Walk Wisconsin coming June 5

Walk Wisconsin Marathon Registration Continues

STEVENS POINT, WI – Hundreds of walkers from throughout Wisconsin, along with their friends and family members, have already registered for the sixth annual Walk Wisconsin, the Midwest's premier walking event, taking place on Saturday, June 5, 2010.

The 26.2 mile marathon takes place on the southern half of the beautiful Green Circle Trail. Half-marathon (13.1 miles) and quarter-marathon (6.5 miles) routes along the northern segment of Green Circle are also part of the event. Training for each walk distance continues throughout the next several weeks. The registration fee for all three walking events increases from $25 to $35 on May 1st.

“The steering committee, volunteers and entire community is excited about June 5th, when the walking world focuses on Portage County,” says Brant Bergeron, Walk Wisconsin Committee member. “We encourage all interested walkers to keep training and register for this unique event before the end of May. Encourage family and friends to train and walk with you.”

The event has grown into a walking phenomenon. Since its inception in 2005, more than 8,000 participants have walked collectively more than 85,000 miles on the beautiful trails in and around Stevens Point. Events, programs and clubs have sprung up throughout the community and Walk Wisconsin itself has received notoriety in the New York Times, Walk Magazine and Silent Sports Magazine.

Participants receive a commemorative T-shirt, gifts, comfort and nutrition stops along the way, a finish line celebration and medallion, plus hometown hospitality all day long. The per-person registration fee is $35 (after May 1st). Registration deadline is June 1st. For more information or registration forms, call 715.344.2556 or go to www.walkwisconsin.com.

Kid’s Walk Wisconsin, with 1.3 or 2.6 mile walks, will also be held on Saturday, June 5th. For more information on this event, log on to www.walkwisconsin.com.

For camping in Wisconsin State Parks, click here. For a good website for privately-owned RV campgrounds in Wisconsin, visit Wisconsin Campgrounds.

RV Checklists

Mark Polk, my favorite RV guru, offers a handy dandy e-book of checklists titled, oddly enough, "The Original Checklists for RVers." If you're like me, first of all God help you. But if you're like me, then you too need a checklist for winterizing, spring cleaning, packing, etc.

This e-book, which is series of pdf pages you download after making the $12.95 purchase, is a 4th edition electronic E-book with 90 pages consisting of 40 RV Checklists covering all aspects of RVing.

Mark Polk, of RV Education 101 fame (website, Facebook, books, dvds), has compiled all the checklists an RVer will ever need, all in one place. Applicable for pop-ups, travel trailers, fifth wheels and motorhomes, to use from the time you purchase your RV until you store it for winter and everything in between.

It includes checklists for Pre-delivery Inspections, Basic Inventory, Tools & Supplies, Getting There Safely, Campground Set-up, Pre-Trip, Home Security, Dinghy Towing, Essential Items, Nice to Have Items, Traveling with Pets, Awning Operation, Winterizing & De-winterizing your RV, Storing your RV, Battery Testing Chart, Spring Prep, and much more.

I consider this a must-have for every RVer. And, of course, take Mark's checklists and use them as a basis to customize your own checklist. Because the little yapping dog of yours might need a special dog food that Mark probably doesn't know about.

Become a Facebook friend of Camping World

Camping World, our favorite RV store, wants us all to be their Facebook friends. Why, you may be asking, would I want to do that? Well, I'll tell you!

As a Facebook friend of Camping World (CW):

- Learn of weekly offers available only to CW's Facebook friends;

- Be able to ask product and service questions and have them answered by CW reps;

- You want more? What else is there? Isn't that reason enough?

Seriously, take a look at CW's Facebook page. It's a decent way to interact with the store as well as other RVers. And getting to know about some pretty decent deals isn't all that bad either.

And, just so you know, this was not a paid endorsement. Although, if anyone from CW is reading this, I can be bought. :)

Free admission to Indiana State Parks May 2

Get your carload of family and friends in the gate of any Indiana state park, lake or state forest at no charge on Sunday, May 2, as part of the annual Welcome Back Weekend, the traditional lid-lifter of the spring recreation season.

"This is a great time to visit a DNR property," said Ginger Murphy, assistant director for stewardship in the DNR Division of State Parks and Reservoirs. "It's a chance for people who've never visited or haven't visited recently to discover a state treasure and save a few dollars at the same time."

For a complete list of Welcome Back Weekend activities, see http://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/5882.htm.

