Book Review: 'On the Road to Death's Door' a solid mystery in a Winnebago

I had the pleasure of reading "On the Road to Death's Door," a mystery novel with a Winnebago as the crime scene, Wisconsin's Door Peninsula as the setting and a cast of colorful characters so real you'd expect them to drop by your campsite with a grin on their face and a beverage in their hand.

The authors, sisters-in-law Peggy Williams and Mary Joy Johnson, approached me to write a review of their book, which they hope will be a successful series featuring main characters Emily and Stan Remington and their RV adventures. Their pen name is M.J. Williams and the book is available on Amazon.

I was happy to oblige.

The main characters, Emily and Stan Remington, are about to take their first trip in their new-to-them Winnebago. The reason for the trip is a reunion of Stan Remington, now retired, and three buddies from college - a corporate executive, a politican running for governor and a hippie priest. The trip takes a lethal turn when a body falls off the top of their Winnie. Emily and Stan find themselves at the center of a murder investigation where everyone's a suspect and skeletons in the closet come out to play. The rookie RVers inevitably butt heads with the local sheriff as their investigation takes them from a backwoods cabin in Wisconsin’s scenic Door County to the Bishop’s Chancery in Madison to an abandoned island in the infamous Death’s Door Straits.

I found the book to be well written and enjoyable, with the mystery plot one that cast a wide net of suspicion. A quick check of the book's Amazon page and there's no shortage of others who read the book who agree with me.

 At the risk of sounding like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, I found the book to be not too complex, yet not too simple. I look forward to reading the next adventure of the Emily and Stan Remington and their Winnie -- their modern-day RV Mystery Machine!

Midland Painted Turtle photo claims 5th Annual Ohio Legacy Stamp prize

The reflective image of a midland painted turtle photographed by Sharon Cummings was selected as the winner of the fifth annual Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp contest, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). The photo will appear on the 2014 Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp, which goes on sale March 1, 2014.

This is the second time that Cummings, of Graytown, has won the stamp competition. Her image of an Eastern amberwing dragonfly was selected for the 2011 Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp.

“It is definitely a passion of mine to take photos of wildlife in natural places, and I love the concept of promoting Ohio’s wildlife diversity,” Cummings said. “I think that the Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp is an important tool in funding diversity and promoting wildlife in Ohio.”

The theme for this year’s contest was Ohio’s many native turtle species. Midland painted turtles are among the most abundant turtle species in Ohio. They are often spotted basking in the summer sun along the banks of many bodies of water. It has a deep green carapace with a red and yellow pattern along the underside, and the head and legs also have red and yellow markings.

Second place was awarded to Brad Imhoff, of Mt. Vernon, who also photographed a midland painted turtle. Lois Hobart, of Newcomerstown, earned third place with a photo of an Eastern box turtle.

The Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp contest is only open to Ohio residents. The ODNR Division of Wildlife received 143 entries of turtles from 83 photographers.

The contest was judged this year at Geneva State Park during the Wildlife Diversity Partners Conference, Sept. 4-5. The judges of the photo contest were representatives from statewide conservation organizations, metroparks, science and education centers, as well as wildlife biologists, naturalists and outdoor writers. Photos were judged on originality, technical excellence, composition and overall impact.

Fourteen dollars of every $15 Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp sold are invested in the state’s Wildlife Diversity Fund. This fund supports habitat restoration, wildlife and habitat research projects, creation of wildlife educational materials, and efforts that restore and conserve endangered and threatened species. No state tax dollars are contributed to this fund.

Participants of the first Wildlife Diversity Partners Conference in 2008 collaborated with the ODNR Division of Wildlife to create the Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp. Offering the stamp to the public has continued with the positive support of individuals and wildlife conservation groups throughout the state. The inaugural stamp featuring a Baltimore oriole was introduced in 2010. The Eastern amberwing (2011), spotted salamander (2012) and black-capped chickadee (2013) were featured in subsequent years.

Visit for more details. More information about the Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp and other wildlife-related topics can be found at

New for 2014 at Cedar Point

Sandusky, Ohio amusement park announces plans for new family rides, changes to Camp Snoopy, and Hotel Breakers renovation

Cedar Point amusement park/resort, known around the world for its record-breaking collection of rides and roller coasters, announced several plans for the 2014 season, including introducing two new family rides, changes to the park’s Camp Snoopy area and more details on a two-year renovation project to Hotel Breakers.

Joining Cedar Point’s impressive lineup of rides next summer will be Pipe Scream, a Disk’O Coaster, and Lake Erie Eagles, a Flying Scooters ride. 

Located along the Gemini Midway, Pipe Scream is billed as “combining the best of a roller coaster and a flat ride in one.” Riders will spin and coast over 302 feet of track, reaching a maximum height of 43 feet above the midway and a top speed of 43 mph! Pipe Scream is manufactured by Zamperla, Parsippany, N.J. 

Across from Pipe Scream, Lake Erie Eagles will also soar onto the Gemini Midway and will treat a new generation of Cedar Point’s guests to a classic thrill ride. Riders on Lake Erie Eagles will sit in one of eight ride carriages that are suspended from arms located more than 28 feet above the ground. As the ride begins its cycle, the carriages will swing outward simulating the sensation of flight! A paddle on the carriages will allow guests to alter their flight experience from mild to wild! Lake Erie Eagles is manufactured by Larson International, Inc., Plainview, Texas.

In addition to the Gemini Midway improvements, Camp Snoopy, celebrating 15 years of family fun at Cedar Point, will also see enhancements. The kid-friendly Frog Hopper ride will be relocated to Camp Snoopy and re-themed as Woodstock’s Airmail while the Jr. Gemini roller coaster will be renamed Wilderness Run and its entrance will be moved into Camp Snoopy. These two popular rides will join other family favorites such as the Tilt-A-Whirl, Lolli Swing and Camp Bus and will bring Camp Snoopy’s ride count up to an impressive nine rides, many of which parents can ride side-by-side with their children.

“We are excited about these new additions to the park,” said Jason McClure, incoming Vice President and General Manager of Cedar Point. “Following the successful introduction of GateKeeper, we believe these new rides and upgrades will continue to make Cedar Point the perfect vacation destination for families of all ages.”

The beginning of a two-year Hotel Breakers renovation project will also commence this winter. Phase one will include upgrading a portion of the exterior of Hotel Breakers, while phase two will take place over the 2014-2015 winter season and will feature upgrades to both the exterior and interior of the hotel. Conveniently located between the sandy shore of Lake Erie and the mountainous roller coasters of Cedar Point, this popular family vacation destination boasts more than 500 rooms, many of which provide sweeping views of the Cedar Point Beach.

For more information, log on to,

VIDEO: 'Fall in Pennsylvania' from

Enjoy this 1:01 video from on "Fall in Pennsylvania"

Here's what had to say about its video:
Pennsylvania offers many unique ways to enjoy the brilliant display of autumn's finest colors. From festivals to biking and hiking the many trails in Pennsylvania, there are activities for everyone to enjoy!

Guest Post: RV Internet helps improve safety when boondocking

Author's note: Enjoy this guest post from SinglePoint Communications.

