A Grand Adventure: Michigan's first universally accessible paddle

This summer a dedicated group will make Michigan history when a large group of veterans with disabilities will paddle the length of the Grand River. They'll be escorted on the 184-mile trip by friends, family and paddlers of all abilities as they raise awareness of efforts to improve access to Michigan's longest inland waterway and promote health and healing through paddle sports.

The Grand Adventure is being planned by a group of dedicated volunteers and accessibility professionals who want to create the first universally accessible water trail in Michigan or perhaps the world!

The Grand Adventure will include wounded veterans and others with physical or cognitive challenges. All paddlers of any ability are welcome to paddle the entire route or join the group for shorter segments. The organizing committee will be working with communities along the river to enhance universal access for paddlers of all abilities at each rest stop, lunch site and overnight stopping points so everyone will be able to independently access the river.

The paddle will start south of Eaton Rapids in Tompkins on June 19th, with special opening events planned as paddlers arrive in Eaton Rapids later in the day. A Grand Adventure will also make stops in  many communities along the Grand River including Lansing, Portland, and Grand Rapids before making the final push to Grand Haven and Lake Michigan on July 1st.

Scott Fraser owner of Highland River Adventures INC., a school specializing in adaptive paddling, will serve as the event coordinator for the event. Mr. Fraser is a certified American Canoe Association instructor in the state of Michigan and the chapter coordinator of team River Runner; a water sports program for veterans with disabilities.

The organizers are seeking sponsors, partners and volunteers to provide financial, in-kind and labor support to make this event a reality and to make lasting accessibility improvements.

Video: 'How a paper cup can save the day at an RV sewer hookup' by RVTravel.com

Enjoy this post from RVTravel.com on "How a paper cup can save the day at an RV sewer hookup"

Here's what RVTravel.com had to say about its video:
Every once in awhile, typically in older RV parks, you can run into a problem with a sewer hookup. Here's an easy way to handle this uncommon situation. This is so simple you'll say "Why didn't I think of that?"

Presented by RVtravel.com: Sign up for its informative weekly or daily newsletters(s) at http://RVtravel.com . More than 200,000 readers every month.

Guest post: Winter Ski, Wildlife packages at Jackson Hole’s Bentwood Inn

Author's note: As we plan our summer camping trips, here's a little something to keep us dreaming of vacations out west. 

Secluded yet close to all the action, Jackson Hole’s Bentwood Inn is surrounded by a world of winter fun and romance.  Just five scenic miles into the town of Jackson in one direction and five miles in the other to world class skiing under the Grand Tetons, The Bentwood couldn’t be better situated. And to sweeten the deal, the Inn has just announced three winter packages packed with activities and value.

There’s good reason why Jackson Hole Mountain Resort was voted the #1 Overall Ski Resort in North America for 2014 in SKI Magazine Reader’s Poll. From snow quality and lifts, to dining and service those in-the-know annually rank it top of the class. Equally adored and celebrated by national media, The Bentwood Inn has been named “One of North America’s Top Ten Ecolodges” for its dedication to sustainable practices. Combine the two and the experience is bound to be rich and rewarding.

The Bentwood Inn has just announce two Winter Ski & Lodge Packages that include luxurious nights in the classic log lodge, ski passes, one exclusive Bentwood Bistro dinner for two, an elk refuge sleigh ride, hearty full service breakfasts and more.  Offered is a four night package for two, priced at $1,499 per couple, plus tax and a five night couple’s package priced at $1,859 plus tax. This special runs to April 6.

For the nature lover who prefers hiking trails over black diamond runs, The Bentwood Inn has introduced a special Winter Wildlife Experience Package filled with active days and cozy, fire-lit nights. The three day/three night adventure starts each morning with a breakfast described by Frommer’s travel guide as “hearty and sumptuous.” Highlight of the stay is a guided half-day winter hike with a local naturalist to observe and learn how wildlife in Jackson Hole not only survive, but thrive in winter conditions.

The package, priced for couples, is $999 + tax for two and includes three nights at the Inn, a 4-course Bentwood Bistro dinner for two, healthy breakfasts, evening social hour with appetizers and the guided backcountry adventure (all equipment provided).

For all packages, please see: http://www.bentwoodinn.com/specials.html

Few inns in Jackson Hole offer the unique character and qualities found at the Bentwood Inn. Situated in a beautiful natural setting, a stone’s throw from the Snake River, the majestic Tetons provide the perfect backdrop for simply unwinding. Discerning travelers enjoy the iconic eight bedroom log lodge ambiance and peacefulness without the cacophony of a hotel lobby with its constant stream of guests. It is easy to envelope oneself in nature, bird and animal watching from the Inn's decks and balconies or on a short stroll in the woods. Grazing elk and moose are frequent visitors. It is a true winter wonderland when the snow falls and a glorious wildflower show in the summer. But the best kept secret might be the elk bugling and fall colors that surround the Inn during autumn months.

About The Bentwood Inn 
The Bentwood Inn is a four season, award-winning luxury log lodge nestled on 3.5 acres of Jackson Hole solitude where all year long wildlife can be seen passing through the property. Built in 1995, the Inn was constructed with massive 200 year old logs sustainably harvested after the Great Yellowstone Fire of 1988. There is over 6,000 square feet of luxury to enjoy; including the Great Room with a three-story river rock fireplace and baby grand piano. Each guest room has a private fireplace and personal deck or porch, and most have a king bed and jetted spa tub. The large outdoor back deck facing the Grand Tetons is perfect for relaxing and socializing in warm weather, and ideal for hosting weddings and events. The Bentwood is rated among the top Inns in Jackson Hole by Trip Advisor and has achieved their Gold rating for its environmental standards. The Bentwood Inn is the only Select Registry Property in Wyoming and has been recognized as “One of North America’s Top Ten Ecolodges” by Outside magazine and Away.com.