Even veteran park-goers will notice something new or updated at most properties. Each winter, State Parks and Reservoirs staff members spend many hours making improvements to campsites, trails, restrooms, interpretive centers and other facilities. This year there are new exhibits at McCormick's Creek State Park's nature center, restroom facility improvements in several locations, a new park office at Versailles State Park, additional mountain bike trails at Harmonie and O'Bannon Woods state parks, and trail improvements. More are listed at www.stateparks.IN.gov.

"We hope people will like what they see and buy a $36 Annual Entrance Pass ($18 for ages 65 and older), which will get their carload through any entrance gate for the rest of 2010."

Normal weekend gate fees for most properties are $5 per day for an in-state vehicle and $7 per day for an out-of-state vehicle. During the week, most fees are $4 for in-state and $7 for out-of-state. All other fees will be in effect during Welcome Back Weekend. The only thing waived is the daily entrance normally charged for any car, truck, bicycle or pedestrian on May 2. The entrance fee for Historic Prophetstown at Prophetstown State Park remains in effect.

On a personal note, we have stayed at Pokagon State Park in Angola, Indiana and have truly enjoyed our time there. It was one of those "get the whole RVing family together" camping trips and our experience was, as usual, full of good times and great food.

Pokagon is a large, sprawling park full of terrific trails, lakes and other outdoor recreational opportunities. Bring your bikes! Features: 200 electric sites, 73 non-electric; some sites more level than others. Also, the Potawatomi Inn is available for your non-RV friends (as if someone would have such friends). The photo above is of one of the guest rooms.

7 Motorhome Maintenance Mistakes

Here's some great advice from Mark Polk, motorhome and motor coach maintenance expert and owner of RV Education 101 (website, videos, books, Facebook and Twitter).

There are so many things to maintain on a motorhome, sometimes we overlook the simplest maintenance requirements. As the old saying goes, you can’t see the forest for the trees. But simple oversights can result in costly repair bills to correct the problem.

Let’s look at my top 7 motorhome owner maintenance mishaps.

1. Checking and adding air when the tires are hot
I see this all the time, people checking their tire pressure when the tires are hot. You should always check and inflate tires when the tires are cold, before traveling more than one mile. Hot air expands and will give you a false reading. If the tires are already hot, wait several hours before checking and adjusting inflation pressure.

2. Neglecting to check the water level in batteries, periodically
Eighty-five percent of lead acid batteries manufactured in the United States die before they should. One of the leading causes of battery failure is overcharging the battery. Overcharging a battery results in severe water loss and plate corrosion. This is a common problem with motorhomes.

The RV converter has a built-in battery charger. Many RV owners are under the impression that if you leave the RV plugged in when the RV is in storage, the converter will keep the batteries topped off. While keeping batteries topped off is extremely important, the problem is that many, but not all, RV converter chargers provide a constant charge of about 13.5 volts. This is too high for fully charged batteries, and the electrolyte is boiled off, which results in an early death for the batteries. There have been advances in converter charger technology, thought. Many of today’s converter chargers are three-stage chargers that will prevent batteries from overcharging.

Another problem is that during times of high battery usage and recharging, the electrolyte is boiled off. Periodically checking and adjusting the water level in the batteries can save and extend the life expectancy of the battery. When you add water, use mineral-free water. Distilled water is best, and only fill the battery cell to 1/8-inch below the vent well.

3. Not rinsing and flushing the black water holding tank after you empty it
The only way to get a long service-free life from the RV black water holding tank is to rinse and flush the tank after you empty it. Some RVs have a built-in system for flushing the black water tank, but many don’t. If your RV doesn’t have a built-in flushing system there are aftermarket products, such as tank cleaning wands and reverse flush valves, that will assist in keeping your black water tank clean, clog-free and odor-free.

4. Not performing pre-departure checks
I think nearly every motorhome owner, at one time or another, has learned this valuable lesson. Pre-departure checks or a final walk-around before leaving can save you costly repair bills. Common RV repairs relating to this are repairs to the steps, TV antenna, awnings and power cords. Take a minute to walk around the RV, and look on top and underneath the motorhome before heading out.

5. Not periodically inspecting your motorhome for water damage
Water leaks on a motorhome can cause extensive damage and can be costly to repair. To protect your investment and your wallet, take the time to inspect your RV for water leaks. The outside of your motorhome may look fine, but the internal damage caused by water over a period of time can result in the entire roof, floor or wall rotting away without you even knowing it, until it’s too late.

To prevent a leak before it starts, thoroughly inspect all roof and body seams, sealants and around any openings cut in the motorhome roof or sidewalls. Reseal any seams or sealants that show signs of cracking or separation. Consult your RV owner’s manual for inspection intervals and for the type of sealants compatible with different types of materials.