One of the biggest concerns for RVers who go dry camping (or boondocking) is safety. Not being around other RV enthusiasts when you’re in the middle of the woods can lead to a sense of anxiety, which can deter RVers from even considering a boondocking trip. With the help of internet for RV coaches as well as some general safety smarts, you can have an enjoyable, worry-free trip.

General Boondocking Safety Tips

Share Your Itinerary
Before you go on your trip, plan an itinerary and give it to a family member or friend. Also, give this person a map of the locations that you plan to stay and highlight your intended boondocking sites. 

Stranger Danger
Never let a stranger into your RV. Instead, speak to the person through a window. If the stranger says that he’s in trouble, offer to call 9-1-1 or another number for him, but don’t go outside. 

Safety in Numbers
Don’t go on an RV boondocking trip alone. Take a friend or family member with you so you can watch each other’s backs. Consider boondocking with a friend who also has an RV so you’re not alone in unfamiliar surroundings. 

Read Reviews
Before you go on your trip, check out reviews from other RVers. If you’re already on the road, use your RV internet to get online. Other boondockers will share if they have encountered any issues while camping on the road. 

Wait Until Morning
Resist the urge to inspect your RV after dark. The concern isn’t just with people sneaking up on you, it’s also that you’re more likely to get injured from tripping and falling at night. 

Don’t Call Attention to Yourself
Avoid using stickers or signs on your RV that have your name or address on them. This makes it harder for strangers to pretend to know you. Remove stickers from your RV that state that you travel a lot; this is a clue that you have valuable items inside. 

Using RV Internet to Stay Safe
Internet for RV users is more than a nice amenity. It’s an invaluable tool when you’re on the road. In addition to staying connected to your friends and loved ones, being able to access the Web gives you the advantage of checking weather and road conditions in real-time during your trip. Plus, you can get a view of your boondocking terrain using satellite images on map-related websites. 

RV internet is also useful because it gives you access to local phone numbers without needing a phonebook. So, if your RV breaks down, you can quickly find an area repair shop. If you’re the do-it-yourself type, you can go online to troubleshoot and repair your vehicle’s problems. 

Boondocking can be just as fun and safe as staying at a traditional campground. If you ever feel anxious about the area you’re in, you have the advantage of already being in a vehicle that you can move whenever you want. Talk to experienced boondocking RVers to learn about their experiences and tips about having a successful trip.

About the Author
SinglePoint Communications offers innovative solutions for creating a mobile WiFi hotspot in personal RVs, boats and more. SinglePoint’s all-in-one mobile internet for RV kit makes it easy for technological laypeople to tap into their cell phone networks to enjoy great internet coverage while on the road.

24th Annual Fall Detroit Camper & RV Show is coming to the Suburban Collection Showplace

RVIA photos
Thanks to MARVAC, I'm giving away 20 pairs of tickets to the 24th annual Fall Detroit Camper & RV Show to the first 20 emails received after 12:01 a.m., Friday, Sept. 27. The emails, which must include the name and mailing address to be eligible, should be sent to

The Michigan Association of Recreation Vehicles and Campgrounds (MARVAC) is sponsoring the 24th Annual Fall Detroit Camper & RV Show, Oct. 2-6 at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, on Grand River, south of I-96 between Novi Road and Beck Roads.

More than 200 new recreation vehicles will be on display including folding campers, motor homes, travel trailers, truck campers, and fifth wheel travel trailers. Special discounts include folding campers from $4,999; trailers from $9,999; and motor homes from $49,999. Plus, manufacturer rebates will be available on select RVs. 

With plenty of exhibitor booths featuring parts and accessories, campground information, on-site RV financing and RV rentals, this will be the complete RV show experience for everyone.

“People can come and look at some of the 2014 models we’ll have, but we’ll also be bringing 2013 and even some 2012 models that we’ll be looking to make a deal on,” said Sandy Vicars of Vicars Trailer Sales in Taylor. “It’s the end of the year and we don’t want to have to pay taxes on these models, so we’ll just be blowing them out the door.”

In addition to Vicars Trailer Sales, Lloyd Bridges Traveland of Chelsea will be among the dozens of RV dealers at the show.

“The RV show is great because it allows the customer to see everything under one roof,” said Harold Vandervoort, who’s been at Lloyd Bridges Traveland for 30 years. “And it’s great for dealers because we look to clean up our existing inventory to make room for the new inventory coming in.”

Vicars said the fall show typically is catered toward motorhome and fifth wheel RVers, especially those looking to head south for the winter. But that doesn’t mean people in the market for travel trailers, hybrids and folding campers — a.k.a. pop-ups — won’t have their share of RVs to look at.

“We’ll have a ton of pop-ups, all at significant discounts,” Vicars said. “People can expect about $1,000 to $1,500 off. The savings will be remarkable.”

At the show, people can enter to win event tickets and camping packages from Michigan International Speedway. Winning package includes tickets and camping to an MIS event of your choice. 

The 24th Annual Fall Detroit Camper & RV Show will be held at the Suburban Collection Showplace and is open 2 to 9 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. 

The cost for adult admission is $9 (ages 13 and up); senior admission is $8; children ages 12 and under are admitted free. Purchase $2-off advance tickets at select Metro Detroit Home Depot stores; visit for a list of participating stores. 

A special coupon is available at, Big Boy restaurants, NAPA Auto Parts Stores and in area newspapers. With this coupon, people can get $1 off any adult or senior admission. The 2013 RV & Campsite, a free guide to camping and RVing in Michigan, also will be available. 

The RV show ticket will also get you into the Novi Home Remodeling Show in adjacent arena hall, Thursday through Sunday.

The show is sponsored by the Michigan Association of Recreation Vehicles and Campgrounds (MARVAC), a member organization representing all aspects of the camping and RV industries. 

For more information, call 1-517-349-8881 ext. 10 or visit for additional information on the RV show.

Michigan nature and history lovers will fall for Camp Tosebo’s 'Autumn Allure'

Nestled amidst more than 50 colorful acres of protected forests along the southern shore of Portage Lake, Camp Tosebo is one of the most historic and treasured vacation retreats in Northern Michigan. Located just off the famed M22 scenic highway, this four-season destination provides the ideal setting to soak up the explosion of fall colors.

Within just a short drive of Camp Tosebo, visitors will find dozens of natural and historic sites waiting to be explored, camera in hand. A nearly 100-mile route, originally created by the West Michigan Tourist Association (, takes travelers along the winding backroads of M22, M115 and M55 through the nearby towns of Onekama, Pierport, Arcadia, Thompsonville, Kaleva, Brethren and Manistee.

Among the sites one can expect to find nearby are the Lake Bluff Audubon Center & Bird Sanctuary, the North Country Scenic Trail, Arcadia Overlook, Gwen Frostic Studios, the Bottle House Museum and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – recently named “The Most Beautiful Place in America” by viewers of Good Morning America.

Listed with both the Michigan and National Register of Historic Places, Camp Tosebo boasts three lodging buildings which can collectively accommodate 38 guests.

Originally built as a dance pavilion, the 1893 Victorian-era Clubhouse with its covered porch easily accommodates 17 guests, with nine bedrooms and 7½ bathrooms (five with antique claw-foot tubs). There’s plenty of space to spread out through the fully-equipped chef’s kitchen, dining hall, game room, library and large living room with a stone fireplace.