For more information, availability, and reservations please call 1-307-739-1411, Email: info@bentwoodinn.com, or log onto: http://www.bentwoodinn.com/.

Video: 'How To Flush & Clean RV Black Water Holding Tank' by Mark Polk of RV Education 101

Enjoy this 3:10 video on "How To Flush & Clean RV Black Water Holding Tank" by Mark Polk of RV101.TV and RV Education 101.

Here's what Mark had to say about his video:
RV101.TV - expert help for your RV with Mark Polk of RV Education 101. Flushing and cleaning the RV black water holding tank will keep the RV waste water system working properly for many years. In this informative RV how to video learn some simple methods to keep your RV holding tank clean .

RV Education 101 e-book series
As I've said many times, Mark Polk is my favorite RV expert. I'm pleased he and his wife, Dawn, have allowed me to sell his RV e-book series. E-books (electronic books) are immediately downloaded to your computer after you make the purchase. The RV Education 101 e-book series includes:
  • "The Original Checklist for RVers"
  • "The RV Book"
  • "RV Campground Basics"
  • "101 Tips for RVers"
  • "RV Care and Maintenance"
  • "Insiders Guide to Buying an RV"
  • "Winterizing & Storing your RV"
  • "RV Awning Use & Care"
  • "Deep Cycle Battery Care & Maintenance"
  • "RV Buyers Survival Guide"
  • "Complete Guide To: RV Towing, Weights, Hitch Work & Backing"
  • "Pop-Up Basics 101"
  • "Dinghy Towing"

Guest post: Mountain Bike adventure for couples

Author's note: I enjoy mountain biking with my wife, but not the "posterior numbness" immediately afterward. Regardless, enjoy this guest post from Sacred Rides.

Sacred Rides, the company that helped pioneer singletrack mountain bike tours in 15 remote and exotic destinations internationally and in Canada, is launching a new line of Bring-Your-Partner trips that mountain bikers and their non-biking companions can enjoy together.

A new Rocky Mountain Bring Your Partner trip includes hiking, yoga, hot springs, spa time and introductory mountain bike lessons for the companion, plus paddling on the Kootenay River, hikes and other activities for couples to do together. The mountain biker will enjoy spectacular singletrack cross-country riding on moderate to challenging terrain in Fernie, at Nipika Mountain Resort and Banff National Park and Kananaskis Country.

Two dates so far have been set, July 5-12 and Aug. 9-16, for eight-day programs that begin with complimentary transfers from Calgary Airport. The per person double rate is $2,395 CAD. Included are seven nights accommodation, all breakfasts, lunches and two dinners, local mountain biking and hiking guides, a paddling adventure, lift passes at Fernie Alpine Resort to access trails, full-suspension mountain bike rental for the partner, beverage and snacks and a welcome bottle of wine.

This itinerary is designed to showcase some of British Columbia’s stellar Rocky Mountain regions, with lodges selected for lingering in the beauty. Lodges and attractions include a private lodge on the banks of the Elk River in Fernie; Island Lake Lodge in the Lizard Range, a world-famous cat skiing resort set on the shores of a spectacular alpine lake underneath the jagged peaks of the Lizard Range; Fernie Alpine Resort, one of North America’s premier ski resorts and in summer, a mountain bike paradise with over 50 trails for all levels of bikers; and Nipika Mountain Resort, a secluded backcountry resort on the edge of Kootenay National Park.

"Many clients want to go on a mountain bike adventure with us, but they can't or don't want to use up their precious vacation time away from their partner,” explains Mike Brcic, visionary owner of Sacred Rides. “So, voila! Now the partner can join in and enjoy hiking, yoga, even spa time. Plus there lots of together time to stoke the relationship fire with adventure fuel!"

Both departures are over 50% sold already, so Sacred Rides encourages interested couples to visit the website and reserve a spot soon.

About Sacred Rides
Ranked “#1 mountain bike tour operator on Earth” by National Geographic editors, Sacred Rides offers small-group, single-track mountain bike adventures and skills camps in 13 destinations worldwide. Historically known as the company for serious fat-tire fanatics, in 2013 the company has launched a new line of trips focusing on novice bikers who have little or no experience with mountain biking, with an infusion of region-dependent multi-sport activities. In all of its destinations Sacred Rides emphasizes responsible tourism that makes direct, meaningful contributions to local communities.

Video: The ABCs of RV camping at Walmart by RVTravel.com

We have not had the luxury, or need, to stay overnight in a Walmart parking lot. If we ever needed to, though, it's good peace of mind to know Walmart allows this at most of its stores.

Chuck Woodbury of RVTravel gives us the Do's & Don'ts of this practice in this video.

Here's what Chuck had to say about his video:
RVtravel.com editor Chuck Woodbury explains the "unofficial rules" for spending the night in an RV in a Walmart parking lot. The price is right: free. But there is a right way and wrong way to do it. Learn the right way here. Presented by RVtravel.com: Sign up for its informative weekly or daily newsletters(s) at http://RVtravel.com. More than 200,000 readers every month.

