Cooler weather aids Duck Lake Fire suppression efforts

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources today reported that cooler temperatures Wednesday evening allowed the fire crews to make significant progress on the Duck Lake Fire in the Upper Peninsula’s Luce County. Most recent GPS data show the fire size at 21,458 acres with 57 percent containment.

According to a release, crews have constructed fireline across all of Division G in the southeast corner of the fire and roughly one-half of the fire’s west side. Saw crews also made headway in removing hazard trees.

The south end of the fire is 14 miles north of Newberry and 7 miles west from Tahquamenon Falls State Park campgrounds. The fire is long and narrow and stretches 11 miles to the north to Lake Superior. There are currently 40 miles of fireline. Of that fireline, 6 miles is Lake Superior shoreline, 13 miles is completed line (that includes County Road 500), and 21 miles is uncontained fireline. Access remains very difficult with few roads.

The latest estimate on structure loss is that there are 138 properties within the perimeter of the fire;
  • 138 sites have been inspected to this point, with one remaining that had no fire number. A total of 132 structures have been lost, with a breakdown as follows:
  • 46 homes/cabins
  • 23 garages
  • 35 sheds/outbuildings
  • 26 campers
  • 1 store
  • 1 motel

Landowners (including in-state and out-of-state residents) who have property located within the fireline should call 211 (Upper Peninsula residents) or 1-800-338-1119 (all others) to register their structure location and contact information. Officials do not have contact information for all properties within the fire perimeter, so it is very important that all landowners make contact. As the structure inventory and damage assessments are completed, the involved parties will be contacted and informed of the status of their property.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park’s Lower Falls campground and Upper Falls viewing area and visitor center reopened to the public Wednesday, May 30. Hiking trails on the north side of M-123, including the North Country Trail, will remain closed until further notice.

An evacuation order remains in effect for the area from Pike Lake east to County Road 500 and north to Little Lake Harbor.

Road closures include County Road 414 east from the intersection with County Road 410 and County Road 500 from M-123 north to Little Lake Harbor. Please do not enter the area. All road closures remain in effect until further notice. No road reopening schedule has been determined due to ongoing fire issues and aircraft suppression efforts.

Today’s incident objectives are to:
  • Provide for public and firefighter safety
  • Provide for structure protection
  • Fell snags around homes and along roads in Divisions A & B (northeast part of the fire)
  • Finish line construction toward division breaks
  • Identify hazard trees around structures and roads for saw crews
  • Continue getting GPS data on completed line in all divisions

Saw crews will work on felling hazard trees along the road between Pike Lake and Little Lake. Mop-up will continue in all divisions.

Earlier this week, one of the National Guard helicopters experienced a mechanical failure and lost its bucket in Bone Lake. Divers were able to recover the bucket on Wednesday.

Air operations will focus on structure protection and supporting fireline construction in the wet, inaccessible areas of the fire.

Warmer weather with mostly sunny skies is expected today. There was frost last night, and crews had to protect the pumps on their fire engines from freezing. Temperatures today are expected to be in the high 50s to low 60s. Minimum humidity is expected to be between 37 percent and 52 percent, with higher humidities closer to the lake shore. Winds have switched to northwest this morning, and should remain steady at 6 to 9 miles per hour into the evening, with gusts of 10 to 20 miles per hour.

Team effort
A total of 227 personnel – including 53 overhead personnel – are involved with fire suppression efforts. People, equipment and agencies fighting the fire include:
  • Four conservation officers and a sergeant are on duty around the clock
  • 17 DNR fire engines and 3 Wisconsin DNR fire engines
  • 10 Michigan DNR and 2 Wisconsin DNR bulldozers
  • 1 US Forest Service helicopter
  • 4 Michigan National Guard aircraft and ground support
  • Keweenaw Bay Indian Community hand crew
  • WIC #1 hand crew from Wisconsin

Cooperating agencies include the Michigan State Police, Luce County Sherriff’s Department, Red Cross, Michigan State Police Emergency Management, Luce County Emergency Management, Michigan National Guard, Wisconsin DNR, Minnesota DNR, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, and UPCAP (211).

Burning Ban in effect
On May 25, Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of disaster in Luce and Schoolcraft counties. The declaration permits authorities to evacuate residents, and establishes a fireworks ban in the two affected counties and an outdoor burning ban in 49 counties:

Alcona, Alger, Alpena, Antrim, Arenac, Baraga, Bay, Benzie, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Chippewa, Clare, Crawford, Delta, Dickinson, Emmet, Gladwin, Gogebic, Grand Traverse, Houghton, Iosco, Iron, Isabella, Kalkaska, Keweenaw, Lake, Leelanau, Luce, Mackinac, Manistee, Marquette, Mason, Mecosta, Menominee, Midland, Missaukee, Montmorency, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana, Ogemaw, Ontonagon, Osceola, Oscoda, Otsego, Presque Isle, Roscommon, Schoolcraft and Wexford.

The DNR strongly encourages all residents and visitors in all parts of the state to avoid open burning and use of any fireworks during this extremely high fire-danger season to minimize the possibility of more wildfires. For wildfire prevention tips, and for information on what is and is not permissible under the outdoor burning ban, visit www.michigan.gov/preventwildfires.

For more information 
For more information on the Duck Lake Fire situation, visit www.michigan.gov/dnr (where you can sign up for wildfire incident updates via email or text message) or follow www.twitter.com/michiganDNR, www.twitter.com/michiganDNR_UP or www.facebook.com/miDNR.

Certain campfires are not prohibited in Michigan DNR burning ban

On Friday, May 25, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder ordered a ban on outdoor burning in 49 Michigan counties because of the extremely high wildfire danger that continues to threaten those portions of the state. The emergency ban will remain in effect until conditions change significantly to reduce the risk of fire, or until June 21, 2012. The counties where the ban is in effect are:

Alcona, Alger, Alpena, Antrim, Arenac, Baraga, Bay, Benzie, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Chippewa, Clare, Crawford, Delta, Dickinson, Emmet, Gladwin, Gogebic, Grand Traverse, Houghton, Iosco, Iron, Isabella, Kalkaska, Keweenaw, Lake, Leelanau, Luce, Mackinac, Manistee, Marquette, Mason, Mecosta, Menominee, Midland, Missaukee, Montmorency, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana, Ogemaw, Ontonagon, Osceola, Oscoda, Otsego, Presque Isle, Roscommon, Schoolcraft, and Wexford.

The ban prohibits the following acts on or adjacent to forest lands:
  • The burning of any flammable material, including refuse, brush, stumps, rubbish, grass, stubble, leaves, or crop residue.
  • The burning of debris in a burn barrel.
  • The burning of campfires, except those within permanently established metal or masonry containers or fire rings at authorized campgrounds. The ban does not prohibit campfires at places of habitation. Authorized campgrounds are those campgrounds with permanently established roads and campsites, which have designated locations for campfires. This includes state parks, as well as most private, county and township-operated campgrounds.
  • The smoking of a pipe, cigar and/or cigarette outdoors adjacent to forest lands, with the exception of places of habitation, authorized and improved campgrounds or in any automobile or truck.
The ban does not prohibit the use of charcoal grills or propane or liquid-fueled camping stoves. A violation of the burning ban is a misdemeanor. Anyone responsible for starting a wildfire is liable for the cost of suppressing the fire.

The DNR strongly encourages all residents and visitors in all parts of the state to avoid open burning and use of any fireworks during this extremely high fire-danger season, in order to minimize the possibility of more wildfires. For wildfire prevention tips, information and home protection ideas, visit www.michigan.gov/preventwildfires.

South Haven (MI) Family Campground to double in size in 2012

A major expansion is under way at South Haven Family Campground, meaning more family fun for West Michigan campers and outdoor recreationalists. The expansion nearly doubles the offerings and amenities at the campground, which sits on 50 acres just ¼ a mile from the Kal Haven Trail and 5.5 miles east of the sandy shores of Lake Michigan.

“We are so excited and yet overwhelmed with the growth this year,” said Susan Novotny, who owns the park with her husband, Kyle. They purchased the land in 1999, opening their main building in 2007 and the campground in 2008.

“We started to camp as a family when our oldest was six months old,” Susan said. “Now, our children – Katie and Kylie – are in college, yet we still share in the joy of camping together.”

Currently, the campground offers 37 sites, five cabins and one cottage, as well as a camp store, restroom facilities, dump station, laundry facilities, game room, “Triple K” Raceway and Camp “Grounds” Espresso Bar and CafĂ©.