The rustic Trunk House – which once was a storage facility for the campers’ luggage – is a large, one-room studio with vaulted ceilings, living and dining areas, kitchenette, queen bed and twin bed, and a bathroom with a claw foot tub and shower.

Built in 1910, the Welcome House is a two-story cottage that comfortably sleeps 10-12 people with a main floor master bedroom and bath, two bedrooms with a bath upstairs and a couch that converts to a bed in the living room. Ideal as a vacation rental for a family, this charming cottage is equipped with a fully-stocked kitchen, living room with a brick fireplace, dining room and more.

Situated in the heart of the Manistee National Forest, Camp Tosebo is the ideal setting for a quiet autumn escape, where time is spent walking the trails, paddling the lake, catching up on a good book and relaxing in front of the fireplace. Whether planning a romantic weekend, a family reunion or group gathering, the outdoor splendor and indoor relaxation of Camp Tosebo cannot be compared. Find out for yourself!

VIDEO: Under The Radar |Pure Michigan visit Founders Brewery

Enjoy this video from Under the Radar Michigan when the crew visit Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids.

Having just completed its third season, Under the Radar Michigan is a terrific television series that I'm just now discovering. I'm devouring their previous episodes, all available on their website. They strike the right balance of humor with common sense as they take us on their journeys to Michigan travel destinations.

Here's what the folks from Pure Michigan had to say about the video:
Visit for more. Since 1997, Founders Brewery has become a must-visit destination in Grand Rapids. Focusing on craft beers versus a mass production approach, it has quickly become one of the most highly respected breweries in the world. Just be sure to leave your title at the door. Find more hot spots in Grand Rapids:

RV Product: Introducing FIREase, a better way to build your fire

Author's note: From time to time I come across a press release that I think RVers would find interesting. Such is this case with the IncinerGrate by FIREase. It seems we all have a method of building our campfires, but I think the folks at FIREase just might be onto something with their IncinerGrate.

We all have fond memories of sitting around a campfire, or a backyard fire pit, sharing stories with friends, neighbors and family. However, starting a campfire or a fire in a fire pit can be a hassle. And most fires require maintenance, poking, prodding, coaxing and stacking to keep the fire going. This often requires too much time and effort, detracting from the fun and relaxation.

The simple solution to a well burning, low maintenance fire was invented by FIREase. FIREase designed the IncinerGrate, a patent pending vertical fire pit grate that significantly improves fire building and minimizes fire maintenance. 

IncinerGrate keeps the logs in a teepee form throughout the fire, accomplishing some very important tasks:
  • It makes these fires easy to build and start
  • Minimizes fire pit and campfire maintenance
  • Keeps the logs from falling down
  • Eliminates tedious poking and prodding during a fire
  • Frees up time for other activities
  • Creates a visually captivating fire!

At FIREase, they say that, "We build fires that love to burn!" And that's exactly what this invention provides, better burning fires. IncinerGrate’s welded steel frame makes it fast and easy to assemble the perfect structure of tinder, kindling, and wood to build a first rate fire. Once the fire is lit and additional kindling is added, IncinerGrate creates the “ember core”, ensuring plenty of oxygen flows through the logs, resulting in a fabulous fire. The IncinerGrate keeps the logs in the classic teepee shape throughout the fire. That means less time tending the fire, and more time dining on summer favorites like hot dogs, toasted marshmallows and s’mores. 

If you like to tend to a fire, you can still do this with the IncinerGrate, and you'll be better rewarded for your efforts. As you add logs, the IncinerGrate will help ensure they stay where you want them. As the fire burns, you feed the “ember core” with pieces from the burnt logs, to create and easily maintain a perfect, visually attractive fire. 

It's really easy to use the IncinerGrate. Start by making a small pyramid of tinder and kindling. Then firmly plant the spider-like frame over this small kindling pyramid, ensuring the four legs are level. Lean your smaller firewood against the IncinerGrate frame in a teepee shape, and light your fire. That's it, your FIREase fire is good to go! No need to blow out your lungs to coax your fire, IncinerGrate’s advanced design draws oxygen up and through the fire. Once your fire is burning nicely, just add larger logs for increased longevity. Simply lean the large logs against the frame, continuing the teepee form, and air will naturally flow through your FIREase fire.

Make sure your tinder, kindling, and wood are dry for a proper campfire. Even a FIREase fire is less than optimum if you attempt to use green or wet wood. IncinerGrate is perfect for use at your campsite, beach location, or in your fire pit at home. 

Now, get out that pack of hot dogs, bratwurst and bag of marshmallows, brush up on your ghost stories, and enjoy your nights! And don't forget to send us a picture of your awesome FIREase fire! 

For more information, visit Or call 404-310-4922. At FIREase, we help build fires that "Love to Burn!"

An important note, always be responsible with your fires. Make sure that there are no fire ban restrictions in your area before starting a fire. Never leave a fire unattended and keep a bucket of water, hose, or fire extinguisher nearby in case of emergency. Once you are finished with your fire, be certain that the fire is completely extinguished. A good test as to whether your fire is completely out is if you can lay your hand on the dead coals for several seconds without detecting any heat.

Showcasing the Michigan DNR: Turning pine cones into profit: helping to reforest state land

Workers at the DNR-operated Wyman State Nursery in Manistique load jack
pine seedlings that will be used in reforestation efforts on state forest land.
Last spring, the DNR’s Forest Resources Division planted more than
7 million seedlings on state forest land. 

Want to play a part in the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ mission of keeping state forests healthy and sustainable and maybe even make a few bucks in the process? Here’s your opportunity!

This fall, as cones are ripening, people can collect red and jack pine cones and sell them to the DNR by visiting offices in Cadillac, Gaylord, Manistique and Marquette. The seeds are placed in cold storage at the DNR-operated Wyman State Nursery until needed.

Each bushel of pine cones can net between $30 and $35 for the person willing to put in some sweat equity.

“The annual pine cone buying program provides an opportunity for residents to contribute to the DNR’s rejuvenation efforts and help produce millions of seedlings that will help sustain Michigan’s state forest land,” said Bill O’Neill, chief of the DNR’s Forest Resources Division (FRD). “The DNR’s regeneration efforts have been successful for more than 30 years. With help from folks collecting pine cones, the outcomes of this program can be enjoyed for years to come.” 

Michigan’s forests are known for their breathtaking beauty, sheer size and inviting spaces. These forest lands are carefully managed for timber, wildlife, recreation, aesthetic and ecological values – all of which play an important role in the state’s economy through forest-based industry and tourism.

After the pine cones have been dried, the seeds are extracted
and stored until needed. The DNR pays up to $35 for a
bushel of unopened, clean pine cones.
Collaboration is important when it comes to successfully managing Michigan’s state forest land to meet these needs. 

“It is no small job,” added O’Neill, who also serves as Michigan’s state forester. “Last spring alone, FRD staff planted more than 7 million seedlings on state forest land – reforesting around 7,500 acres.”

Many of the seedlings used in the DNR’s planting efforts come from Wyman. The Manistique-based facility produces 5 million to 7.5 million seedlings annually to help replenish Michigan’s forest land. If pine cones aren’t collected yearly, those seedlings won’t be produced.