American RV in Grand Rapids announces expansion

West Michigan-based American RV is riding into the New Year with exciting plans to expand.

The dealership, which started in 1988 on a small gravel lot, now sits on 19 acres off U.S. Route 131 and 76th Street SW. The plan includes adding an additional 5 acres to the new and used RV lot, doubling inventory space to a total of 10 acres.

“Providing superior sales and service is our mission at American RV and has been our core value since my father started the business 26 years ago, says American RV General Manager, Chad Neff. “This expansion will allow us to increase our offerings and to serve even more customers in West Michigan and beyond,” says Neff.

Construction is set to begin early summer 2014 and completed around July.

American RV is a family owned and operated business celebrating 26 years in West Michigan. Named on of the Top 50 RV Dealers in North America, the number one Class B motor home dealer in the state, and the largest truck camper dealer in the state, American RV offers a large selection of travel trailers, fifth wheels, campers, and class A gas or diesel motor homes. From sales to maintenance and financing, American RV is a full service RV dealer that aims to provide superior service characterized by honesty and integrity. Visit American RV today at 201 76th Street SW in Grand Rapids or at (877) 863-9527.

Michigan Inland Lakes Convention set for May 1-3 in Boyne Falls

The first-ever Michigan Inland Lakes Convention will be held May 1-3 at Boyne Mountain Resort in Boyne Falls. This convention presents an opportunity for lake enthusiasts, lake professionals, researchers, local government officials and other interested individuals to participate in three days of educational presentations and discussions, in-depth workshops, tours, exhibits and much more.

The 2014 Michigan Inland Lakes Convention is brought to you by the Michigan Inland Lakes Partnership, launched in 2008 to promote collaboration in an effort to advance stewardship of the state’s more than 11,000 inland lakes.

The convention is a cooperative effort between many public and private organizations: Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Chapter of the North American Lake Management Society, Michigan Lake and Stream Associations, Inc., Michigan State University Extension, Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and Michigan State University Institute of Water Research.

Convention sessions will cover a wide variety of topics including aquatic invasive species management and control; natural shoreline management; Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program training; and the latest in lake research, riparian rights and water law.

Registration for the convention opened Jan. 6. For more information, including how to register, visit www.michiganlakes.msue.msu.edu.

Video: 'Preventive Maintenance Tips to Extend Engine Life' by Mark Polk of RV Education 101

Enjoy this 4:33 video on "Preventive Maintenance Tips to Extend Engine Life" by Mark Polk of RV101.TV and RV Education 101.

Here's what Mark had to say about his video:
RV101.TV - expert help for your RV with Mark Polk of RV Education 101. In this informative RV how to video get some helpful preventive maintenance tips that can extend the life of your motorhome, tow vehicle or automobiles engine life.

RV Education 101 e-book series
As I've said many times, Mark Polk is my favorite RV expert. I'm pleased he and his wife, Dawn, have allowed me to sell his RV e-book series. E-books (electronic books) are immediately downloaded to your computer after you make the purchase. The RV Education 101 e-book series includes:
  • "The Original Checklist for RVers"
  • "The RV Book"
  • "RV Campground Basics"
  • "101 Tips for RVers"
  • "RV Care and Maintenance"
  • "Insiders Guide to Buying an RV"
  • "Winterizing & Storing your RV"
  • "RV Awning Use & Care"
  • "Deep Cycle Battery Care & Maintenance"
  • "RV Buyers Survival Guide"
  • "Complete Guide To: RV Towing, Weights, Hitch Work & Backing"
  • "Pop-Up Basics 101"
  • "Dinghy Towing"

RV Product: Snipe Hunt - The Game

Education Outdoors Transforms the Lore of the Snipe into a New Game
Locate and capture your opponent’s mythical creature first to win the Snipe Hunt 

If your family enjoys spending time in the outdoors camping or if your children are in the scouts, chances are you have heard of the elusive creature of the forest, the Snipe. Traditionally nothing more than a campfire prank, Education Outdoors has transformed the story of the Snipe into a new family board game called Snip Hunt.

A tradition passed down through the generations, the Snipe Hunt originated as a tall tale told by parents and teens to younger children. Inexperienced campers are told about a bird or animal called the Snipe and the usually preposterous method of catching it, such as running around the woods carrying a bag or making strange noises such as banging rocks together. As children set off in search of the Snipe, their elders take in the antics and try to contain their laughter.

A twist on this fruitless quest, Snipe Hunt is an indoor or outdoor game of hide-and-seek where players try to be the first to find their opponent’s Snipe and return it to its nest. To play, the teams choose an area that will be the Snipe nest and two areas to hide their Snipes.

Each team turns their Snipe on and disappears to find the best hiding place for them. In five minutes the Snipes will begin chirping and their eyes will start flashing red so teams must hurry to get back to the nest before they giveaway the direction their Snipe is hiding. Once both Snipes are hidden, the hunt begins! The first team to return their opponents Snipe to the nest is the winner.

Each game comes with two snipes, (named Biela and Smartin) and a Snipe nest. The packaging tells the story behind the legendary campfire animals. For more information on the game, including rules, visit www.educationoutdoors.net. Snipe Hunt retails for $24.99 and can be purchased at Bass Pro Shops, Cabelas, Books a Million stores and specialty retailers nationwide.