The expansion will add 33 water and electric sites, three cabins, two park models, a 40x120 pavilion and pet park area. Special attractions will also include a jumping pillow, water-wars feature and several new bikes for campers to rent. All cabins are outfitted with Keurig coffee makers and a new security gate is also being installed.

Recently, Susan took time out of her day to answer a few questions from me via email.

1. You and your husband, Kyle, are avid campers, especially when your children were younger. How did this help prepare you for operating South Haven Family Campground?
It's funny really, it didn't! We would sit around a campfire and dream about owning one, what we would do or not do. Well in some way camping did, we seen what others did at their campgrounds and what we liked or did not like. But in the overall operation it did not. Running a campground is alot of work and we currently work full time jobs on the side. Now with this expansion I am going down to on-call. We jokingly say now, running a campground takes the fun out of camping.

2. The RV and camping industry is finally coming out of one of the most difficult economic times ever. Is South Haven Family Campground also experiencing this rebound, and is this what led you to undertake the expansion project?
We started in 2008, in the height of the $4/gal gas. We have nothing to compare to. We have always seen an increase but we only had 26 sites (2008) to begin with.

3. The expansion project will add 33 water and electric sites, three cabins, two park models, a 40x120 pavilion and pet park area. Special attractions will also include a jumping pillow, water-wars feature and several new bikes for campers to rent. What led you to decide on the specific components of the plan?
We turn a lot of cabins and RV site reservation away, so that was a natural choice. The pavilion was  something that alot of groups ask for so they can have potlucks, meetings at, etc. We also have been working out of our maintenance garage for all of our crafts and activities. A pavilion was desperately needed. Since we can not afford a pool yet (next year) we wanted to have something that kids could enjoy and that was a much cheaper alternative.

4. What other amenities does South Haven Family Campground have to offer? What are some attractions of South Haven and the surrounding area?
We offer a Mining Sleuth, Volleyball, Horseshoes, Carpetball, Large Playground and Rec room. Each weekend is themed and offer activities within that theme. We also have a new  activity this year, I can't tell you as we have a guessing game on facebook. The first person  that figures it out will get FREE camping. The clue that is given out is that it is wet and it is round. We will be doing this activity for about 1 hour on Saturdays. We have rental bikes and we also have a  large outside track that battery operated cars go on (purchased or rented).

South Haven is a great touristy town, great shops and restaurants in downtown. There are several museums  that are available, my favorite is the Maritime Museum. There are many farms in the area for in season fruit, as well as many wineries that have tastings and tours. South Haven also offers the rainy day the option of bowling or movies. Many championship golf courses as well as mini golf for the youngsters. Horseback riding is a favorite to many of my campground guests. There is a national level road race track just a mile from the campground. My overall favorite it Lake Michigan (only 5 miles away) and the beautiful beaches that one can stand on the boardwalk or fish off the river. Not to mention the beautiful sunsets!

5. Final question. Many of us RVers and campers always envision how we might do things better if we owned a campground. As prepared as you might have been when opening South Haven Family Campground, there inevitably must have been certain surprises along the way. What are some of the pleasant surprises of operating a campground?
The #1 surprise was the friendships along the way. The good people we meet. After the first year in business I told my husband, when doing the business plan and trying to follow it along the way... No where did it talk about the people. That was the most welcoming and surprising aspect of owning a campground. You develop many friendships, Christmas Cards are sent, maybe a birth or a death along the way. Truly our guests end up being more like family.

About South Haven Family Campground
Renting cabins at South Haven Family Campground start at $64 per night up to $159 per night, depending on the amenities. Two of the cabins have outdoor hot tubs, which means they usually are rented first.

Families enjoy unlimited activities at South Haven Family Campground, with themed weekends – including the September 28 Halloween Spooktacular and the “Everything Chocolate” Weekend with a chocolate slip-n-slide, chocolate pudding wrestling, chocolate milk guzzling (out of a baby bottle) and other planned activities. Craft projects and events like outdoor movies, are also offered throughout the summer.

South Haven Family Campground is open April 15 through October 30 each year. It has been one of the “A” rated parks for the fourth year in a row for customer service on GuestRated.com. Only 44 parks nationwide were given this honor in 2011.

Upper Peninsula Duck Lake Fire update: Tahquamenon Falls State Park reopens; landowners contacted

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources today offered this update on the Duck Lake Fire in the Upper Peninsula’s Luce County.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park, which had been closed due to danger posed by the fire, will reopen Wednesday, May 30, 2012. The Upper Falls Viewing Area, Lower Falls Campground, and Visitor Center will open to the public. The hiking trails north of M-123, including the North Country Trail, will remain closed.

The fire is now estimated to be 21,450 acres in size. The fire made some runs yesterday, and additional GPS data became available that resulted in the upward revision of the fire size. The fire is 55 percent contained.

Visit this website to watch a Michigan DNR video of the Duck Lake fire.

Rain fell on the fire late this afternoon. There is a continuing chance for thunderstorms through late evening, with a chance of rain showers through the night. Temperatures are expected to drop into the low 40s, with maximum humidity of 100 percent. Winds are expected to be out of the west at 5-10 mph, shifting to the southwest at 7-12 mph by midnight. Gusty and erratic winds are expected near thunderstorms though late evening.

As of this afternoon, all of the landowners for whom we have contact information and whose structures have been assessed have been contacted. We expect to complete the structure assessment on Wednesday, May 30.

Landowners who have structures within the fire perimeter and who have not contacted us are urged to call either 211 (Upper Peninsula residents) and 1-800-338-1119 (all others). Please have your fire number and road name when you call. Landowners who have property located within the fire line may call the same numbers in order to register to be escorted back in to view their properties.

There will not be any escorted site visits to individuals who do not own property within the fire line. The highest priority will be given to the individuals who own permanent residences within the fire line. Site visits will depend upon fire conditions and operations at the time.

The latest estimate is that there are 134 properties within the perimeter of the fire. Ninety-nine properties have been inspected. Inspections are ongoing, and the entire fire area has not been inventoried. Of the 99 properties inspected, 39 properties have suffered losses. On the 39 properties that suffered losses – some with multiple structures -- 97 structures were destroyed. The structure losses breakdown as follows:
  • 34 homes/cabins
  • 22 garages
  • 22 sheds/outbuildings
  • 17 campers
  • 1 store
  • 1 motel

An evacuation order remains in effect for the area from Pike Lake east to County Road 500 and north to Little Lake Harbor. County Road 414 east from the intersection with County Road 410, and County Road 500 from M-123 north to Little Lake Harbor are closed. Please do not enter the area. The fire area and surrounding roads are also closed to ORV traffic.

All road closures remain in effect until further notice. No road reopening schedule has been determined due to ongoing fire issues and aircraft suppression efforts.

A total of 237 personnel – including 56 overhead personnel -- are involved with fire suppression efforts. People, equipment and agencies fighting the fire include:
  • Four DNR conservation officers and a sergeant are on duty around the clock.
  • Volunteer fire departments: Bay Mills, Germfask Township, Hendricks Township, Burt Township, Whitefish Township, Superior Township, Village of Newberry, and Kinross Township.
  • 18 DNR fire engines, 10 volunteer fire department engines, 1 VFD fire department water tanker, 3 Wisconsin DNR engines.
  • 10 Michigan DNR and 2 Wisconsin DNR bulldozers
  • 1 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service helicopter
  • 2 Minnesota DNR air tankers
  • 4 Michigan National Guard aircraft and ground support.
  • Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Hand Crew

Cooperating agencies include the Michigan State Police, Luce County Sherriff’s Department, Red Cross, Michigan State Police Emergency Management, Luce County Emergency Management, Michigan National Guard, Wisconsin DNR, Minnesota DNR, Chippewa County Sheriff Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, American Red Cross and Salvation Army.

A special note of thanks: The Duck Lake Fire staff and DNR would like to express their gratitude for the outpouring of support from Newberry, Luce County and the entire region. The numerous citizens lining the streets of Newberry to welcome the fire crews back after a long, hard day of fighting fire on the lines is very much appreciated.

The Bay Mills Indian Community donated a fish fry dinner with all the trimmings to the fire crews last night, and it was a huge hit. The community did a similar fish fry for the firefighters during the Sleeper Lake Fire in 2007, and all of the firefighters were hoping they would put on another one for this fire. The Duck Lake Fire Help Center has been providing snacks, clothing, and toiletry items to the firefighters out of the Youth Center across from the IGA Store in Newberry.