The pine cones sold to the DNR can help produce seed and seedlings that will reforest habitats crucial to the survival of many species like deer, turkey and many other game and non-game species, including the federally endangered Kirtland’s warbler.

In addition to the Kirtland’s warbler habitat, the DNR also focuses its reforestation efforts on sites that have been harmed by natural disasters like wildfire. 

“When natural circumstances – like last year’s Duck Lake Fire – destroy large areas of forest land, the DNR works to plant seedlings that will help areas regenerate faster than they would on their own,” explained David Neumann, FRD silviculturist. “Last spring, we planted about 1,200 acres in Newberry at the Duck Lake site; we have plans to plant an additional 3,000 acres over the next three to five years to help the area recover from the fire. 

Workers at the DNR's Gaylord office load pine cones brought in by collectors.
Seeds from the collected cones can be stored and used in replanting for years.
“We leave some of the regeneration to nature, but will continue monitoring the site for the next few years,” he added. 

While the pine cones collected have traditionally come from the eastern Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula, the DNR is looking to push cone collection in the western U.P. this fall. 

“The western U.P. has some of the highest-quality jack pine stands in the state,” said Tom Seablom, FRD timber management specialist in Marquette. “The DNR would like to start an annual collection program from this area so other areas can benefit.” 

September and October are generally the best months to collect pine cones. For residents who are new to collecting pine cones in Michigan’s beautiful forests, the DNR offers the following tips to get started:
A timber management specialist with the DNR’s
Forest Resources Division shows off jack pine
cones that were collected and sold to the department.
  • Look for squirrel caches.
  • Pick cones off the tops of trees from recent timber sales.
  • Remember that only cones that are tight (unopened) and clean (free of sticks, debris, rot, decay and fungus) will be accepted.
  • Keep the cones cool to ensure that they do not begin to compost; the seeds will die at high temperatures.
After the DNR purchases the pine cones, they are dried and the seeds are extracted and cleaned.

“Collected seeds can be stored several years, so your contribution will help the DNR grow jack and red pine seedlings now and well into the future,” O’Neill said. 

People interested in picking and selling cones to the DNR this fall can contact the FRD staff person in their area for more information and to find out the dates each office will buy cones from the public.
  • Cadillac: Sue Sobieski, 231-775-9727, ext. 6904
  • Gaylord: Tim Greco, 989-732-3541, ext. 5041
  • Manistique: Richard Mergener, 906-341-2518
  • Marquette: Tom Seablom 906-228-6561
For more information about the DNR’s reforestation efforts and state forest planning,

VIDEO: 'RV Driving Tips - Using Reference Points' by Mark Polk of RV Education 101 and KOA

Enjoy this 2:46 video from KOA and Mark Polk of RV Education 101 on "Using Reference Points when Driving an RV"

Here's what Mark Polk had to say about his video:
In this informative RV how to video Mark Polk with RV Education 101 demonstrates an RV driving tip on how to use reference points to stay headed on a straight course in your RV.

Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes: Still plenty of peace and solitude

A Walk along Good Harbor Beach

Has stardom spoiled the Sleeping Bear Dunes?


Visitor tallies at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore have risen steadily since 2010, when viewers of “Good Morning America” voted it the Most Beautiful Place in America. On peak summer weekends, that can clearly be seen at many of the park’s most visible attractions: crowds at the Dune Climb, full parking lots at North Bar Lake, slow going on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. But there’s still plenty of solitude and mystery to be found at Sleeping Bear, if you know where to look.

After all, the park encompasses 64 miles of Lake Michigan coastline, two islands, 26 inland lakes and more than 71,000 acres of land about a half hour’s drive west of the resort town of Traverse City. And since the overwhelming majority of visitors gravitate to a handful of high-visibility spots just south of Sleeping Bear Point, there are miles of nearly-empty beaches, almost 100 miles of hiking trails and thousands of acres of parkland where you can experience this beautiful place without any distractions.

“That’s actually one of the most wonderful things about this place – the wide range and diversity of experiences that people can have here,” says Park Superintendent Dusty Schultz. All you have to do is get out a little bit, explore a little bit, and you’ll discover all the solitude and natural experience you could ask for.”

Hiking near Sleeping Bear Point
We’re not going to give away the locations of all our favorite beaches -- half the fun of finding a special place is taking the trouble to discover it for yourself. But here are a couple of suggestions about where (and how) to start looking.

The busiest spots in the National Lakeshore are in a small area between the villages of Empire and Glen Arbor. That leaves two enormous tracts of land – the Platte River District to the south and the Port Oneida/Good Harbor area to the north – that are relatively quiet even at the height of the summer season. There are popular beach hangouts in both areas, but you’ll fund that most people don’t venture very far from the parking lot. In most cases, a ten-minute stroll along the shore will give you all the serenity you want.

In fact, the best thing to do if you’re searching for peace and quiet at the Sleeping Bear Dunes is to leave your car behind. Want to see a view that’s every bit as inspiring as the much-photographed overlook on the Scenic Drive? Go north to Pyramid Point and climb the half-mile trail up to the top of the bluff. (Even better, keep going and do the whole 2.7-mile loop; it’s a beauty.) Want to find an unspoiled beach with splendid vistas of the dunes? Explore the shoreline of Platte Bay on either side of the Peterson Road turnoff.

In fact, if you’re really determined to get away from it all, you need to jump on the ferryboat that takes visitors out to the Manitou Islands, the most remote and secluded part of the park. Day-trippers head for South Manitou to climb the lovely lighthouse, explore the small village near the docks, or wander along the shore to visit the grove of giant cedar trees and look for shipwrecks.

The View from Pyramid Point

North Manitou is a federal wilderness area, and its only visitors are serious backpackers who come prepared to stay for several days. There aren’t a lot of amenities unless you count empty beaches, tall dunes, mysterious ruins and forests so deep they feel like something from Jurassic Park. But if you’re after solitude, this is definitely the place.

Some of Superintendent Schultz’s favorite solitary spots are actually located in the most densely-visited section of the park. She loves the Sleeping Bear Point Trail with its dramatic changes in landscape, the Empire Bluff Trail with its sweeping views of the lake and shore, and the winding Crystal River’s serpentine “ridge and swale” topography. The best strategy, she says, is sometimes to pick the right time for a visit.

“Morning and early evening are quiet times,” she says. “Evening is my favorite time to go down to the beach at Glen Haven to watch the sunsets – especially now that they’ve relit the lighthouse on South Manitou Island.”

For more information about the Sleeping Bear Dunes and other natural wonders of the Traverse City area, and for assistance with lodging and dining options, contact the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-TRAVERSE or on line at

RV Floor Replacement Project Part 6: Making the Front End Water-tight

 Author's note: I wish I could post all of the photos I took as I did this project. However, I took them with my iPhone and left it out in the rain. It completely fried the phone to the point two different stores couldn't even bring it back to working order, let alone retrieve all the photos. I'll do my best to describe everything, but I'm afraid I have no pictures. The video above shows the completed project as well as a closeup of the front end that I talk about in this post.