About Education Outdoors
An avid outdoorsman, Tim Paczesny grew up at his family’s log cabin resort in Northern Michigan. As an adult with children of his own, Tim wanted to create a way to share his knowledge of the outdoors with his children and his “city” friends. He came up with the idea of creating games that would be able to teach families about the outdoors through trivia questions and fun facts. For more information, please visit www.educationoutdoors.net.

Guest post: Top 12 Hottest Travel Spots for 2014 with video

 Author's note: It's February in the Great Lakes, which means it's cold and, depending on where you are, there's a few inches or a few feet of snow on the ground. Before we shoot six holes in the freezer (with a nod to Jimmy Buffett), here's a sure fire cure for cabin fever. Granted, I don't know many of us who might go RVing to any of these destinations (especially since most are overseas), and there's a few of which I would seriously question the safety, but it's fun to dream, ain't it?

Yes, it's a new year! Time to dust off that luggage and resolve to explore more of the world. The same old beach scene can get pretty tiresome, though, so maybe this is the year to try something fresh and exciting, like one of these under-the-radar or recently rediscovered destinations that promise unique experiences and memory-making adventures worth traveling for.

Hideaways.com names its "go-now" destinations for savvy, sophisticated travelers Portsmouth, NH-(January 2014)-It's a new year, and for all those with a renewed resolve to get out there and see more of the world, traveling to any of the "go-now" hot spots named by Hideaways.com will ensure a unique and memorable travel experience.

"We consulted our travel crystal ball to find places on the verge of discovery, or prime for rediscovery, in 2014," says Mike Thiel, founder and president of Hideaways International Inc. "Our 'Top 12 Hottest Travel Spots for 2014' are either well-kept secrets or enjoying a renaissance of sorts. And each celebrates those special things, like unspoiled beauty, that set them apart from every other place."

Here's a little insight into why each destination made the list:

1. Nicaragua: Safe and welcoming, this Central American country offers delights like hundreds of small tropical islets with sandy cove beaches, rolling hills with cloud forests, colonial towns with churches and museums, and new and noteworthy accommodations, like Mukul Resort & Spa.

2. Brazil: The largest country in South America, Brazil is vast and varied, boasting destinations like historic Salvador, Manaus (the gateway to the Amazon), Buzios (Brazil's version of the Cote d'Azur), and fiery Rio de Janeiro, where you must enjoy a stay at Copacabana Palace Hotel.
3. Ecuador: The second-smallest country in South America, Ecuador has massive appeal, both as an affordable destination and as a paradise for nature lovers (think Amazonian rainforest, snow-capped Andes, Galapagos Islands), with plenty of restaurants, historic sites, and accommodation options.
4. Mexico City: Mexico's capital city will delight with its fascinating architecture, vast collection of museums, exceptional restaurants, and more than 300 neighborhoods (orcolonias). Combine a stay here with the back-to-nature attractions of up-and-coming Riviera Nayarit on the Pacific Coast, for a combo city and seaside escape.
5. Canouan Island: This year, the Caribbean island of Canouan begins improvement projects costing more than $11 million, including a new ring road, commercial jetty, and community wharf. These will improve the sleepy island's infrastructure, but they'll also attract more travelers, so visit soon! Try the laid-back, beachfront Tamarind Beach Hotel & Yacht Club for an unplugged holiday.
6. South Korea: Unlike its East Asian neighbor to the north, South Korea is quite hospitable, offering a fascinating blend of old-world tradition and high-tech futurism. In addition, "The Korean Wave," or hallyu, has popularized South Korea's music, culture, and food - experience it all at the source.

7. Russia: As the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics, all eyes are on Russia. Despite its questionably "open" arms, this Eastern European/North Asian country continues to fascinate travelers, making it ideal for land-based vacations - enjoy a stay at Grand Hotel Europe in St. Petersburg - and river cruising with lines like AmaWaterways and Viking River Cruises.
8. South Africa: The world glimpsed the heart of South Africa's people after the recent death of President Nelson Mandela. Experience this warmth for yourself, as well as the country's diversity: safaris to whale-watching, fine dining to wine tastings, and Cape Town city to natural wonders like Victoria Falls. Don't miss a stay at the iconic Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town, followed by an exciting adventure with Orient-Express Safari Camps in nearby Botswana.
9. Norway: Riding a wave of popularity inspired by Disney's animated film, Frozen, this Scandinavian country shares an inviting and unique Viking heritage - a most enchanting way to experience Norway is with a cruise along its coast, like the "Northern Lights" winter trip with Hurtigruten.
10. Croatia: This Eastern European country offers modern delights like sport fishing and golfing as well as authentic glimpses of the past, especially along Croatia's famed Dalmatian Coast. Choose from a plethora of private villa rentals and live like a local. The nearby and formerly isolated country of Albania provides something rare in this day and age - a glimpse into an unspoiled culture that is only now beginning to taste the fruits of tourism.

11. Scotland: In 2014, Scotland is hosting the Year of the Homecoming, the Ryder Cup, and the 2014 Commonwealth Games, while still offering experiences like world-class golf. In this U.K. country, rent a cottage, stay in a country home, or get pampered at a luxury retreat like The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh.
12. Vancouver: This vibrant city on Canada's west coast is easy to get around and get to know. Plus, Vancouver has a long list of great things to do, from outdoor recreation to gambling. Made for more than a quick layover, both the Shangri-la and Hotel le Soleil are exceptional venues from which to explore the city.
"Let's face it, a 'hot' destination is only hot if you discover it before the crowds," says Mike. "And each one of our hottest spots offers a special something worth experiencing this year. My best advice? Go now, before the rest of the world discovers these little secrets!"