On May 25, Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of disaster in the Luce and Schoolcraft counties. The declaration permits authorities to evacuate residents, and establishes a fireworks ban in the two affected counties and an outdoor burning ban in 49 counties:

Alcona, Alger, Alpena, Antrim, Arenac, Baraga, Bay, Benzie, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Chippewa, Clare, Crawford, Delta, Dickinson, Emmet, Gladwin, Gogebic, Grand Traverse, Houghton, Iosco, Iron, Isabella, Kalkaska, Keweenaw, Lake, Leelanau, Luce, Mackinac, Manistee, Marquette, Mason, Mecosta, Menominee, Midland, Missaukee, Montmorency, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana, Ogemaw, Ontonagon, Osceola, Oscoda, Otsego, Presque Isle, Roscommon, Schoolcraft and Wexford.

The DNR strongly encourages all residents and visitors in all parts of the state to avoid open burning and use of any fireworks during this extremely high fire-danger season to minimize the possibility of more wildfires. For wildfire prevention tips, and for information on what is and is not permissible under the outdoor burning ban, visit www.michigan.gov/preventwildfires.

For more information on the Duck Lake Fire situation, visit www.michigan.gov/dnr (where you can sign up for wildfire incident updates via email or text message) or follow www.twitter.com/michiganDNR, www.twitter.com/michiganDNR_UP or www.facebook.com/miDNR.

RV Product: Blacktop 360 Party Hub

Author's note: I came across the Blacktop 360 grill and, if you're in the market for a new grill for your RV, this might be worth a look. It's design is quite unique, so I'd be curious if anyone has personal experience with this and what their thoughts are - good or bad.

The award-winning Blacktop 360 Party Hub grills, griddles, fries and more

The Blacktop 360 Party Hub Grill Fryer is the first portable outdoor cook top of its kind, allowing tailgater’s endless menu possibilities with one unit. The Party Hub Grill Fryer has four distinct, porcelain enamel cooking areas including the grill, griddle, warming plate and fryer, making it possible to make burgers and fries, chicken wings and poppers, and just about anything else all at the same time.

It also features an accessories rail that comes with a tool holder and cutting board. Serious BBQ-ers will love the 24,000 BTU’s of cooking power, infrared burner capable of 450-650+ degree temperatures, independent fry, grill and griddle controls, and generous 16oz. capacity deep fryer.

Foodies who love to cook, grill or fry will love the Party Hub’s patented multi-tasking, round cook top that maximizes the cooking surface and offers 11 cooking functions, including: grill, fry, griddle, warm, steam, wok/stir fry, boil, sautĂ©, sauce pan, searing and fondue.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. Foodies loves this cooking machine because it allows you to cook all day, from pancakes, eggs and bacon to burgers, fries and grilled veggies, and opens up menu options that were never available on a traditional grill by being able to do multiple things at once, like frying onion rings, fish tacos and even dessert!

The Party Hub Grill Fryer ($249) is available at the following retailers: Amazon.com, Home Depot.com, and Brookstone

For additional details: 

Key Features:
  • Deep Fryer, Infrared Grill, Griddle and integrated Warming Plate
  • Independent temperature controls
  • 24,000 BTUs total with three separate cooking functions
  • 650°F+ ceramic infrared grill burner
  • Super-durable double porcelain enamel cook surface
  • Portable with storage/carrying bag included
  • No assembly required

Details:
  • Stainless steel burner construction
  • Stainless steel and ceramic Infrared burner
  • Electronic pulse ignition (requires one AA battery—not included)
  • Optional hose attachment for 20 lb. propane tank
  • All-steel powder-coated and enameled folding frame
  • Insulated handles with integrated tool holders
  • Accessory rail for cutting board or additional equipment
  • Lid fits over grill, griddle or warming plate.
  • Cooking surface has a dedicated drain channel and supplied insulated oil holder
  • Rubber feet for stability and protection
  • Included accessories: Cutting board, slosh ring, thermometer, liquid catch bottle, three-position cover, storage/carrying bag

Dimensions:
  • Set-up unit measures 31W x 31L x 30.5H inches
  • Retail box 30W x 11L x 29.5H inches
  • Retail weight is 37 lbs.

Seek the “Grand” Outdoor Experience this summer in the Waterloo Region of Ontario

Waterloo, Ontario (in red)
WATERLOO REGION, Ont. – If you’re beginning to plan that perfect summer getaway for the whole family, the Waterloo Region is the destination of choice for the best outdoor summer fun with activities and attractions to please everyone.

“The nice thing about having your family vacation in the Waterloo Region is not only all of the fantastic outdoor activities available but how you can make it as slow paced or as jam packed as you want,” said Tracey Desjardins, General Manager, Waterloo Regional Tourism Marketing Corporation.

Camping at Bingemans puts the vacationing family right in the centre of all the fun with the Big Splash Waterpark just steps away for the kids and the Glen Ridge golf course a quick stroll for the adults. The campground is also situated on the Grand River, which winds through the Waterloo Region. Canoes and kayaks can also be rented for a leisurely paddle down the slow moving river to see a different side of the area.

“In addition to the wonderful natural vistas that canoers and kayakers will see on the river, we also have an extensive hiking and biking trail system for beginners or experts. The Waterloo Region may be known for its booming tech industry, but the region has a tremendous amount of natural beauty and green space to experience,” said Desjardins.

Chicopee Ski and Summer Resort offers a wide variety of summer activities including a single track trail network that runs through its 165 acre property for a total distance of 7km. In addition to the trails, Chicopee also features a variety of low rope, climbing wall and high rope features nestled in the woods overlooking Chicopee’s ponds.

Those looking to check out the more wild side of the outdoors should be sure to visit African Lion Safari, which has been a landmark tourist destination in the Waterloo Region for over 40 years. African Lion Safari will let you get right up close to wild animals from around the world. See lions, giraffes, cheetahs, rhinos and much more on the Safari Tour Bus or in your own vehicle.

If you’re looking to take a break from the outdoors but don’t want to miss out on more natural wonders, the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory is home to thousands of freely flying butterflies. The 25,000 square foot facility includes a 10,800 square foot indoor tropical garden featuring thousands of butterflies from all over the world, and over 100 different varieties of tropical plants, waterfalls, streams, reflecting pools, tropical finches, Chinese painted quail and red-eared slider turtles that all call the Conservatory home.

“Summertime in the Waterloo Region offers so many choices for families looking to get away from the city and connect with the outdoors. The great thing about the Region is that you can spend all day outside enjoying the sights, but spend the evenings enjoying the culinary and cultural offerings that the Region is known for,” said Desjardins.

Adding to the already flourishing cultural scene of the Waterloo Region is the newly announced 500-seat theatre facility which will begin construction in September in the historic neighbourhood of Galt. The Dunfield Theatre Cambridge will operate year-round and include Drayton Entertainment’s programming as well as myriad community events. The inaugural season is expected to launch in early 2013.

Finally, for anyone looking to add a little mystery to their Victoria Day weekend, stop by the 19th Annual K-W Spring-Summer Psychic Fair at Bingemans. From May 18th to 21st you can get your fortune revealed to you by one of the many psychic readers, mediums, seers or healers.

BOOK: 'Backyard Excursions; Great Lakes Edition' offers some great getaway advice and ideas

The 2012-13 edition of the popular Backyard Excursions Travel Ideas Regional Travel Guide is now available. It is an indispensable reference guide for planning “close to home” day trips, weekend getaways and family vacations with travel ideas throughout the Great Lakes states of Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin as well as Ontario, Canada.

“This issue promises to be the best issue to date. With so many interesting travel destinations you’ll need three summers to explore them all,” says Carol Heminger, publisher. “With gas prices well on their way to reaching and exceeding $4 per gallon by summer, everyone needs this guide. Who can afford long car rides to remote locations, and with all the wonderful destinations right here in our own Great Lakes region, we don’t have to.”

Now in its 9th year of publication, Backyard Excursions is the reference tool for parents, couples, seniors, teachers, travel planners and community group leaders—anyone looking for ideas for things to do and places to go “close to home.”

Complimentary copies of the guide are available for pickup at a variety of locations throughout the area including AAA offices, Welcome Centers, libraries, museums, restaurants and many more. The publication can also be requested online at www.backyardexcursions.com or by calling 734-710-9271.

The guides are also available to groups and organizations in larger quantities. To have larger quantities shipped, call the publisher at 734-710-9271. The guides are free but there is a small fee to cover shipping costs.

“We are finding that many organizations are requesting cases of the books for distribution to their membership,” says Heminger. “Just recently we delivered a number of cases to the Detroit Public School System for use by parents of children with autism.”