Click here to read Part 1: Admitting the Problem Exists
Click here to read Part 2:  Realizing the Scope of the Problem
Click here to read Part 3: Deconstruction
Click here to read Part 4: Assembling the New Floor

Part 6: Making the Front End Water-tight
As I mentioned in Part 2: Realizing the Scope of the Problem, it appeared the leaks originated both at the door and in the storage compartment in the front corner of the camper on the door side. The door leak was fixed with better weather-proofing. But the front end required more significant attention.

Several years ago I installed a stainless steel panel - a pseudo-rock guard, if you will - to the front end that was designed to fix a different problem: the seam connecting the front of the camper to the base had failed. While it certainly accomplished its intended task, it also served as a sufficient weather-proofing barrier.

Despite this. apparently water was still somehow making its way into that front corner. When I removed the old floor for this project, I discovered that the factory-installed 2x4 that ran the from wall to wall in the front, directly behind the front panel, was a soggy, spongy mess. As a matter of fact, I was able to pull it out in pieces without hardly any tools.

So I had to reconstruct the infrastructure to the front end, too. Simple enough. A new treated 2x4 did the trick. But I also had to make sure the front end was water-tight, too. The pseudo-rock guard was adequate, but it needed better caulking round the edges. Specifically, the bottom edge. The stainless steel panel had a bend in it along the bottom, so it wrapped underneath the bottom of the camper about 6 inches. But there was enough of a gap between the stainless steel panel and the bottom of the camper that water was able to find its way in.

I fixed this in several ways.

First, I used a piece of the Owens Corning Ice Guard (which is more or less rolled roofing material with a sticky backing) along the front end. I installed it on the inside of the camper. from wall to wall, wrapping the front pieces of flooring with its bottom edge tucked under the treated 2x4 and its top edge on top of the final layer of plywood (the installation of which is detailed below).

Second, I used a generous bead of exterior grade sealant in between the stainless steel panel and the bottom of the camper. I brought this up tighter than the original installation by using three car jacks. On the inside, another 2x4 was laid on top of the sandwich of (from the bottom up) stainless steel panel, caulk, Ice Guard, treated 2x4, plywood, and Ice Guard. Six lag bolts secured this sandwich.

Third, a generous dose of foaming caulk added another layer of protection. This was sprayed on the inside of the camper, in the V-shaped gap between the front panel and the floor sandwich.

Fourth, a fresh bead of caulk was laid on the exterior of the camper along all seams.

Fifth, new weather-stripping was installed along the front bed panel (our camper is a hybrid) as well as the camper door and the doors to the storage compartments.

I double-dog dare any rain to get inside now!

The final steps were to install the 12x12 peel-and-stick vinyl tile, and re-install the water heater, pump, dinettes and cabinets. We were able to do this over two days, and the next day we were on our way to our next camping trip of the summer.

Hindsight is 20/20
The floor is just not firm enough for me.

If I had to do it all over again, there are some things I would do differently.

Instead of using a "sandwich" of 1/4-inch luan plywood, 1 1/2-inch foam board and 1/4-inch luan plywood for the floor, I would beef it up a bit. I would have used 1/2-inch treated plywood on bottom, 1-inch foam board and 1/2-inch plywood on top. At the same time, I would have used 1-inch cross beams of either aluminum or wood (either dimensional lumber or scrap plywood) instead of the 2x4s laid on their wide side.

What I have now is absolutely fine and will serve us for years to come. In fact, the day after we were done three grown men, easily topping 600 pounds, were able to stand inside the camper, in nearly the same spot, and there was no problem whatsoever.

But I'd still add a little more "umph" to the materials.

Other than that, I'd say I'm pretty pleased with the whole thing. It took longer than I thought, it cost more than I thought, and I wore out a path going back and forth to the local home improvement store - but those things are par for the course for any project I'm working on.

RV Floor Replacement Project Part 5: Installing the New Floor

Author's note: I wish I could post all of the photos I took as I did this project. However, I took them with my iPhone and left it out in the rain. It completely fried the phone to the point two different stores couldn't even bring it back to working order, let alone retrieve all the photos. I'll do my best to describe everything, but I'm afraid I have no pictures. I created some diagrams in the Scribd file above and inset into the post to further explain all that I did.

Click here to read Part 1: Admitting the Problem Exists
Click here to read Part 2:  Realizing the Scope of the Problem
Click here to read Part 3: Deconstruction
Click here to read Part 4: Assembling the New Floor

Figure 6
Part 5: Installing the New Floor
You can see a video of the project, including the layout of our camper, by clicking here.

As I mentioned in Part 4, due to the configurations of my camper, I assembled my new floor in two pieces. The first piece was shaped more or less like an "L" while the second piece was a simple rectangle. The first piece needed to slide under the door threshold and the kitchen cabinets that I did not remove during the Deconstruction phase of the project.

Since I was extremely careful to make sure my measurements were exact, plus I dry-fit everything ahead of time, the two pieces fit into the camper like a snug leather glove. Which is to say the first piece was a breeze and the second piece took some "persuasion." I attribute this to the assembled pieces being rigid now as opposed to flexible before.

The most difficult part of installing the second piece was the Ice Guard. The Ice Guard, which was rolled roofing stuck to the underside of the new floor pieces, overlapped itself in order to provide sufficient undercoating protection. I accounted for this 3-inch overlap when the two floor pieces were being assembled. But what I didn't account for was how difficult it would be to maneuver the overlap into place given the tight fit of everything. 

Regardless, the two floor pieces were snugly installed and everything was according to plan.

The next step in this phase of the project was installing the 2x2s. As I mentioned in the previous post, while the plywood was cut to fit from one wall to the other, the 2x4 cross beams and the foam board were not. These left room for a 2x2 along the walls of the camper.

To install the 2x2s, I ran a bead of glue on the side of the metal perimeter of the camper and on the exposed part of the luan plywood of the new floor. 

This was one way the new floor would be attached to the camper. (This idea was also thanks to Bill Debs, whose similar project provided valuable guidance for me.)

The second was elevator bolts running up from beneath the camper, where it tied into the camper frame. This was also how it came from the factory. There was one slight difference, though. The factory had the elevator bolt coming through a small block of 2x4 in the camper floor. I instead had the elevator bolt coming through a full 2x4 cross beam in my new camper floor.

Figure 7
The next step was to cut and install the top layer of 1/4-inch plywood (see Figure 7)

This top layer did not follow the same pattern as the two floor pieces (one "L" shaped and the other a rectangle) for structural integrity purposes. Again, I measured (twice), cut, dry fit and then glued and screwed everything into place. I set concrete blocks on top to ensure a uniform bond.

Then it was a matter of waiting for the glue to dry, and me to get some more free time, to finish the project. I had to hurry, though, because we were just days away from our next camping trip.

But before I could put it all back together, I needed to come up with a permanent repair to a leak coming from the nose of the camper.

Next: Step 6: Making the The Front Panel Water-tight

RV Floor Replacement Project Part 4: Assembling the New Floor

Author's note: I wish I could post all of the photos I took as I did this project. However, I took them with my iPhone and left it out in the rain. It completely fried the phone to the point two different stores couldn't even bring it back to working order, let alone retrieve all the photos. I'll do my best to describe everything, but I'm afraid I have no pictures. I created some diagrams in the Scribd file above and inset into the post below to further try to explain all that I did.