Grand Lake St. Marys (Ohio) offers special camping discounts for 2014

As it has for the past several years, Grand Lake St. Marys State Park will be offering extended discounts in 2014, with camping and docks being offered at a 25 percent discount. These special rates will begin April 1, and last until Oct. 31, excluding holiday and theme weekends.

“This is the ideal time of year to begin planning a vacation,” said ODNR Deputy Director Glen Cobb. “We encourage Ohioans to visit a state park they have never been to before.”

The Grand Lake St. Marys State Park discounts may not be used during the following dates: May 23-25, July 3-July 5, Aug. 29-31, Sept. 18-20 and Oct. 1-4.

Contact the Grand Lake St. Marys State Park Office for questions about the discounts at 419-394-3611.

A Word of Caution
Officials have struggled to get a handle on the toxins that have plagued the lake at Grand Lake St. Marys State Park. People have been advised against swimming and wading, water should not be swallowed, and surface scum should be avoided, according to the Ohio departments of Environmental Protection, Natural Resources, and Health. 

The following advisory is posted on the Grand Lake St Marys website:
  • Public Health Advisory WARNING - High levels of algal toxins have been detected at Camper's Beach, Windy Point Beach, East Beach and West Beach. Swimming and wading are not recommended for the very old, the very young and those with compromised immune systems.
A link on the Grand Lake St. Marys Website provides current information on the matter.

Ohio State Parks consists of 74 state parks located across Ohio that are utilized by 55 million visitors per year — with free admission. There are countless opportunities for families to explore new parts of the state and bond together by swimming, hiking on trails, riding bikes or horses, golfing, playing disc golf as well as many other outdoor recreational activities.

Visit parks.ohiodnr.gov to learn more about the lodges, camping, getaway rentals and other fun activities available through Ohio State Parks.

Guest post: 5 Best Birding Spots in the U.S.

Author's note: Enjoy this guest post from Andi Singer, who writes about the best travel destinations in the United States for www.yourrvconnection.com. She loves hiking in rural areas, biking, and water sports as well as exploring big cities by foot.
Willow Slough Fish & Wildlife Area, Indiana covers almost 10,000 acres with 1,200 acres of open water and marshland. This area attracts birds of all types including the bald eagle, pied-billed grebe, green-winged teal, bufflehead, osprey, as well as many types of owls, songbirds, and waterfowl. The area is also open for hunting, fishing, and the gathering of berries and fall mushrooms.
  • Where to stay: Willow Slough Fish & Wildlife Area has a campground with 50 RV sites. You can stay for only $10 a night, but there is no electrical, water, or sewage hook-up.

Snake River Valley, Idaho is home to a uniquely concentrated population of nesting birds of prey. Here you may cross the path of golden eagles, prairie falcons, northern harriers, and American Kestrels, as well as sage thrashers and sage sparrows. The Peregrine Fund World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise provides birding tours of the area, or you can venture out on your own.
  • Where to stay: There are several options for RVers wanting to explore the Snake River area. The Snake River RV Resort provides campsites for vehicles up to 70 feet long, as well as full hook ups and laundry facilities. Idaho is also known for being fairly RV-friendly, and it is often possible to spend the night in Walmart or truck stop parking lots.

Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge, South Dakota is a great place to stop if you’re look for quality and quantity birding. During the early fall migration you will witness the sights and sounds of millions of birds including American white pelicans, tundra swans, arctic-nesting snow geese, Ferruginous hawks, and horned larks.
  • Where to stay: There are no camping opportunities at the Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge, however there are an abundance of RV parks in the nearby town of Aberdeen, SD.

Cape May, New Jersey is another great spot if you are hoping to see birds of prey, with up to 14 species. It spans through coastal woods and marshes, and has a wide variety of songbirds, shorebirds, waterfowl, and seabirds. There are several reserves and parks in the area including Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, Higbee Beach, Belleplain State Forest, and Forsythe National Wildlife refuge, so you may want to plan an extended stay to ensure that you have time to see all of the sights.
  • Where to stay: Cape May has a variety of RV parks and campgrounds with and without hookups. Seashore Campsites offers full hookups and offers weekly rates during the summer months. You’ll also find some of the state and national parks have on-site camping with varying amenities.

Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas has a much different group of birds than you will see anywhere in the Northern United States. It is close to the border of Mexico, so you will see some birds that are not native to the U.S. Plain chachalatas, olive sparrows, hook-billed kites, and Audubon’s orioles are among the many different species around the area. This area is also great for escaping the cold of the Northern States during the winter, as it is a year-round birding spot.
  • Where to stay: There is no RV camping allowed in most of the reserves and parks in the area. Primitive camping is available on a limited basis, or you can venture farther into the Rio Grande Valley to find a variety of RV parks closer to nearby cities.

Video: 'RV Roof Care & Maintenance Tips' by Mark Polk of RV Education 101

Enjoy this 1:05 video on "RV Roof Care & Maintenance Tips: by Mark Polk of RV101.TV and RV Education 101.

Here's what Mark had to say about his video:
RV101.TV - expert help for your RV with Mark Polk of RV Education 101. In this informative RV how to video gets some quick tips on RV roof care and maintenance to help extend the life of your RV roof.