The popular “Information Request Card” is again included in this issue. Readers can request FREE information from advertisers by simply filling out the form and dropping it in the mail, or by going to www.backyardexcursions.com. Requested information is sent directly from the destination to the reader at no charge to the requester.

The popularity of the visitor guide is evident. “The feedback from our readers has been amazing,” says Heminger, “People just love this travel guide and many tell us they have saved every issue.”

As a compliment to the publication, the ever-expanding Backyard Excursions website (www.backyardexcursions.com) offers readers an expanded festival and events calendar, which is updated with new information daily. Visitors will also find more travel ideas and travel information, as well as signing to receive emails full of travel ideas and events.

Ohio Tourism industry continues growth in 2011

Lorain, Ohio lighthouse
Tourism in Ohio reaches $40 billion in total sales, tops pre-recession level

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Ohio Office of Tourism earlier this month announced that Ohio's tourism economy grew 6.5 percent in 2011 and generated $40 billion in total sales, up from $38 billion in 2010, according to research conducted on behalf of the Ohio Office of Tourism.

Tourism last year generated $2.7 billion in taxes for Ohio - $1.6 billion in state taxes and $1.1 billion in local taxes. This growth in sales helped increase tourism employment to 443,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs with an associated income of $10.6 billion, an increase of 4,000 jobs over 2010.

"About 1 in every 11.5 jobs or 8.7 percent of Ohio's jobs in 2011 were sustained by Ohio's tourism industry," said Amir Eylon, State Tourism Director. "Tourism is a resilient industry with the ability to quickly add new jobs to meet increased demand, which has put it at the forefront of economic recovery."

Total visitation to and within Ohio grew to more than 180 million visits in 2011, up from an estimated 179 million visits in 2010.

"These results reinforce the strength of Ohio's tourism industry as an economic driver for our state," said Christiane Schmenk, Director of the Ohio Department of Development. "We are pleased that travelers continue to take advantage of our state's resources and experience Ohio."

More than 36 million visitors who traveled to Ohio in 2011 stayed overnight, an increase of 5 percent from 2010.

"This is a good indicator that Ohio tourism has returned to pre-recession levels and represents very good news for our industry since Ohio's average overnight visitor outspends day travelers by three to one," Eylon said.

'Wetland Warriors' help repair flooded Illinois boardwalk

Courtesy of the Illinois DNR
“Wetland Warriors” students from Creal Springs celebrate project they helped make possible
Section 8 Woods Nature Preserve Boardwalk Repair Project Dedicated


CYPRESS, IL – Officials from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), the Cache River Wetlands Joint Venture Partnership, and volunteers from the Friends of the Cache River Watershed joined Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon and students from Creal Springs School’s “Wetland Warriors” program earlier this month to celebrate the reopening of the Section 8 Woods Nature Preserve Boardwalk at the Cache River State Natural Area in southern Illinois.

The Section 8 Woods Nature Preserve wooden boardwalk, located 3.5 miles south of Cypress, Illinois on Ill. Rt. 37, was damaged by flooding in 2008 and 2011. In 2008, up to eight feet of flood water caused the boardwalk to be lifted out of the ground, resulting in extensive damage along its entire 475-foot length.

A repair project initiated by the IDNR, Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, Friends of the Cache, and Southern Illinois Audubon Society last year was completed with financial support from those partners and the “Wetland Warriors” at Creal Springs School. The students committed $15,000 in funding for the project from a $20,000 grant they received last year as a grand prize from the Disney Planet Challenge program for their wetland research and stewardship work in the Cache River watershed.

“Thanks to these students and our partners here in the Cache River basin, the repairs to the Section 8 Woods accessible boardwalk can be celebrated today,” said IDNR Director Marc Miller. “We all have been thrilled and inspired by the Creal Springs students’ commitment to research and to understanding the importance of protection and stewardship of the Cache River Wetlands.”

The Section 8 Woods Nature Preserve includes cypress-tupelo swamp and a floodplain forest. The boardwalk ends with a view of the state-champion water tupelo tree. The boardwalk provides an accessible, barrier-free trail that offers visitors the opportunity to experience a cypress-tupelo swamp on the Cache River.

The dedication of the repair project, which was completed last fall, was held in conjunction with the annual Cache River Nature Fest scheduled for Sat., May 12 from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Henry Barkhausen Wetlands Center. For more information on the festival, go online to http://www.cacherivernaturefest.org/

For more information on the Cache River State Natural Area: http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/parks/R5/CACHERVR.HTM

Fishing fever hits Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Author's note: The Michigan DNR is now writing a monthly feature column for the Houghton Daily Mining Gazette. They — and I — believe the topics will be of interest to you so I plan to share these columns on a regular basis. And for further proof that it is indeed a small world, I used to work at The Daily Mining Gazette a couple of decades(!) ago.

Word has it there’s something catchy going around these days. Reported symptoms include: Difficulty concentrating, rapid heartbeat, insomnia, obsessive/compulsive behavior, and an aversion to weekend yard work. The diagnosis: Fishing Fever has officially hit the Upper Peninsula.

With the trout season now open, and the walleye, pike, muskie and catch-and-release bass openers less than a week away, the month of May is full of reasons to get outside and enjoy the quality inland and Great Lakes fishing opportunities found in the U.P.

This year, anglers will once again notice DNR creel clerks visiting lakes and streams as part of the Statewide Angler Survey Program, a data collection process that helps fisheries biologists better manage recreational fisheries based on your experiences on the water.

Creel clerks will typically ask what species you were fishing for, how many fish were successfully landed, and how much time was spent fishing – an interaction that usually only takes a few minutes, tops. If an angler has a trophy fish or other notable specimen, the clerks may also ask to take measurements and scale samples for our records.

Although taking the time to answer these questions may not seem like a priority when you’re ready to head home for a fish fry, it’s important to keep in mind that those who spend a few minutes chatting with a creel clerk are providing valuable information that will directly contribute to future management of that fishery. So even if you got skunked, that’s something we want to know. And keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be a one-way street – DNR creel clerks are a great source of information if you’re curious as to where and when the fish are biting, so don’t be shy about asking a few questions of your own!

Another way for anglers to get involved with fisheries management in Michigan is to share their opinions about proposed fishing regulation changes that are currently on the table regarding the U.P. brook trout bag limit and the statewide regulations for northern pike and muskie.

A series of public meetings were recently held across the U.P. to introduce these proposals to the public and gain some preliminary feedback. But those meetings weren’t the only opportunity to share your opinion on the matter. Until May 25, you can also participate in surveys -- either online or by telephone -- that will help us gauge public support for the proposed changes.

To participate in the surveys and find details regarding each proposed change, go to www.michigan.gov/fishing. Be sure to click on each section (one each for brook trout, muskie and pike) to access the separate surveys for each respective species. Those who prefer to participate by phone can call 269-685-6851 to do so. Just remember, the surveys close on May 25, so don’t miss your chance to be a part of this policy-setting process!

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state's natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/dnr

Pennsylvania State Parks program caters to first-time campers

Are you interested in camping, but have never tried sleeping out under the stars before?

Or has it been several years (decades?) since you last went camping and are now itching to get back into it?

And would you happen to have never before camped at a Pennsylvania State Park?

If so, you're in luck.

Pennsylvania State Parks has teamed up with Gander Mountain to offer a great camping experience to first-time campers at participating parks.

For just $20, campers get two nights of camping at one of 20 participating parks, equipment rental and hands-on instruction on how to camp by state park expert campers.

This program is for people who have never camped in a Pennsylvania State Park before. If your name is in the reservation system database on a campsite you are NOT eligible for this program.

The following camping equipment is provided for your one-time use by Gander Mountain.
  • 1 Four person tent
  • 2 Sleeping pads
  • 1 Tarp
  • 2 Camp chairs
  • 1 Flashlight
  • 1 Lantern
  • 1 Camp stove
  • 4 Hotdog/Marshmallow cookers
While you won’t be able to keep the gear you’ll receive great discounts on everything you’re trying, plus more!

Participants are responsible for bringing their own food, cooking utensils and bedding. Here's a list of other camping items you're encouraged to bring to make your experience as enjoyable as possible.

VIDEO: Kodiak Travel Traveler on a Bosch Test Track




When you're in the market for an RV, among the considerations are its design and functionality — basically, will you enjoy it?

Another, and just as important, consideration ought to be durability — in other words, how long will it last?

For those of us who want our RV to last as long as we love it, here's a pretty neat little video of a Kodiak Travel Trailer by Dutchmen being put through the paces at the Bosch Automotive Proving Grounds.