Click here to read Part 1: Admitting the Problem Exists
Click here to read Part 2:  Realizing the Scope of the Problem
Click here to read Part 3: Deconstruction

Figure 1; the break in the metal cross beam was located right on the trailer frame near the door
Part 4: Assembling the New Floor

You can see a video of the project, including the layout of our camper, by clicking here.

As I said in the last post, during demolition I discovered one of the metal cross beams had cracked near the door (see Figure 1). This caused the wall on the door side to sink about an inch or so, which meant the dinette and cabinet previously attached to that wall had separated from it.

Fixing this became my first priority.

A quick trip to the local big box home improvement store (Mr. Lowe's, if you want me to mention your store by name you'll have to pay me!), netted me a 3-foot length of angle iron along with some lag bolts. I used a jack from my TrailBlazer to lift the sagging wall so the cross beam was level. One foot of the angle iron covered the cross beam from the crack to the wall, and the remaining two feet extended out into the middle of the camper. Two bolts through the angle iron and cross bream on each side the crack secured the angle iron, and newly leveled cross beam, in place. Good as new!

With that repair over, it was time to make sure the rest of the camper was primed for the new floor. Utility knife cut away any leftover flooring.

Using Bill Debs' experience with his floor project as a guide (thanks again Bill!), I took my measurements, bought the materials and transferred my base of operations to my garage. Why? I needed the large level floor of my garage to make sure my new RV floor would be completely level. I couldn't be certain the floor would be level had I assembled it in the camper. Actually, I was fairly certain that had I done it that way, it would have been very un-level.

Figure 6
As for the actual floor assembly, here's what I did (see Figure 6):
  1. Cut and laid the 1/4-inch luan plywood on the floor.
  2. Cut and laid 2x4s on their widest side on top of the luan. The 2x4s would serve as additional cross beams since there was only the single metal cross beam for the entire interior floor space of the camper. 
  3. Cut and laid 1 1/2-inch foam board in between the 2x4s.
  4. After I was satisfied everything dry-fit well, I glued everything. Make sure you use glue that won't deteriorate the foam board.
  5. Stacked anything and everything I could find on top of the assembled floor so there would be a solid bond after the glue dried.
  6. The following day I flipped the assembled floor over and installed Owens-Corning Ice Guard on what would be the underside of the floor. The Ice Guard is basically rolled roofing material, with one side pre-glued so that it stuck to the underside of the camper floor. This would serve as my undercoating. I used screws to further secure the Ice Guard to the plywood, and the plywood to the 2x4s.

NOTE: While the plywood was cut so it would extend from one wall to the other, the 2x4s and foam board were not. These were cut short to leave room for a 2x2 on each end. The 2x2 was not part of the pre-assembly, however.
    NOTE II: I had to assemble my floor in two pieces. One full piece would not have been able to slide under the door threshold and the kitchen cabinets. This ended up causing some issues during installation, but the end result is all good.

    NOTE III: In hindsight I would not have used 1/4-inch luan plywood. I would have used 1/2-inch, or even 3/4-inch, treated plywood. I would have used thinner foam board to compensate for the difference so my new floor would be the same thickness as the old floor. I actually had bought 1/2-inch treated plywood but returned it and went with the luan instead. At the time, I figured that's what the factory used so I should do the same.

    Next -- Part 5: Installing the New Floor.

    RV Floor Replacement Project Part 3: Deconstruction

    Author's note: I wish I could post all of the photos I took as I did this project. However, I took them with my iPhone and left it out in the rain. It completely fried the phone to the point two different stores couldn't even bring it back to working order, let alone retrieve all the photos. I'll do my best to describe everything, but I'm afraid I have no pictures. I created some diagrams in the Scribd file above and inset into the post below that further tries to explain all that I did.

    Click here to read Part 1: Admitting the Problem Exists.
    Click here to read Part 2:  Realizing the Scope of the Problem

    Figure 4; the blue depicts the extent of the water damage and its origins
    Step 3: Deconstruction

    You can see a video of the project, including the layout of our camper, by clicking here.

    With the cabinetry out, the dinettes removed and vinyl floor peeled away, I found myself looking at Styrofoam saturated with water (see Figure 4, above). Water that had somehow found its way in 10 days earlier when we drove to Mackinaw City camping trip in a rain storm was trapped in the floor.

    Now, a quick Google search with keywords "Bantam" and "water" will turns up scores of hits. It seems early model hybrids, like ours, and especially Bantam models, like ours, are notorious for taking on water when being driven in a rain storm. There's a bunch of theories why, but I was staring at the result. Our floor began to rot from the door and from the front right corner of the camper.

    So my RV Floor Replacement Project also became a Make It Watertight project.

    I decided I'd make it watertight as I went along. First things, first. Finish removing the rest of the floor.

    Scraping the Styrofoam out was easier than I anticipated. The bottom layer of 1/4-inch luan also wasn't too bad. Wherever the water hadn't yet caused the glue to fail was a little more difficult. In fact, this helped me to decide to limit the floor replacement to the front 2/3 of the camper. The back 1/3 was fine. It also meant I wouldn't have to remove the last dinette seat (the one which housed the fresh water tank) at the rear of the camper.

    After scraping out the Styrofoam and bottom layer of plywood, the only thing left was the aluminum sheeting that was used for undercoating. Some of this I found to be riddled with holes, especially where the water heater had been under the U-shaped dinette, and another likely culprit to our water infestation. I decided to keep the aluminum because most of it was fine, but I knew whatever new floor I put in would have to somehow be protected from the elements.

    Once we had everything ready for the new floor installation, we discovered another surprise that needed our attention: one of the metal cross beams -- in fact, the only one in the interior of the camper -- had broken. The location of the break was right at the door,which is why the floor was spongy there the worst, and why the cabinet and dinette seat had pulled away from the wall.

    Before any new floor would be installed, we had to figure out what to do with that.

    Next -- Part 4: Assembling the New Floor.

    RV Floor Replacement Project Part 2: Realizing the Scope of the Problem

    Author's note: I wish I could post all of the photos I took as I did this project. However, I took them with my iPhone and left it out in the rain. It completely fried the phone to the point two different stores couldn't even bring it back to working order, let alone retrieve all the photos. I'll do my best to describe everything, but I'm afraid I have no pictures. I created the diagrams in the Scribd file above, and inset into the post below, in a further effort to try and explain all that I did.

    Click here to read Part 1: Admitting the Problem Exists.

    Step 2: Realizing the Scope of the Problem

    After a week of campping in which the camper floor resembled an inflatable bounce house (I exaggerate only slightly), the spongy and discolored floor of our 2000 Trail Lite Bantam finally demanded my attention.

    We returned home from Mackinaw City on a Sunday, and the very next Saturday I loaded up my tools and headed out to my shirt-tail relative's Back Forty, the super secret (free) long-term storage site for our camper.

    Before I tackled the floor, I knocked three other smaller projects out of the way. At some point when driving home, we lost the cover to our Fantastic Fan vent. It's the second time this has happened to us, and I pinpointed the problem to the gear mechanism in the arm that raises and lowers the cover. A simple fix to that and installing the new cover was done in no time flat.

    The other two projects: Replacing the mixer (hot and cold water plumbing) in the shower and sanding, scraping and priming the tongue for Rust Converter. Again, simple (yet messy).