RV Education 101 e-book series
As I've said many times, Mark Polk is my favorite RV expert. I'm pleased he and his wife, Dawn, have allowed me to sell his RV e-book series. E-books (electronic books) are immediately downloaded to your computer after you make the purchase. The RV Education 101 e-book series includes:
  • "The Original Checklist for RVers"
  • "The RV Book"
  • "RV Campground Basics"
  • "101 Tips for RVers"
  • "RV Care and Maintenance"
  • "Insiders Guide to Buying an RV"
  • "Winterizing & Storing your RV"
  • "RV Awning Use & Care"
  • "Deep Cycle Battery Care & Maintenance"
  • "RV Buyers Survival Guide"
  • "Complete Guide To: RV Towing, Weights, Hitch Work & Backing"
  • "Pop-Up Basics 101"
  • "Dinghy Towing"

Clear Lake State Park (Michigan) campground closed due to electrical system renovation

The Michigan DNR has announced that Clear Lake State Park, in Montmorency County north of Atlanta, will undergo construction to upgrade the electrical system in the campground during the first half of 2014, which means that campground operations and opening schedules will be delayed.

The campground is anticipated to open the weekend before July 4, 2014. Weather and construction schedules may affect the reopening of the campground. Camp reservations will be available after the campground is open. The ORV parking area and the boat launch near the campground will open on schedule. Also, the day-use beach, picnic area, disc golf course and boat launch will open on schedule.

Camp visitors to Clear Lake may wish to consider alternative locations such as Onaway State Park, P.H. Hoeft State Park, Otsego Lake State Park or one of the numerous state forest campgrounds in the area. Campers who wish to camp during the winter season may seek opportunities to camp at North Higgins Lake State Park or reserve a lodge available at P.H. Hoeft State Park or Cheboygan State Park. Find more information on Michigan state parks and campgrounds - including reservation options, amenities and outdoor recreation opportunities - on the DNR website at www.michigan.gov/stateparks.

This work - part of the extensive renovation process to upgrade the aging infrastructure of the Michigan state park and recreation system - is necessary to ensure that Clear Lake State Park's electrical system complies with safety standards.

Michigan DNR Fisheries Division staffers talk Michigan ice fishing

When it comes to ice fishing in Michigan, DNR fisheries
biologist Scott Hanshue says, “To make it enjoyable, go out
when the weather’s nice.” (DNR photos)
Michigan anglers didn’t have a lot choice about how they practiced their sport in early 2014. With arctic weather leaving most of the state’s lakes – as well as many of its rivers – frozen, it’s been fish through the ice or stay home and think about fishing.
Fortunately, getting started ice fishing is relatively simple. Anglers need just three basic pieces of equipment – something to make a hole with, something to clear the slush from the hole, and something to fish with – and they’re in business.

The first two are simple. Either an auger (a corkscrew-like cutting device) or a spud (an over-sized chisel) will get you through the ice. And a simple slush scoop – something that looks like a ladle with holes in the cup – will get that job done.

That leaves a beginner short just one item: fishing tackle. Anglers can fish through the ice either with hooks and lines or spears. Ignoring the latter, the options are myriad, ranging from high-tech graphite rods and top-of-line spinning reels to simple fiberglass poles jammed into wooden-dowel handles and outfitted with a simple plastic, spring- tension spool to hold line.

Anglers can fish through the ice virtually anywhere they can fish during soft-water season except on designated trout streams – please consult the 2013 Michigan Fishing Guide for exceptions – and can fish for virtually all species of fish except largemouth and smallmouth bass (the season on which closes Jan. 1). And in at least one case – spearing for sturgeon on Black Lake – there is fishing opportunity through the ice that is not available the rest of the season.

As with open-water season, opportunities are extensive and range from fishing for mere minnows (smelt) to muskies.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Fisheries Division Chief Jim Dexter prefers to fish for panfish, bluegills and perch.

DNR fisheries biologist Todd Grischke
says most anglers are after bluegills,
followed by perch and walleye.
“Ice fishing to me is about reducing your catch to possession, and those are the species I like to eat,” Dexter said. “There aren’t too many guys out practicing catch-and-release fishing through the ice.”

DNR fisheries managers think most Michigan anglers are like Dexter: panfish anglers.

“I would say most guys fish for bluegills,” said Todd Grischke, the Lake Huron Basin coordinator. “After that, I would think it’s perch and walleye.”

Bluegills are almost ubiquitous. Perch and walleye are a little less widespread.

Generally, with bluegills, the key is to “pound the bottom,” said Christian LeSage, a recreational fishing specialist with the Fisheries Division. “You have to maintain contact with the bottom so you know where your bait is in the water column.”

Olen Gannon, a fisheries technician out of the Plainwell office and a bluegill aficionado, said it’s important not to get locked into the bottom, though.

“Pay attention to the line as your bait’s dropping,” Gannon said. “If the fish are active they may hit it on the fall. And if they’re real active they may be just a foot or two under the ice – that happens quite a bit when you’re in deeper water.”

Assuming your bait makes it to the bottom, fish there and work your way up in the water column, Gannon said.

“If the fish aren’t there, move up one crank of the reel at a time,” he added. “If that doesn’t work, cut more holes and keep moving. Stay mobile.”

DNR Fisheries Chief Jim Dexter out on the
ice. “When the fish are biting,” he said, “you don’t even notice that it’s cold.”
Walleyes and perch are typically bottom feeders that are less likely to be found up in the water column. Jim Baker, Southern Lake Huron Fisheries Unit supervisor, likes to fish for walleyes on the Saginaw River.