VIDEO: Leveling, Securing & Stabilizing your RV by Mark Polk


Another video from my favorite RV expert, Mark Polk of RV Education 101.

In this RV how-to video Mark demonstrates how to level, secure and stabilize your RV when you set it up at the campground. All of the products used in this demonstration are by Valterra Products.

By the way, if you want to learn more about maintaining your RV from Mark Polk, take a look at his e-books. There's a wide selection of topics, all of which provide everything you need to know to fully understand that particular aspect of your RV. Plus, being an e-book, the information is immediately downloaded to your computer after your purchase. (Plus I get a little commission for each e-book sold through my blog.)

VIDEO: Discover Ohio's latest TV commerical


Just a quick 60-second commercial highlighting Ohio's popular tourist destinations.

BOOK: The Complete Guide To The National Park Lodges

I now have another book on my reading wish list: The Complete Guide To The National Park Lodges (GPP Travel, Seventh Edition, 2012).

According to the back cover, The Complete Guide To The National Park Lodges is "the only definitive and practical guide of its kind — covering all the lodges in America’s national parks, from luxurious inns to rustic cabins."

Authors David L. Scott and Kay W. Scott are national park experts who relate how to leave behind the hassles and headaches and make trip planning painless. Having visited nearly every national park area and lodge in America, they share their sage advice on how to choose a lodge that will best suit your taste and pocketbook. Each entry includes firsthand information about the property, including room rates, reservation phone numbers, exact location within the park, availability of food or meals, transportation details, facilities, activities, and detailed maps.

"The two of us have devoted six summers to visiting and staying in America's national park lodges," the Scotts said. "During our stays we walk the property, inspect the rooms, eat the food, and talk with the employees. We tell you about our favorite rooms and our favorite lodges. How to best make a reservation, tips to reduce expenses, and what to do once you arrive. Discover national park lodges that you didn't know existed. This book is the culmination of all our experiences visiting America's crown jewels."

Not only is this new edition thoroughly updated but it also features beautiful full-color photographs of the lodges and parks.

Kurt Repanshek recently discussed the book on the National Parks Traveler website, which is where I first heard of it as well.

"This edition should be part of any national park lover's personal library," Kurt said. "If you're going to be spending north of $100 a night for a room in a park, you definitely want to know what that lodge, and its rooms, are like."

I couldn't agree more. I'm ashamed to admit that I have hardly visited any of our national parks, but Yellowstone and the like are very, very high up on my RVing bucket list. When we do decide to go, we may or may not stay in one of the lodges. I've always wanted to stay in a national parks lodge, mainly because their majestic, rugged beauty is simply intoxicating. Ken Burns' series The National Parks, America's Best Idea, features dazzling images of these majestic structures, as do the various programs often seen on the Travel channel including one specifically on the best National Parks lodges.

But, back to the book.

Kurt says the book is a "solid, well-written, and informative resource that will prove invaluable to park visitors."

"As with past editions, the Scotts open this one with some things to keep in mind when considering where to spend the night," Kurt said. "For instance, they note that some lodge rooms don't have phones or televisions in them, some rooms require the use of a communal bathroom, and while it might be called a "lodge," the rooms might be unattached units that can appear both rustic or motelish.

"Also within the covers you'll find information on how best to go about reserving a room so your vacation is dictated by when you went to go, not when a room is available; details on pets; how to save some dollars (take the room without the bath), and; even information on Wi-Fi or cellphone access (it's spotty at best)."

All essential information for any National Parks traveler. When we finally do make our way to one of our more popular national parks, you can bet The Complete Guide To The National Park Lodges will be an integral part of our research.

FYI: If you decide to purchase the book, please go through the National Parks Traveler website. The folks there will get a small commission that way.

(Amazon.com description) The definitive guide to memorable stays in America's most beautiful places. Details and recommendations for each national park lodge by authors who have stayed in them. From Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park to Cedar Pass Lodge in Badlands National Park, this book offers information on making reservations, selecting rooms, and the facilities that are available at each property. The bible of national park lodges for travelers who appreciate rooms with a view.

Enjoy Michigan’s ‘Summer Free Fishing Weekend’ June 9-10





The annual Summer Free Fishing Weekend will be Saturday and Sunday, June 9-10, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has announced. On that weekend, everyone — residents and non-residents alike — can fish without a license, though all other fishing regulations still apply.

Since 1986, Michigan has annually celebrated the Summer Free Fishing Weekend as a way to promote awareness of the state’s vast aquatic resources and the sheer fun of fishing. With more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, 36,000 miles of rivers and 11,000 inland lakes, Michigan and fishing go hand in hand.

“This summer’s Free Fishing Weekend is a great way to get outdoors and experience some of the finest freshwater fishing in the world,” said DNR Director Rodney Stokes. “Fishing is such an affordable activity — anyone can pursue it — so get out this June and try it yourself, for free!”

To encourage involvement in Free Fishing Weekends, organized activities are being scheduled in communities across the state. These activities are coordinated by a variety of organizations including constituent groups, schools, local and state parks, businesses and others.

There’s still plenty of time for communities to plan their own Free Fishing Weekend events, or to find an activity occurring nearby. Visit www.michigan.gov/freefishing for all things related to this unique weekend, including help on event planning and promotion, a registration form for official events, and a chart identifying activity locations.

Great Wolf Lodge invests in Family Fun in 2012

New attractions and experiences added coast to coast

Great Wolf Resorts, Inc., North America’s largest family of indoor water park resorts, is adding a wide array of family fun attractions and experiences to its properties nationwide. From bowling experiences that are perfect for little hands, to the sweetest spa experiences around, Great Wolf Lodge has added something new at each of its resorts just in time for weekend getaways and summer travel planning.

“We’re delighted to introduce so many new amenities and attractions that help us continue to do what we do best – create family traditions, one family at a time,” said Tim Black, executive vice president of operations, Great Wolf Lodge. “We’re in the business of providing quality experiences for families, and brand-wide we have added exciting new experiences that our guests can enjoy together.”

Whether first time visitor, or repeat guest, Great Wolf Lodge seeks to exceed expectations at each of its premier properties. Beginning with over $4 million in renovations at the brand’s first two resorts in Wisconsin Dells, WI and Sandusky, OH, and extending to new activities and attractions at all locations, family-focused fun is the center of all that’s new at the Great Wolf Lodge nearest you.  

Ten Paw Alley Strikes with Fun 
Ten Paw Alley puts a family-spin on traditional bowling. The six lane alley complete with five pound balls and “no rental shoes allowed” policy is already a fan favorite at the Great Wolf Lodge properties in Pocono Mountains, PA; Mason, OH; Williamsburg, VA and Concord, NC.  

Howl at the Moon Glow Golf 
A walk in the woods glows at Great Wolf Lodge. At the resort in Pocono Mountains, PA no matter what the clock says, it’s always a good time for an evening stroll in the forest and this new glowing miniature golf experience is not your average shot in the dark.  

Scooops Kid Spa is an Ice Cream Dream in Sandusky, Ohio
A day of pampering has never been so delicious! Great Wolf Lodge in Sandusky, OH is getting ready to serve up flavorful fun with the addition of Scooops Kid Spa in June. Complete with giant banana split thrones for pedicures, ice cream-themed manicures and sherbet scrubs, Scooops Kid Spa is the perfect pampering treat for young girls. After all the activities in the waterpark, a visit to the Scooops Kid Spa is the perfect way to end the day.

Resort-wide, Scooops Kid Spa guests will have the chance to experience special one-on-one time with one of the resort’s lovable characters, Violet, during Social Hour. Pedicures and manicures are now much more fun with everyone’s favorite girly wolf, Violet, by your side!  

The MagiQuest Adventure Continues 
Already a Great Wolf Lodge favorite, MagiQuest, the interactive live-action, adventure game has begun a new chapter. Earlier this spring, MagiQuest opened to aspiring magi at the Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls, Canada. Now, the game has powered up at all Great Wolf Lodge resorts. Topper Powers have been added to MagiQuest wand toppers, giving players the ability to enhance their MagiQuest game experience. From unlocking new quests to causing a game-wide effect that impacts the entire kingdom, topper powers bring a new level of magic to the fun.

Topper Powers are just one part of the MagiQuest adventure for the Great Wolf Lodge resorts in Kansas City, KS, Concord, NC and Traverse City, MI. With the addition of Compass Quest at these resorts, players who have achieved “Master Magi” status can now take on new challenges and quests solving mysteries and slaying dragons.  