6. Not performing routine safety checks
It’s not uncommon for a motorhome to sit in storage for periods of time. If dry-cell batteries aren’t removed from devices like smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, these devices won’t work when you need them. By simply getting in a habit of checking the smoke, CO, and LP-gas leak detectors prior to each trip you can prevent this from happening. Follow the testing instructions found in the owner’s manual or on the device itself. If you remove dry-cell batteries during storage remember to reinstall them next spring.

Also, get in a habit of inspecting the fire extinguisher before each trip. Look to see if the arrow is pointing in the green area in the sight gauge. If it reads empty or needs charging replace it or have it recharged immediately. If it’s a dry powder type fire extinguisher the arrow pointing in the green doesn’t always guarantee that it will work. Every month you should turn dry powder extinguishers upside down, tap on the bottom of the extinguisher and shake it so the powder that settled on the bottom is released. Make sure you know how to operate the fire extinguishe, too.

A simple pre-trip checklist can serve as a reminder to test all safety devices prior to leaving on a trip.

7. Not maintaining the RV water system
The potable water system in your motorhome requires some routine maintenance to keep it trouble free. Something I’ve run into quite often is the complaint that there is a stale odor coming from the RV water system. When you return from a trip and you’re not going to use the RV for a while, drain the entire water system to prevent it from getting stale and musty. You should drain the water heater, low-point water drains and the fresh water holding tank.

Caution: Never drain the water heater tank when it is hot or under pressure. With the drains still open you can turn the water pump on for a moment to help force any remaining water out of the system. Do not let the pump continue to run once the water stops draining. Close all of the drains.

If by accident you forget to drain the water system and you get that notorious stale odor, all is not lost. You just need to sanitize the water system. Start by draining all of the old water out of the system, and then close all of the drains. Take a quarter cup of household bleach for every 15 gallons of water that your fresh water tank holds. Mix the bleach into a 1-gallon container and pour it into the fresh water holding tank. Fill the fresh water tank completely full of water. Turn the water pump on, open all hot and cold faucets and run the water until you smell the bleach at each faucet. Close the faucets and let it sit for about 12 hours. Drain the entire system and refill the fresh water tank with potable water. Open all of the faucets and run the water until you no longer smell any bleach.

It may be necessary to repeat this process to eliminate all signs of bleach from the water system. Once this is done it is safe to use your water system. It’s also a good idea to use a water filter at campgrounds and to keep bottled water on hand for drinking.

If you don’t feel comfortable performing any of these steps you should take your motorhome to an authorized RV service center to have the maintenance performed.

Coming Soon: Spring Maintenance

Last spring my Uncle and I greased the wheel bearings on our campers. This spring it's my dad's turn to do that wonderfully messy job on his camper.

There's a number of other things we plan on doing, besides the normal cleaning out the water lines, washing the inside and out, etc. One of those is to finish with the rock guard mod. The exterior might need some re-caulking, but the inside is where it needs some work. It's not much, and I'll post something on this project later.

But it got me to thinking: what are some of the things others are planning on doing to their campers this spring to get them ready for the camping season?

As you can see from the photo, I've made a lot of mods to my RV.

Just kidding.

Oakland County (Mich) Parks campgrounds open May 21

Addison Oaks and Groveland Oaks county parks, located in Oakland County, Michigan, will open for camping on May 21. The campgrounds are open seven days through fall.

“Camping is a great opportunity for families to share time together and to enjoy the great outdoors,” Parks Supervisor Boyd Brokenshaw said. “Memorial weekend at the campgrounds is an exciting time to camp. Campers can enjoy live music, crafts, mobile recreation and more. Themed weekends continue throughout the season.”

Both parks offer cabins, modern and group sites; as well as trails, fishing, swimming and bike rentals. Addison Oaks offers 7.5 miles of marked mountain bike and hiking trails, a 2.5-mile paved trail and a 24-hole disc golf course. Groveland Oaks features a giant waterslide, 18-hole mini golf course, skate park and one-mile paved hiking trail.

Telephone reservations are now accepted for 48 select sites at each park, plus five- and six-person cabins. Reservations must include, at a minimum, both Friday and Saturday nights.

Addison Oaks County Park is located at 1480 West Romeo Road in Leonard.

Groveland Oaks County Park is located at 14555 Dixie Highway in Holly.