“I like to fish two rods,” Baker said. “One with jigging lure like a spoon or jigging Rapala, typically baited with the head of a minnow, and a still rod with a walleye-sized minnow hooked through the lips. Fish near the bottom; the depth can be anywhere from 10 feet to out in the middle of the shipping channel. Sometimes they’ll hit the spoon or Rapala and sometimes they’ll hit the minnows.”

Vince Balcer, a fisheries technician out of the Bay City office who often fishes for perch on Saginaw Bay, also likes to use two rods.

“We use lightweight gear – light action rods – and I like to use one with a live minnow hooked through the back to swim around and another with a small spoon with a single hook and a bead on it to jig with,” Balcer said. “When you get on a school with that spoon, you don’t have to mess around with re-baiting.”

Balcer said one of the keys to catching perch is finding them in the first place.

“You’ve got to keep moving,” he said. “If you don’t find fish in the first half-hour, keep moving until you find them. I’ll move 12 times a day if I have to.”

Chris Freiburger, a DNR habitat biologist and experienced perch angler, says anglers should be willing to experiment.

DNR fisheries biologist Chris Freiburger suggests: “If you’re
catching small fish, go with a bigger bait – it might change
what you’re catching.”
“If you’re catching small fish, go with a bigger bait – it might change what you’re catching,” he said. “Go to a bigger spoon or a Rapala and you might start catching bigger fish.”

Not all fish are as bottom-oriented as perch and walleye. Fisheries biologist Kregg Smith, who works out of Plainwell, says fish such as black crappie and smelt – two of his favorites – are often found suspended in the water column. Smith said smelt, which are typically pursued after dark, start biting as soon as the sun sets.

“Any small jig that you have baited with a spike will work,” he said. “With a depth finder, you can see where the fish are and know where to fish. It’s similar with crappie, too; just use a slightly larger jig, tipped with a wax worm or minnow head.”

One of the toughest parts of ice fishing is enduring the elements. Good outerwear, boots, hats, etc., will help you stay out on the ice. Says fisheries biologist Scott Hanshue, “To make it enjoyable, go out when the weather’s nice.”

But some guys pooh-pooh the idea that ice fishing is harsh.

Says DNR Fisheries Chief Dexter: “When the fish are biting, you don’t even notice that it’s cold.”

Michigan is home to plenty of fishing opportunities in winter and year-round – including the upcoming Winter Free Fishing Weekend Feb. 15-16. Learn more at www.michigan.gov/fishing. 

Guest Post: Austin Adventures takes families on wild adventures in Montana, elsewhere

Author's note: From time to time I like to share information about travel destinations - especially as we (im)patiently wait for camping season to begin. Enjoy this guest post from Austin Adventures.

Austin Adventures, the award-winning active travel company setting international adventure vacation standards, announces 10 new-for-2014, value-driven family trips among its 100 itineraries and tours in 35 countries on six continents. 

“Keeping the family vacation tradition going strong has always been our mission, so each year we take a close look at our itineraries and prices and offer as much value and relief as we can,” says Dan Austin, President. “With Austin Adventures active, two-parents-working families can combine their thirst for outdoor adventure with distinctive kid-friendly lodgings that offer exemplary service and cuisine, all at a very competitive price.”

Nearly a quarter of the company’s itineraries are family-focused and value-driven. 

“We’ve researched comparable tours from other well-known family adventure companies and we can safely say that no one comes close to the inclusions and value that Austin Adventures offers,” noted Austin.

Austin Adventures family trips accept children ages 7 and up (5 and up for Costa Rica and Yellowstone). There are no age restrictions on custom and private trips which are becoming increasingly popular with extended family groups that include the grandparents.

Family adventures offer special child pricing for the first and second child in the same room with parents or grandparents. Other special considerations for families include an extra guide and van and such kid-friendly equipment as tag-along bikes, squirt guns and games. Knowing that togetherness is key but in reality parents and kids enjoy time set aside just for them, Austin Adventures has carefully designed itineraries to include supervised activities for kids while adults enjoy a candlelit meal or some private downtime.

“With plenty of options and flexibility on our family vacation trips, we've created the perfect blend of cross-generational activity, R&R, comfort and adventure to satisfy adventurers of all ages. Parents can relax with us as our guides take over. Whether teaching kids how to rock climb or exploring folklore and history, our guides are a hit with kids. They're great role models and friendly and fun to be with,” Austin says.

Accommodations are carefully thought through to combine child-friendly elements such as swimming pools and, on arrival and departure nights, proximity to airports.

A sampling of Austin Adventures’ 10 new family programs for 2014 includes:

British Columbia Family – Whistler
Hiking, biking, rafting and a gondola ride to the top of Whistler Mountain combine with well-earned meals and comfortable overnights at the top-rated Legends Lodge at the base of Whistler Mountain. Departures for this six-day program are June 29, July 6 and 13, Aug. 3 and 24. The rate is $2,798 ($680 single supplement); children from $2,238 to $2,518. See: http://www.austinlehman.com/tours/whistler-british-columbia-family-tour-trips-40.php
Nicaragua Family – Granada to San Juan del Sur
Families zip-line through a rainforest, explore two volcanoes, kayak on Lake Nicaragua and swim in the Pacific. Departures for this eight-day trip are Mar 22, April 5, July 12 and 19 and Nov. 22. The rate is $2,498 ($480 single supplement); children from $2,248. See: http://www.austinlehman.com/nicaragua-family---granada-to-san-juan-del-sur-trips-149.php