Northern Lights Arcade 
MagiQuest is not the only interactive gaming experience that guests can enjoy while at Great Wolf Lodge. The Northern Lights Arcade at each resort is getting a facelift, complete with many new games and prize-winning opportunities. The Great Wolf X Theatre and Lazer Frenzy attractions in Grapevine, TX, are new multi-participant experiences that are fun for the whole family, while the Williamsburg, VA resort is adding a Great Wolf XD Rider attraction experience and Oliver’s Time Challenge interactive game.  

The Great Wolf Kids Pack Expands 
Kids love the Great Wolf Lodge family of characters, and a new friend has joined the pack. Oliver Raccoon, who never leaves home without his gadgets and bug net, can be found throughout the resorts, exploring Cub Club, playing MagiQuest and hosting Story Time. Together with Wiley the Wolf and Violet, Oliver brings smiles and hugs to the resorts’ youngest guests each and every day.

Kids programs are a key part of the Great Wolf Lodge experience. As the Great Wolf Kids Pack continues to grow, so do the memorable and interactive experiences children can take part in during their stay. Great Wolf Kids trading cards have become treasured collectibles during meet and greets with the Great Wolf Lodge characters and new life-sized versions of the game “Memory” help entertain children as their parents check in. This summer, the resorts will debut original, branded stories and accompanying picture books. Each book stars Wiley the Wolf, Violet, Oliver Raccoon and their friends and will be read at Story Time. Families can then purchase the books to take home with them.  

Dining is a Howl 
Eating has never been such fun as Great Wolf Lodge continues to enhance its food offerings company-wide. A day of play at the Great Wolf Lodge water park can leave you “Hungry as a Wolf” and ready to dine in the new pizza parlor location in Mason, OH. Even treating yourself to ice cream and frozen yogurt is an interactive dining experience as seven properties add a unique dessert experience that allows guests to design their own treat and have it delivered by a robot.

Breakfast is no longer just for dining; it’s also a great time for photos and friends in Grapevine, TX with the debut of the Wake up with Wiley (and Friends) character breakfast buffet. Kicking off in mid-June, the dining experience will bring the Great Wolf Lodge characters together for a breakfast experience that is as delicious as it is fun.

Guests in Concord, NC and Sandusky, OH will dine and save all summer as children ages 10 and under eat free. Families staying at the resorts between Memorial Day and Labor Day can take advantage of the offer which features one free child breakfast or dinner buffet per adult buffet purchased at regular cost in the Loose Moose Cottage.

Guest Service Begins at Home 
With all of the new attractions and amenities inside the resorts, Great Wolf Lodge continues to focus on enhancements and features to assist guests before they even set foot in the lobby, and many are with the click of a mouse. Vacation planning has never been easier with the help of the fully interactive Great Wolf Lodge website, complete with online chat assistance, videos, discounts and special offers.

To help guests maximize their time at the resort, Great Wolf Lodge has introduced online check-in. Guests can now check-in from home on their personal computer, and then bypass the regular line at the front desk which helps the Great Wolf Lodge experience begin that much faster.  

Stories from “Behind the Howl” 
Behind the scenes stories are always favorites for brand fans, and Great Wolf Lodge now offers a peek inside the life of the resort online. “Behind The Howl", the official company blog launched earlier this spring and features exclusive news, tales written by Pack Members and stories about the Great Wolf experience. With frequent updates, fans can stay up to date on all that’s news at their favorite Great Wolf Lodge resort by reading the Great Wolf Lodge blog “Behind the Howl” at blog.greatwolf.com.

Mackinac Island's Mission Point Resort open for the season

Historic Mackinac Island resort offers a variety of travel packages

When it comes to spring and summer, few places are as beautiful as northern Michigan's Mackinac Island. And when it comes to enjoying Mackinac Island to the fullest, nothing can compare to Mission Point Resort, one of the island's largest and most diverse resorts.

Mission Point Resort, which opened for the season this past week, is offering a variety of season package opportunities for families and romantics looking for that perfect vacation getaway.

Leading the way this spring is the “Open Season Package”, which is available the first two weeks of the season May 11 – 24. This two-night package includes lodging, round trip ferry tickets, and breakfast each morning, one dinner at the Round Island Bar & Grill, and a two-hour bike rental for two. Package rates start at $125 per person.

If your looking for just the basics this spring, then the “Springtime Savings Package”, is the perfect getaway before school gets out. This package includes two-nights lodging, round trip ferry tickets, and breakfast each morning. Package price starts at $145.

One of the most popular summer packages for families is always the “Ultimate Family Getaway Package” which becomes available beginning June 15. This all-inclusive package, which starts at $315, is perfect for families to experience everything the historic island has to offer.

The family package includes two nights lodging, four round trip ferry tickets, four Tower Museum tickets, four Butterfly House tickets, four golf rounds at Greens of Mackinac, and four two-hour bike rentals. Daily breakfast and dinner is also included. Kids under 12 eat free and remember that Mission Point has great family rooms. Families with young children should also inquire about the resort’s “Kids Island Club,” a 3,000-square-foot indoor activity center where trained counselors ensure that each child is entertained and educated.

Mission Point Resort offers a variety of season long packages to experience all that Mackinac Island has to offer:

The “Pure Michigan Package” is the perfect package for families and couples to experience Mackinac Island. This two-night package includes lodging, breakfast, round trip ferry tickets, bike rentals, and tickets to Fort Mackinac. Package prices start at $140 per night.

If you are looking for a unique and affordable one-night romantic getaway with your spouse or friend then consider the “Island Romance Package”, which is a great opportunity to experience the peace and tranquility that Mackinac Island and Mission Point has to offer. This package starts at $175 per night and includes two-nights lodging, two breakfasts in the Round Island Grill, one dinner at Chianti, round trip ferry tickets, bike rentals, wine and cheese plate and a romantic package of strawberries and wine. Couples should be sure to inquire about upgrading to the newly renovated Lake View King Rooms, offering beautiful views of Lake Huron.

As seen on the SyFy’s Ghost Hunters, Mission Point and Mackinac Island might be home to some permanent guests. The popular “Ghost Hunter Package”, which starts at just $150 per person, includes two nights lodging, round trip ferry tickets, breakfast and a Haunts of Mackinac Ghost Tour.

Guests and families taking advantage of these season long packages will be able to enjoy the many resort amenities and activities Mission Point Resort is offering. Other Mackinac Island and resort activities to experience include group and private carriage tours, historic Fort Mackinac, biking around the island, shopping downtown, or just relaxing on the nearby shores of Lake Huron.

Mission Point Resort, the leading resort destination on the island for families, is looking forward to hosting families, kids, and adults of all ages this season. The resort is also pet-friendly, too!

About Mission Point Resort 
Mission Point Resort on Mackinac Island, Michigan, is the island’s largest and most diverse resort. It has 243 rooms and is nestled on the southeastern shore of Mackinac Island, overlooking Lake Huron. The 18-acre resorts features 38,000 square feet of meeting space, movie theater, executive putting course, observation tower and historic museum, four restaurants, heated outdoor pool, spa and fitness center and the Kids Island Club for children. It has been selected among the “Top 100 Family Resorts” by Outdoor magazine. ”Its season is from May through October.”

For more information about the season packages and to book your affordable spring getaway, go to www.missionpoint.com or call 1-800-833-7711.

Take a canoe trip this Sunday with author Doc Fletcher


Doc Fletcher, author of a handful of canoeing/kayaking books on Michigan and Wisconsin rivers, will be speaking at my local library this weekend. I hope I get the chance to listen to him again because he's an engaging speaker who's particularly good at taking his audience along with him on his canoeing adventures.

Doc will be speaking at 2 p.m., Sunday at the Bedford Branch Library, 8575 Jackman Rd., in Temperance, Michigan. About a stone's throw north of Toledo, Ohio.

The topic will undoubtedly be his new book, "Paddling Michigan's Hidden Beauty." He'll be selling and signing that book along with his other titles -- “Weekend Canoeing in Michigan: The Rivers, The Towns, The Taverns,” “Michigan Rivers Less Paddled: The Rivers, The Towns, The Taverns” and “Canoeing and Kayaking Wisconsin: The Rivers, The Towns, The Taverns” -- after his one-hour presentation.

If I can make it Sunday, this will be the second time that I'll have had the chance to sit in on one of Doc's presentations. Here's a link to the post I did last year on his visit.