On Aug. 3, 2010, Oakland County voters will be asked to vote on the renewal of a 10-year millage of .2415 for the purpose of operating, maintaining, improving and acquiring parks and recreation areas and facilities in Oakland County.

To make a camping reservation, call 248-693-2432. For campground maps and recreation program details, visit DestinationOakland.com

Birders & Campers

The Biggest Week in American Birding, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Oak Harbor, May 6 - 16 (NW)
Visit the Warbler Capital of the World at the National Wildlife Refuge during peak spring migration. This jam-packed event offers birding enthusiasts guided bird walks and bus tours, bird identification workshops, boat trips to birding hot-spots and songbird banding demos. Don't miss evening talks and programs throughout the event by Kenn Kaufman, a celebrity in the birding world.

For campers, I highly recommend nearby Maumee Bay State Park. It's easily one of our most favorite campgrounds; we stay there several times throughout the season. Maumee Bay offers extremely large sites, paved pads and privacy beyond belief. Wide buffer zones of overgrown vegetation separate the sites, and each backs up to either lakes, ponds or forest. Sites 99-101 are our favorites but you can't go wrong with any of them. Clean bathrooms and hiking/biking trails, too!

PaddlePalooza! Ohio Outdoors Expo, April 30-May 1

With an increasing number of people enjoying the Ohio’s waterways, trails and campgrounds, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) is promoting outdoor recreational opportunities at PaddlePalooza—Ohio’s Outdoors Expo. The event is open April 30 from 4-8 p.m. and May 1, 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. at the Ohio Expo Center's Lausche Building, on the Ohio State Fairgrounds in Columbus.

Visit www.paddlepalozza.net for show information.

Kayaking, canoeing, camping, hiking and biking enthusiasts from across the state will converge at PaddlePalooza, which will feature displays from ODNR’s Division of Watercraft and Ohio State Parks, located at booths 512-515. ODNR staff will be on hand to promote Ohio’s great trails, paddling and camping opportunities.

As an added convenience for event goers who purchase a canoe or kayak at the show, the Division of Watercraft is offering on-site sales of watercraft registrations and alternative registration at their PaddlePalooza booth.

PaddlePalooza will also feature an indoor kayak demonstration pool and certified instructors from Columbus Outdoor Pursuits and a number of ongoing seminars on subjects including car-topping equipment and techniques, rigging kayaks for fishing, selecting the right mountain bike or camping tent, and new product introductions and reviews.

Exhibits will feature the latest in canoes, kayaks and paddle gear, mountain bikes, camping equipment from local retailers. Canoe rental liveries and guides will share what they have to offer Ohioans seeking an outdoor water adventure. A number of local paddling, hiking and biking clubs will be on hand to answer outdoor-related questions.

Admission to PaddlePalooza is $10 for adults; $5 for children age 16 and younger; kids under age 5 admitted free of charge. Discount coupons will be available at select local outdoor retailers. Visit www.paddlepalooza.net for more information.

Visit the ODNR web site at www.ohiodnr.com for additional information on outdoors recreation programs and facilities.

Major mods and rock guards

What is it about camper mods? Why can't we just leave well enough alone? Why do we need to take something that's perfectly fine the way it is - or at the very least perfectly useable - and adjust it, tweak it, add to it, take from it, replace it, strengthen it, loosen it ...

You get the idea.

But, most of the time we modify our RVs out of necessity.

Like last spring, when my buddy and I installed a stainless steel rock guard on the front of my 2000 Trail-Lite B22 Bantam hybrid. I had no intention of installing a rock guard, but then the glue started failing along the bottom seam that attached the front panel to the floor, so something had to be done.

Sure, I could have simply bought more glue and applied it to the seam. Then, a year or two from now, I would have needed to do it again.

No, something more substantial was needed. So I got a piece of stainless steel, about 8 feet by 4 feet - wide enough to cover from side-to-side and long enough to start just under the bed end, follow the front curve down to the seam, then wrap under the camper another foot or so.

A machine shop applied the curve to the metal and the fold to fit along the bottom seam. Elbow grease drilled holes along the top and bottom, ran stainless steel carriage bolts from the outside in, and lock nuts kept them in place. A healthy dose of silicone made it watertight and acted as a bonding agent. As soon as weather permits, I'll get some photos posted.

All in all, it took one afternoon, a case of beer and the help of a good friend.
And, we all agreed, the new rock guard will live longer than the camper.

Actually, it's no so much a rock guard as it is a permanent fix to a failing seam. But rock guard rolls off the tongue much easier when campground neighbors are asking about any mods I might have done to the RV.