    Then it was time for the floor.
    Figure 1; showing key infrastructure of the camper

    Figure 2; the layout of our camper
    First, let me try to describe our camper's floor plan (see Figures 1 & 2). Standing at the door, which is mid camper, and extending counter clockwise from the right you have a U-shaped dinette at the front of the camper, the kitchen (which is directly opposite the door), a bank of storage cabinets and then a small all-in-one shower/bathroom which takes you to the rear of the camper Continuing on in the same counter-clockwise direction, is a single dinette and a small storage cabinet until you end up back at the door.

    You can see a video of the project, including the layout of our camper, by clicking here.

    Back to the floor: First I took my utility knife and scored the vinyl along the entire perimeter. Next I peeled back the vinyl, exposing what was underneath. What I found was a soggy excuse for 1/4-inch luan plywood, darkened black due to mold.The worst of it was right around the door, which is also where it was the spongiest.

    It didn't take long realize that I had to remove cabinets and dinette benches (see Figure 3). The rotted wood undoubtedly extended under those as well.

    First to come out was the small storage cabinet and the first bench seat of the single dinette to the immediate left of the door. Next came the U-shaped dinette.

    I left the other bench seat of the single dinette (the fresh water tank is located inside it) and the shower/bathroom, storage cabinets and kitchen on the far wall. I wasn't about to make the project a total gut job.

    Figure 3; showing the dinette and cabinets that were removed
    Figure 4; the blue depicts the extent of the water damage and its source
    With the cabinets and bench seats removed, I used my utility knife to score the new perimeter of the exposed floor. After that, it was relatively easy to peel back the vinyl. The water damage had caused the glue to fail.

    With the vinyl off I was down to Styrofoam. This was saturated with water. Almost like a sponge in some places. I remembered that we had driven to Mackinaw City in a rain storm 10 days earlier and I was astounded to find so much water trapped in our floor.

    Regardless, I now knew just how bad it was. And I also knew that I had a leak.

    Next - RV Floor Replacement Project Part 3: Deconstruction

    RV Floor Replacement Project Part 1: Admitting there is a problem

    Author's note: I wish I could post all of the photos I took as I did this project. However, I took them with my iPhone and left it out in the rain. It completely fried the phone to the point two different stores couldn't even bring it back to working order, let alone retrieve all the photos. I'll do my best to describe everything, but I'm afraid I have no pictures. The above video might help, and in the next posts you'll see diagrams I created to further try to explain all that I did.

    Step. 1: Admitting the Problem Exists
    The first step in any problem, I'm told, is to admit that it exists. I failed to do this early on and paid for it because the scope of this project need not have been as large as it became. Had I tackled my spongy and discolored floor years earlier, it would have been much easier, less expensive and taken far less time than it did.

    I did do a major repair several years ago. The bottom seam along the front of the camper had failed, so with my friend's help I installed a stainless steel rock guard. At the same time, I replaced the top layer of 1/4-inch luan plywood on some of the floor under the front storage area at that time. This was due to what undoubtedly was an old leak that had rotted the floor, but I knew then a more thorough floor repair was in the future. I should have set a firm timetable to it, but I didn't. And I paid for it.

    But hindsight, as I'm also told, is 20/20.

    We went camping over the Fourth of July this summer at Old Mill Creek Camping in Mackinaw City. It was then that I finally admitted that our camper's trampoline of a floor demanded my attention. It also happened to be our first time out this year, so this was my first chance at seeing how bad it had become over the winter. I de-winterized and cleaned the camper the day before we left, and knew then that once we returned I had a project on my hands.

     What made it worse during this camping trip was that we drove up to Mackinaw City in a hellacious storm. As anyone with a early model hybrid (especially a 13-year-old Trail Lite Bantam, as we have) will tell you, they are notorious for taking on water when towing in the rain. I wouldn't find out in Step 2 just how true this is. Actually, we didn't even need to wait that long. The entire camping trip in Mackinaw City it felt almost as if we were walking on a waterbed.

    It was worst by the door, and the door side cabinetry had actually come loose from the wall. It was bad enough that I was afraid I would put my foot through the floor. If not for the vinyl, I'm sure that might have been the case.

    In any event, we got the camper home. Our next camping trip (Cheeseburger in Caseville festival) was still a solid moth away, so I figured I would have no problem fixing the camper floor in plenty of time.

     Little did I know.

    Next - RV Floor Replacement Project Part 2: Realizing the Scope of the Problem

    Volunteers Honored by Illinois DNR at Illinois State Fair Ceremony

    The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) hosted the annual IDNR Outstanding Volunteers of the Year ceremony at Conservation World at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield this summer.

    “Volunteers provide such valuable and important service to the people of Illinois through their work at our state parks, on conservation projects, and on special events, programs and projects at the Illinois State Museum,” said IDNR Director Marc Miller. “The Volunteers of the Year ceremony provides us a chance to say ‘thank you’ to a dedicated group of Illinoisans.”

    The volunteer awards ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 17 in Conservation World at the Illinois Green Industry Association Outdoor Amphitheater.

    This year’s Outstanding Volunteers of the Year are:

    Illinois River Valley Conservation Group, Varna Duane Atherton and Joe Anderson
    The Illinois River Valley Conservation Group (IRVCG) was organized in 2012 to support programs and projects at Woodford State Fish and Wildlife Area and Marshall State Fish and Wildlife Area. During the last year, IRVCG volunteers have rebuilt a picnic shelter, constructed two fish cleaning stations, treated 600 feet of campground fence, maintained a navigable channel for boat access at both sites, donated 20 picnic tables, replaced the floor at a check station building, and assisted site staff in cleanup work at both sites following record flooding. In addition to helping with site projects that could not be accomplished due to staffing and budget issues, the IRVCG is assisting Wildlife staff with dove, wood duck, and goose banding projects and bird surveys.

    Friends of Stemler Cave Woods, Columbia, Bob and Nancy Weck
    The Friends of Stemler Cave Woods formed in 2005 to provide stewardship, protection, monitoring, and public education within the Stemler karst natural area in southwest Illinois. The Friends group has worked tirelessly on behalf of the site, assisting the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission on site monitoring and protection, logging more than 2,000 hours in, as their motto describes, “A Network of Neighbors Working to Preserve a Diverse Ecosystem.” In addition to their hands-on work, the Friends of Stemler Cave Woods has conducted extensive public programs and has worked on the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan.

    Alvin Forsyth, Mascoutah, Volunteer Master Instructor with IDNR Safety Education Program
    Alvin Forsyth of Mascoutah has served as a volunteer instructor for the IDNR safety education program since May 1977, becoming a volunteer master instructor in February 1993. Al Forsyth is one of the longest serving volunteer safety instructors, serving with professionalism and pride. Forsyth has taught or conducted more than 114 classes with nearly 4,200 students of all ages. He also recruits and trains other instructors, recently implementing an instructor candidate training course.

    Christopher Herndon, Forest City
    Christopher Herndon has assisted for many years with management of lakes and ponds in north central Illinois. Herndon has assisted in wetland restoration, stocking and collection of brood fish, data input for fish surveys, and assisted Fisheries and Law Enforcement staff with flood assistance, including evacuations and sand bagging. Herndon has accumulated more than 540 volunteer hours assisting IDNR personnel.