Check out Doc’s website at www.canoeingmichiganrivers.com

Illinois DNR Newsbits for May 2012

Camping Reservations: Make your Illinois campsite and shelter reservations for many IDNR sites online through the Reserve America website at www.reserveamerica.com using a Visa or MasterCard. For more information, check the IDNR website at http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/programs/camping/camprsvp.htm 


Invasive Species Awareness: Governor Pat Quinn has issued a proclamation declaring May to be ‘Invasive Species Awareness Month’ in Illinois – asking all Illinoisans to learn about ways in which they can help combat the spread of animal and plant species that endanger the Illinois landscape. Examples of invasive species of concern in Illinois include autumn olive, garlic mustard and kudzu, as well as emerald ash borer, Asian carp, zebra mussels and feral hogs. Learn more by checking the website at http://www.dnr.state.il.us/orc/invasive_species.htm

National Trails Award to Illinois: The IDNR congratulates the Illinois Greenways and Trails Council for being selected by the National Association of State Park Directors as the winner of the Coalition for Recreational Trails’ Achievement Award for outstanding use of federal Recreational Trails Program (RTP) funds. The award will be presented at a reception in Washington D.C. on June 5. The Illinois Greenways and Trails Council is Illinois’ official RTP State Trails Advisory Board. Council members include all major statewide trail user organizations, including biking, equestrian, hiking, OHV, snowmobiling, mountain biking, and paddling. Statewide associations representing local agencies that acquire, develop, and manage trails also serve on the Council. The Council helped develop Illinois’ RTP priorities, grant project eligibility criteria, and grant project evaluation criteria. The efforts of this statewide coordinating council and grass-roots planning have fostered a problem-solving, results-oriented approach to trails in Illinois. For more information: http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/programs/Pages/GreenwaysandTrailsCouncil.aspx

Bike to Work: May is Bike to Work Month and May 18 is National Bike to Work Day. Go riding and enjoy the health and environmental benefits of biking to work.

Safety Reminder: Mushroom collectors and other visitors to Illinois state parks, fish and wildlife areas, and other IDNR-managed sites with spring turkey hunting programs are reminded that hunting areas are closed to activities other than turkey hunting from one-half hour before sunrise until 1 p.m. daily during the spring turkey season. The turkey hunting area restrictions are in place for the safety of site visitors and hunters. Spring turkey seasons conclude on May 10 in the South Zone and May 17 in the North Zone.

Free Fishing Days: The 2012 Illinois Free Fishing Days will be June 8-11. For more information on fishing in Illinois, click on: www.dnr.illinois.gov or www.ifishillinois.org.

Powerton Maintenance Closure: The Powerton Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area in Tazewell County will be closed on May 14, 15 and 16 for levee maintenance and repairs. No public access will be allowed during this time. Powerton Lake will reopen on May 17 at 6 a.m.

Wolf Creek Stables: The IDNR is seeking an individual to invest in and operate the horse riding stable concession located in Wolf Creek State Park, Windsor, IL. Interested parties should contact Lisa Wright, IDNR Concession and Lease Management, at 217-785-0759 or lisa.wright@Illinois.gov.

Wingshooting Clinics: The IDNR and participating partners sponsor wingshooting clinics at sites throughout Illinois to help improve the shooting skills of participants. Youth/Women's clinics are designed to teach participants basic firearm safety and the fundamentals of wingshooting. Hunter clinics are designed to enhance the wingshooting skills of hunters and provide sound wingshooting practice techniques. The clinics are conducted on weekends throughout the spring, summer and early fall. For a complete schedule, check the webpage at this link: http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/programs/wingshooting/WingshootingDates.htm

Sportsman’s Raffle: Tickets are available for the 2012 Illinois Conservation Foundation Sportsman’s Raffle. Tickets are $100 each and prizes – including a grand prize of up to $100,000 – will be presented at a drawing in Sangamon County on December 6, 2012. Additional “early bird” prizes will be awarded for tickets drawn in Sangamon County on June 7, August 2 and October 4, 2012. Proceeds from the raffle will support youth conservation education and outdoor recreation programs at the ICF Torstenson Family Youth Conservation Education Center in Pecatonica, IL. The raffle is being conducted in accordance with the Raffles Act. All business operations of the raffle take place exclusively in Sangamon County. Raffle tickets are available online at www.ilcf.org and by mail at: Illinois Conservation Foundation, One Natural Resources Way, Springfield, IL 62702-1271.

Volunteers: Interested in volunteering at an IDNR site or on an IDNR project? Sign up to be part of the IDNR Volunteer Network. See the IDNR website for more details at: http://www.dnr.state.il.us/volunteer/index.htm

Follow the IDNR: Keep up to date with events and information on outdoor recreation and natural resources in Illinois through IDNR postings on Facebook and Twitter. Just click on the Facebook and Twitter icons on the IDNR home page at www.dnr.illinois.gov.

Benzie County Kicks off Spring / Summer with 'Passport to Fun' Vacation Getaway running through Oct. 31

Lake Michigan beach at Frankfort (Travel Michigan photo)
The vacation getaway package includes over $175 of free fun activities, food and gifts

The Benzie, Michigan County Visitors Bureau – located in the heart of Northwest Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and with nearly 30 miles of Lake Michigan Shoreline along The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – is offering a fun vacation getaway package called "Passport to Fun" for Summer 2012.

“Passport to Fun” includes over $175 worth of free activities, food and gift items from various restaurants and businesses throughout the county for visitors who stay two or more consecutive nights at one of the 26 participating Benzie County lodging locations.

The “Passport to Fun” started May 11 and runs through Oct. 31, 2012. Visitors coming for a getaway to Benzie County are invited to view www.visitbenzie.com to sign up for the promotion online.

Here’s how the “Passport to Fun” Works: 
A visitor makes a reservation at any participating lodging establishments (2 consecutive nights minimum stay), then registers online for their “Passport to Fun” certificate at www.visitbenzie.com. Passport certificates can then be redeemed, after the visitor checks in at their respective lodging location, by visiting the Benzie County Visitors Bureau located on US 31 in Benzonia at the beginning of the stay.

Benzie County’s 2012 Passport to Fun Package includes:
  • Free Tote Bag from the Benzie County Visitors Bureau
  • Free Slice of Cherry Pie from The Cherry Hut
  • Free Root Beer Float from Frankfort A&W
  • Free Breadsticks from A. Papano’s Pizza (2 locations to choose from)
  • Free 2 Note Cards from State of the Art Framing & Gallery
  • Free 2 Whitefish Tacos from Port City Smokehouse
  • Free Handmade Donut and Coffee from Crescent Bakery
  • Free Large Popcorn with purchase from The Garden Theater
  • Free Small 12 pack of gift cards of original block prints from Gwen Frostic Prints
  • Free Order of Homemade Fries with purchase from Geno’s Sports Bar & Grill
  • Free Spinach Artichoke Dip with purchase from Laughing Horse Restaurant & Saloon
  • Buy one, Get on Free Tour of Point Betsie Lighthouse
  • Buy one, Get one Ice Cream Cone from Hill Top Soda Shoppe
  • Buy one, Get one Ride on the Crystal Coaster at Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa
  • Buy one, Get one Float Tube down the Lower Platte River at The Honor Trading Post
  • Buy one, Get one hour Kayak rental at Hanmer’s Riverside Resort & Livery
  • Buy one, Get one Golf at Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa Betsie Valley Course
  • 2 – 18 Holes with cart for $60 Golf at Champion Hill or Pinecroft Golf Course
“Passport to Fun” runs from May 11 through Oct. 31, 2012. Visitors must book and stay at one of the participating Benzie County lodging locations for 2 or more consecutive nights – or minimum stay requirements set by individual lodging locations. Not all participating businesses are open during the time of this promotion. See individual restrictions on each coupon. One Passport Package per lodging unit, per minimum required stay. Coupons valid ONLY during the time of guests’ stay. Some Restrictions Apply.

About Benzie County 
Benzie County has the reputation as “the best place in Michigan for Outdoor Sports & Recreation” and is located only 30 minutes west of Traverse City, Michigan. With quaint vacation towns and villages such as Frankfort, Elberta, Honor, Beulah and Benzonia, and majestic Crystal Lake, Benzie County is a perfect setting for a relaxed getaway. Benzie County has spectacular beaches, miles of biking and walking paths, views of Lake Michigan, and plenty of great restaurants and shops as well as attractions. Perfectly situated along the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, Benzie County, Michigan has nearly 30 miles of Lake Michigan coastline, 57 inland lakes, hills and valleys, 22 miles for biking along the Betsie Valley Trail, and approximately 200 miles of rivers. Outdoor activities in the spring, summer and fall include fishing, golfing, biking, hiking, running, and kayaking to name a few.

