows, and other camping supplies, provide a secure place for those to stay who may not own a camper or tent. Campers staying at Pioneer Trail Park are also treated to a number of outdoor amenities, including a ball field, playground, and a 24-hole disc golf course.
As for other camping spots in Delta County, an area near Rapid River Falls Park will be transformed into an ORV/ATV campground with 25 sites. This new location is right next to the only legal crossing for these vehicles on the highway, situated on US-41 between Rapid River and Marquette.
“That new campground will be a nice place for people to stop and stay as they travel around the U.P. on their ORVs and ATVs,” Mattson said.
J.W. Wells State Park, located 30 miles south of Escanaba on M-35, is bouncing off of a successful Memorial Day weekend as well.
“Memorial Day weekend was really great. All reservable sports were full, with some local spots staying open due to the little bit of rain we received,” Ian Diffenderfer, park supervisor at Wells State Park, said. “It was a great way to start off the summer camping season. Holidays tend to book up really fast here, with people reserving their spots six months in advance.”
Wells State Park houses several reservable and walk-in campsites, along with picnic areas and hiking trails that campers can utilize. While the park sits upon three miles of accessible shoreline, rising water levels have damaged certain areas of the campground in the form of shoreline erosion. Last fall, the campground received erosion control work all along its lakeshore. Some areas, however, are projected to be under construction until early July.
“More recently we have been working on improving 11 of our lakeshore sites. They have flooded in the past, so we are trying to work them up so they are more accessible to campers and have a better view of the lake,” Diffenderfer said. “We are looking forward to finishing those because they will be really nice for the campers.”
Wells State Park also offers a number of programs for families, especially children, to enjoy during their stay. The park plans to host the “Library Bookmobile,” a free library managed by the Menominee County Library, this summer. The Bookmobile will be parked at the campground every Saturday, with volunteers reading books to children, setting them up with library cards, and even giving out books for kids to read. The park will also be welcoming back it’s Explorer Program this summer.
“We will have our Explorer Guide this year every weekend. She is pretty gung-ho and excited to plan activities for kids and parents to participate in,” Diffenderfer said.
Gladstone Bay Campground, located on the 100 block of Michigan Ave., offers lakeside views for those hauling trailers or seeking tent sites during the summer season. Despite its remote location, the campground greets visitors from all around the globe.
“We always get people from all over the country, but we also get a lot of people from overseas,” Jay Pepin, manager and host of the Gladstone Bay Campground, said. “We have had people from Sweden, Denmark, Germany, China, and Japan. It is really cool when they do come because you get to chat with them and they just love it up here.”
With last year being a “banner year” for the campground, with attendance up 30% in comparison to the average 5% gain, Pepin anticipates this year not living up to the last for many reasons. In particular, gas prices and economic tribulations may have an effect on those traveling long-distances to stay at the campground.
“I am concerned about the gas prices, and I expect I will get more cancellations than normal,” Pepin said. “But it is what it is. If everyone shows up that is reserved, it will be a pretty normal season.”
Gladstone Bay Campground has several plans in the making in terms of additions and improving existing facilities. The campground, which relies on the City of Gladstone for its operation, is awaiting city approval before starting any projects. On the agenda, however, is completely redoing the boardwalk that was wiped out with rising lake levels, along with building a pavilion near their swimming beach area.
“We have always considered our campground to be very family-oriented. We never have problems with noise or people being up late at night,” Pepin said. “You would be amazed at how by 11 o’clock at night its like someone shut the lights out, which is nice. We take pride in that.”
All four of these parks host special events throughout their summer season. In particular, the parks host Halloween events in September. Pioneer Trail and Fuller Park’s annual Halloween Spooktacular will be held on September 17 for all registered campers. The highlight of the event is a campsite decoration contest, in which the most elaborate and finest looking campsites compete for prizes.
Gladstone Bay Campground will be hosting its annual “Boo Bash” on September 9 and 10 this year. With the whole campground decorated for Halloween, kids will parade throughout the park in their costumes before ending the night trick-or-treating. Parents are given a night of celebration as well.
“We will have a local band, the Jam Band, come down on Friday night and entertain. We call that adult night,” Pepin said. “Saturday night is dedicated to the kids, and they absolutely love it.”
Wells State Park will be hosting their Halloween Spooktacular on September 23 and 24 this year, which currently entails a costume parade, arts and crafts, and trick-or-treating. Campers are encouraged to bring decorations for their campsites as well.
“We are looking forward to welcome people [to Wells State Park] this summer and can’t wait for people to enjoy what we have to offer here at the park,” Diffenderfer said. “The swim buoys are in and ready to go, although most people are pretty reluctant to swim right now.”