Now, what else can I do ...

Michigan's Recreation Passport

The State of Michigan is betting the future of its state parks on the willingness of its residents to fork out $10 a year.

The $10 will buy each resident a Recreation Passport, and the program is Michigan's solution for funding our favorite recreation destinations. It begins October 1, 2010.

Instead of spending $24 for an annual motor vehicle permit or boating access permit, Michigan residents will now be asked to support the Recreation Passport with an optional $10 fee when renewing their vehicle registration with the Secretary of State. The license plate renewal sticker received from the Secretary of State will have a designation that indicates the Recreation Passport payment. If an individual purchases their Recreation Passport fee at the park, the park will provide an identifying sticker.

Camping fees will remain the same. Out of state visitors will still pay the $8 daily, or $29 annual fee for park and/or boating access site entrance. Michigan residents entering a park without the Recreation Passport designation will result in paying a Recreation Passport fee of up to $20 or could result in a $100 fine.

Officials are counting on residents opting to pay the $10, even if many of those same people will never take advantage of the benefits the Recreation Passport provides.

The alternative is unthinkable.

Since 2004, Michigan State Parks and Recreation Areas have received no state tax support and are primarily funded through user fees. The Recreation Passport legislation was created to prevent drastic cuts to park and forest programs.

For it to work, though, it will take the support of millions of residents.

The current system brings in $11 million.

But if just 25 percent of residents pay the $10 Recreation Passport, $18 million is generated. If there's 50 percent participation, $36 million is generated; $55 million for 75 percent participation and $72 million if every resident buys the Recreation Passport.

Over the past four years the state park budget has been reduced by $2.8 million each year. Permanent staffing of state parks has diminished nearly 15% since 2000 and Michigan is recognized nationally as operating one of the most efficient state park systems in the country.

Michigan has 98 state parks and recreation areas and maintains over 1,000 boating access sites. The park system is one of the largest in the nation, but, is tied for dead last in public funding support. The park system has been unable to keep up with infrastructure repairs and replacements and it is only a matter of time before the failure of a critical support system in a state park puts that park out of business.

The revenue generated by the Recreation Passport program will be split between state parks, state recreation areas, state forest campgrounds, state boating access sites, state non–motorized trails and pathways, and local parks for operation and infrastructure improvements and for cultural and historic resource protection at state parks. Officials say it will provide a stable funding source for many of Michigan's outdoor recreation facilities, allowing them to be maintained and operated for the enjoyment of current and future generations.

We campers will, of course, buy the Recreation Passport. But, please encourage your friends and family to do likewise. The future of our state parks depend on it.

Snowbirds are coming home

Anyone else notice all the RVs on northbound I-75? Snowbirds are coming home for the summer!

Towing with a minivan

This is our fourth year of owning an RV, although my extended family have been RVers for decades in motorhomes, 5th wheels, campers and pop-ups. Some were even full-timers for several years.

Our camper is a 2000 Trail Lite 22B Bantam - a hybrid - and we like it a lot. We bought it from General RV because it satisfied three basic requirements: 1.) it was able to sleep me, the wife and our three kids; 2.) it had a bathroom (my wife's one demand) and; 3.) it was light enough for our minivan to tow - barely. Although the minivan came equipped with a factory-installed tow package, and we used an Equal-I-Zer sway control and Prodigy brake controller, and on paper were within the weight specs, I was never comfortable with the set-up. With the standard V6 engine, I only drove about 65 mph. So, we took our time, plotted flat courses and, fortunately, never ran into any problems.

Originally we were looking at pop-ups. But the cost and weight of a pop-up with a bathroom were equal to that of the hybrid we purchased.

I'm happy to say last fall we upgraded our tow vehicle to a 2006 Trailblazer 4x2 EXT, so the days of white knuckle driving with the minivan are over. The Trailblazer has the big V8 engine and the higher rear axle gear ratio and, as you would expect, has double the tow capacity of the minivan. We took the camper out a few times with it last season and it towed effortlessly.

This season we already have a number of trips planned, including one to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky - something that never would have happened if we still were towing with the minivan.

The First Post!

So much pressure on creating your first post. What do you say? How do you say it? It needs to be interesting, yet informative. A little humor wouldn't hurt, but nothing offensive. Substance is important, but not too much where it's overwhelming.

Indeed, the first post sets the tone for the rest of the blog's life. Done well, the blog shall thrive. Done poorly, the blog limps along.

Which leads us to this: Thank you for the reading the first post of the Gr8LakesCamper blog. I promise it'll get better. :)