Illinois residents urged to help combat invasive species

Asian Carp
May is Invasive Species Awareness Month in Illinois

Invasive plant and animal species are threatening Illinois’ agricultural and natural lands and waterways, consequently posing a threat to the state’s economy. Governor Pat Quinn has issued a proclamation declaring May to be “Invasive Species Awareness Month” to encourage Illinois residents to learn about ways in which they can help combat the introduction and spread of invasive plants and animals in the state.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Division of Natural Heritage reports that animals and plants not native to Illinois at the time of European settlement are considered exotic species. Many species of exotic plants are harmless and very useful in windbreaks, landscaping, and in preventing erosion. However, some exotic species do have the potential to invade natural communities and displace highly desirable native plants. Such plants are invasive species. Some invading plants have become so well established in many areas throughout Illinois that they may be thought of as native species.

“Employees of local, county, state and federal agencies and hundreds of volunteers throughout Illinois spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours every year in attempts to eradicate, manage or control invasive plants and animals on the ground and in our waterways. The Governor and conservation agencies and organizations are working to make all Illinoisans aware of the impacts of invasive species to Illinois’ diverse landscape – and the environmental and economic costs we face if we lose the battle to control them,” said IDNR Marc Miller.

Wildlife managers spend more time carefully manipulating the physical and chemical environment of plants than in direct management of game animals since plants are the major component of both the habitats and the health of animal populations dependent upon them. The invasion by exotic plant species can turn high-quality habitat into degraded and undesirable habitat for wildlife.

Management tools including biological controls, prescribed burning, mowing, spraying and physically removing the plants by hand are available, but can be costly.

Increasing public awareness of invasive species is an essential goal because prevention and early intervention are the most effective and cost efficient approaches to address the economic and ecological impacts of exotic invasive species.

To recognize invasive species management efforts in the state during Illinois Invasive Species Awareness Month, the IDNR and partner agencies presented the following awards in a ceremony today at the IDNR Headquarters in Springfield:

Karen Tharp, Professional of the Year: Karen Tharp is recognized with this award for her work as Volunteer Steward Network Coordinator and Supervisor of the Southern Illinois Invasive Plant Strike Team for The Nature Conservancy. Karen has greatly influenced invasive species efforts across the state of Illinois by organizing herbicide trainings for volunteers in the Chicago region, helping to start the New Invaders Watch Program, and working closely with the Illinois Department of Agriculture to develop the new amendment to the Illinois Pesticide Act.

Illinois Department of Transportation Region 1, District 1, Organization of the Year: IDOT Region 1, District 1 is recognized with this award for revolutionizing the working relationship between natural areas managers and transportation professionals. IDOT played a pivotal role in supporting the development and establishment of the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership. IDOT is conducting a multi-year invasive plant mapping, control, and monitoring project along its highways. In spring of 2011, IDOT began to coordinate invasive plant control efforts along its rights of way with the efforts of regional natural areas managers.

Greg White, Volunteer of the Year: Greg White has worked with the Southern Illinois Weed Watch Project and has mapped invasive species at several natural areas, often requiring him to endure heat, tough climbs, mosquitoes and chiggers to finish his work. Greg also assisted with the hand pulling of Japanese stiltgrass along the Rocky Bluff Trail at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge and helped the River to River Cooperative Weed Management Area in its survey of bush honeysuckle at Trail of Tears State Forest.

For more information on Illinois invasive species awareness and management efforts, go online to the IDNR website at http://www.dnr.state.il.us/orc/invasive_species.htm


Some Invasive Species Facts from the Illinois DNR:
  • Invasive species often invade and replace the native flora in a variety of ways and will sometimes out-compete the native species to the extent the native plants totally disappear from an area.
  • Garlic mustard and the exotic buckthorns block needed sunlight, making it impossible for many of the needed native species to survive and reproduce. Such degraded habitats can quickly become a monoculture of only garlic mustard or buckthorn, meaning no food or shelter for native fish and game.
  • Chemical toxins inhibiting growth of all other plants nearby are produced by garlic mustard and tree of heaven; these toxins are released from their roots into the surrounding soil, thereby eliminating competition for space, water, nutrients, etc. from other plants. The eliminated native species, in some cases, are very important food plants for native game animals. Because of the extirpation of many of native plants, a number of wild areas that once supported healthy populations of deer, elk, and other wildlife are no longer prime habitat for the species in question. 
  • Bush honeysuckles not only shade out most native plants, but they also form such thick stands of growth that hunters and anglers cannot walk through the area or see game from a blind or tree stand. Multiflora rose, with its strong thorns and tangled growth habit, forms thickets even deer and turkeys find inhospitable for protection. Such tangled growths of honeysuckle, multiflora rose and other similar invasive plants often destroy the attractiveness of what was once prime habitat for hunting, fishing, birding and mushrooming. 
  • Chinese bittersweet and porcelain berry grow to the tops of the tallest trees in the forest, creating dense, smothering foliage – and the weight of the vines will eventually pull the trees down. 
  • Many undesirable invasive species will compete more successfully than native flora for water, minerals, and other necessary nutrients, leading to very poor growth of the native plants. Replacement of the native flora with invasive species reduces the biodiversity of the area since invasion by only one species often results in the loss of several native species. This loss of biodiversity is of major concern to ecologists both locally and globally. 
  • The fruit, seeds, stems and/or the leaves of some invasive plants are poisonous, or at least result in illness when eaten. Leafy spurge can cause blistering in the mouth and throat of livestock including horses and is toxic if enough is consumed. 
  • Some invasive plants are of considerable danger if humans make direct contact with them. The juices of giant hogweed and wild parsnip cause severe blistering of the skin of humans soon after contact with the juice if exposed to direct sunlight. Scars from both of these plants will be noticeable for several years. Tree-of-heaven can cause intestinal and heart problems in people exposed to its sap. 
  • Exotic plants are introduced into new areas in a myriad of ways. The seeds of some plants pass through the digestive systems of many animals, including some birds, without being damaged. Some seeds are widely scattered by wind before germinating in habitat suitable for their growth and reproduction. Many of the smaller seeds, such as garlic mustard, are so small they are carried in the fur of raccoons, dogs, deer, horses and other animals, only to drop off as the animals move into new habitat. Others, such as leafy spurge and teasel seeds, collect on roadside mowers only to fall off farther down the road accounting for the linear distribution of some exotic plants along our roads and railroad rights-of-way. 
  • Oftentimes, people trim plants growing in their yards and gardens without thinking about proper disposal of the still-living cuttings which are then dumped into an area where they take root. Cuttings, stem pieces, and rhizome fragments can be blown about or carried downhill in runoff after a heavy rain before finding a new place to grow. Kudzu, honeysuckles, periwinkle, English ivy and Chinese Yam are just a few examples of plants that have invaded new areas in this manner. 
  • Many of today’s exotic invasive species, such as burning bush, wintercreeper, periwinkle, Callery pear, and the ornamental figs, were grown for years before they exploded into the natural landscape and became problems. Landscapers used more than 60 species of imported ornamental figs in Florida for several decades without any problems until the pollinating wasp for the laurel fig was accidentally introduced about 20 years ago. The previously sterile laurel fig then very quickly became aggressively invasive as it produced viable seeds that were easily dispersed, giving it the necessary mechanism to invade the surrounding natural areas and become a real problem. In some cases, experts are uncertain why or how an exotic plant becomes an invasive problem. 
  • For boaters and anglers, a reminder that invasive fish, snails, plants, disease, and viruses can be transmitted by dumping bait or even just the water from bait buckets, bilges, live wells, trailers, and equipment used on the water. Administrative rules in Illinois prohibit the removal of natural water from waterways of the state via bait bucket, livewell, bait well, bilges or any other method. Regulations also prohibit removal of any watercraft, boat, boat trailer or other equipment from waters of the state without emptying and draining any bait bucket, livewell, baitwell, bilge any other compartment capable of holding natural waters. Regulations also prohibit using wild-trapped fishes as bait within the State of Illinois, other than in the waters where they were legally taken. To protect Illinois waters, inspect your boats and trailers for visible contamination of plants, mud, or water in bilges. By removing, cleaning, or draining the equipment, you help eliminate invasive species from establishing in Illinois waters. 
  • An invasive species of significant concern in Illinois is Asian carp. Unfortunately all four species of Asian carp – bighead, silver, grass and black carp – have been found in Illinois waters, likely escaping aquaculture facilities of the southern U.S. Bighead and silver carp are the focus of state, local, and federal efforts to reduce the populations and to keep this invasion from expanding into other watersheds, such as the Great Lakes. Check the website at http://asiancarp.us for updates of the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee actions.