    Mark Walczynski, Tonica
    Mark Walczynski, a retired Illinois DNR employee, is an advisor to the Starved Rock Foundation and is park historian for Starved Rock State Park in La Salle Co. Mark Walczynski teaches history, philosophy and criminal justice courses at Illinois Valley Community College in Oglesby, and recently wrote the book Starved Rock State Park: The First 100 Years. The book looks behind the scenes at Starved Rock State Park through the eyes of visitors, state officials, park employees, and local residents. Proceeds from the sale of the book benefit the Foundation’s book store.

    Josh Hinkle, Hopewell
    Josh Hinkle, while working at the Wal-Mart distribution center in Spring Valley, encouraged fellow employees to volunteer on trails cleanup projects at Starved Rock State Park. Said Josh about the volunteer effort, “Starved Rock is a big attraction in the Illinois Valley area, and if the park looks good, we all look good.” Thanks to the support of Wal-Mart volunteers, the park received a $5,000 grant, which is being used to improve the landscaping around the Starved Rock Visitor Center.

    Jersey Community High School Agriculture Students, Jerseyville
    Jersey Community High School Agriculture students, under the direction of teachers Jeff Goetten and Kami Kates, have contributed hundreds of hours of service volunteering at a number of programs and events at Pere Marquette State Park during the last five years. In May 2013 on one of their last days of the school year, the students and teachers designed and installed new landscaping in front of the park’s Visitor Center. The annual Two Rivers Family Fishing Fair was moved to the Jersey County fairgrounds due to flooding at Pere Marquette State Park, and the Jersey Ag students assisted in various activities at the fishing fair attended by thousands of area residents.

    Thomas Anderson, Springfield
    Tom Anderson, an accomplished woodworker and furniture craftsman, has for the past two years volunteered with the Illinois State Museum’s Feather Distribution Project. Tom follows his mother Barbara Anderson in volunteering for the project in which thousands of feathers are sorted each week for distribution to the Pueblo Indians of the American msouthwest and other Native Americans.

    Annie Bileck, Springfield
    Annie Bileck, as a high school student, has been volunteering at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield since 2011. Annie Bileck has worked with programs for children at the Museum’s Mary Ann MacLean Play Museum.

    Pam Conover, Springfield
    Pam Conover has been volunteering in the Illinois State Museum’s Mary Ann MacLean Play Museum for more than three years. She has assisted in visits by school groups and families, and last fall earned honors for more than 100 hours of volunteer service in the Play Museum.

    Dannyl Dolder, Rochester
    Dannyl Dolder serves as a volunteer photographer, demonstrating courage, creativity, and attention to detail. Dannyl serves as an assistant to Museum photographer Doug Carr, who says of Dolder: “She’s a gem.”

    Mirl Whitaker, Springfield
    Mirl Whitaker began work as a volunteer at the Illinois State Museum more than 10 years ago, assisting in the Place for Discovery with children’s programs. Mirl has served as a docent and in other capacities, including helping inventory archaeological collections at the Museum’s Research and Collections Center. Most recently, Mirl has sorted feathers for the Feather Distribution Project, providing macaw, parrot and wild turkey features to Native American groups for cultural practices. Mirl Whitaker has been one of the Museum’s most versatile volunteers, and at age 91, Mirl is believed to be the oldest volunteer in the history of the Illinois State Museum.

    Wisconsin greeting Mother Nature's return for her annual fall foliage tour

    Free color show starting soon in the north; Facebook contest, Tweets all part of the state fun

    Mother Nature is back for her compelling annual fall color tour, starring one of the state’s fiercest economic powerhouses – the tree.

    Images from
    And the best part is the admission – free!

    “This is one of the most popular science shows running - from curtain up to standing ovation,” said Carmen Hardin, a forest science specialist with the Department of Natural Resources.

    While the annual fall color show is always a huge attraction for the thousands who flock to Wisconsin, and contribute to the state’s strong tourism industry, Hardin says it is the state’s forest industry that is the basis of the show.

    “It’s all orchestrated by Mother Nature using the state’s 16 million acres of forests. When they’re not turning colors for all to ‘ooh and aah’ about, the trees help contribute $2.6 billion annually in forest industry wages,” Hardin said.

    New fall color social media events
    But the color show doesn’t stop with the forest line. This year, the DNR Facebook page will host a fall color photo contest and the DNR Twitter account will issue periodic messages about where tree colors can be found along with some science facts on. People can look for the rules of the photo contest, Wisconsin’s Color Contest, on the DNR Facebook page and the DNR Twitter messages to start around September 12.

    “We’ll help you find the best color – and you can share your finds with everyone on the DNR Facebook page,” said Trish Ossmann, DNR social media coordinator.

    What about that science: When do trees turn and why?
    In late summer, broadleaved trees respond to lengthening nights and cooling temperatures by reducing levels of a green pigment known as chlorophyll that is used in photosynthesis -- the production of sugars in the leaves. When the trees reduce their green pigment, the oranges and yellows in the leaves come through.

    Red and purple fall colors have a different origin, and are due to anthocyanin pigments that are actively produced in late summer at the same time as the green chlorophyll deteriorates.

    The brightest red and purple colors appear when autumn days are bright and nights are chilly but not freezing. These are the conditions which increase production of the red and purple pigments. Orange and yellow colors tend to be fairly constant from year to year because the orange and yellow pigments are always present in the leaves.

    But some people reported they were seeing trees turning color early and dropping their leaves in August.

    DNR Forest Health Specialist Bill McNee says this was due to last year’s drought and the dry summer some areas of the state experienced again this year.

    “Trees without enough water started to shut down early to reduce further water losses. This meant they went through the color change earlier than they normally would,” McNee says.

    Trees are starting to turn in the northern areas and it will take about a month or so for the color to spread south. Roughly speaking, you can look for the color season to run from about September 10 to October 10.

    The DNR’s EEK! – Environmental Education for Kids! website has more information on fall tree color.
    A state with a view

    “People often ask us where to go to see the best colors,” Hardin said. “The answer is anywhere in the state. It’s all a matter of keeping track where the color is traveling.”

    Hardin says Wisconsin’s State Forests – Black River, Brule, Flambeau, Governor Knowles, Havenwoods, Northern Highland-American Legion, Point Beach, Peshtigo River and Kettle Moraine’s six units -- are great for viewing.

    State parks and natural areas also offer great viewing. In fact, Wisconsin state parks, forests, recreation areas, trails, and wildlife areas provide more than 2,730 miles of hiking trails. To learn more about these areas search the DNR website for “public lands.” The Ice Age National Scenic Trail, with about 600 of an eventual 1,000 miles completed, and about 75 miles of the North Country National Scenic Trail are in Wisconsin.

    People can also track the color changes and plan sight-seeing trips by following DNR tweets or by visiting the Wisconsin Department of Tourism website’s fall color report (both links extit DNR).

    “Remember when you head out to also take your camera,” adds Ossmann, the agency’s social media coordinator.” You can enter the DNR Facebook Wisconsin’s Color Contest! You also can enter a great photo from past Wisconsin falls, too.”