Montana Family – Great Western Adventure
Guests live the tales of Custer and the Wild West at Little Bighorn Battlefield, get into a summer snowball fight at the crest of the famed Beartooth Highway enroute to Yellowstone National Park, keep an eye out for wolves, bear, bison, elk and antelope – and the sunrise – in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, hike, ride horseback, then hoot and holler at the Cody Stampede Rodeo. Departures for this six-day trip are June 22 and 29, July 4 and 27, Aug. 17 and 24. The rate is $1,998 ($380 single supplement); children from $1,598 to $1,798. See: http://www.austinlehman.com/tours/great-western-adventure-family-tour-trips-152.php
Other new family trips for 2014 are:

About Austin Adventures
For over 40 years Austin Adventures (formerly Austin-Lehman Adventures) has provided adventure vacations, now on six continents, building an international reputation for small group active travel to destinations in The Americas, Europe, Africa and Antarctica. Its specialty is adult adventure (multi-sport), family, biking, hiking and small ship cruising adventures, all focused on history, culture and nature’s gifts.  Small group trips feature exceptional regional dining, distinctive accommodations and all-inclusive rates and services. In addition to scheduled group departures, Austin Adventures offers customized trip planning and a money-back satisfaction guarantee.
In the September 2012 issue of Travel + Leisure, the company was ranked the #1 Family Tour Operator in the World; in March 2012 the magazine awarded AA the 2012 World’s Best Values Award for Tour Operators.  AA has also received Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Tour Operator Award (a Top 3 finisher) for four consecutive years from 2009 to 2012. In 2011 the company was honored with the Global Vision Award for its Wheels of Change bicycle empowerment initiative.  In September 2013 Austin Adventures joined the Xanterra Parks & Resorts® portfolio of experiential leisure offerings.

For a comprehensive 2014 catalog, call toll-free 1-800-575-1540, or e-mail info@austinadventures.com. To review current trips, schedules and itineraries log onto: http://www.austinadventures.com/

Video: 'Routine RV Water Heater Maintenance' by Mark Polk of RV Education 101

Enjoy this 2:35 video on "Routine RV Water Heater Maintenance" by Mark Polk of RV Education 101 and RV101.TV.

Here's what Mark had to say about his video:
RV101.TV - expert help for your RV with Mark Polk of RV Education 101. In this informative RV how to video learn some preventive maintenance steps to help extend the life of your RV water heater tank.

Check out more free videos at RV 101 TV http://rv101.tv/

RV Education 101 e-book series
As I've said many times, Mark Polk is my favorite RV expert. I'm pleased he and his wife, Dawn, have allowed me to sell his RV e-book series. E-books (electronic books) are immediately downloaded to your computer after you make the purchase. The RV Education 101 e-book series includes:
  • "The Original Checklist for RVers"
  • "The RV Book"
  • "RV Campground Basics"
  • "101 Tips for RVers"
  • "RV Care and Maintenance"
  • "Insiders Guide to Buying an RV"
  • "Winterizing & Storing your RV"
  • "RV Awning Use & Care"
  • "Deep Cycle Battery Care & Maintenance"
  • "RV Buyers Survival Guide"
  • "Complete Guide To: RV Towing, Weights, Hitch Work & Backing"
  • "Pop-Up Basics 101"
  • "Dinghy Towing"

Register now for Michigan DNR’s 'Becoming an Outdoors-Woman' winter program, Feb. 28-March 2

Women seeking the opportunity to improve their outdoor skills are invited to register for the 13th annual Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) winter program in the Upper Peninsula. The program will be held in Big Bay the weekend of Friday, Feb. 28 to Sunday, March 2.

Sponsored by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, this program offers instruction in more than a dozen types of indoor and outdoor activities, including cross-country skiing, dog sledding, ice fishing, fly tying, wilderness first aid, wood burning and more. Instructors provide basic and advanced instruction that is tailored to each participant's individual ability.

The program takes place at Bay Cliff Health Camp, a universally accessible facility, located in a picturesque wooded setting overlooking Lake Superior approximately 30 miles north of Marquette.

The $180 registration fee includes all food and lodging, as well as most equipment and supplies, except as noted in the registration materials. Participants will be housed in a dorm-style facility with amenities including a sauna and hiking trails with access to Lake Superior.

BOW workshops are for women, 18 and older, who wish to learn outdoor skills in a relaxed, noncompetitive atmosphere. The winter BOW program also includes special evening programs during the weekend event.

Early registration is recommended as the program fills quickly each year. Class information and registration materials are available online at www.michigan.gov/bow, and payments may now be made online as well. For more information, contact Sharon Pitz at the DNR office in Marquette at 906-228-6561 or email pitzs@michigan.gov.

Nordic Center at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa Welcomes Fever River Outfitters

Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa in Galena, Ill., recently announced that Fever River Outfitters, the premiere sports outfitter and outdoor adventure company in Northwest Illinois, is now managing the resort’s Nordic Center. The Nordic Center is open now and is home base for winter activities ranging from cross-country skiing to skating and sledding.

“We’re excited to start this partnership with Fever River,” said Thomas Ruhs, general manager at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa. “They bring a level of expertise to our Nordic Center that our guests will love. We now have more activities and newer and more modern equipment than we’ve ever had.”

Just two-and-a-half hours away from Chicago, the Nordic Center at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa is located on the grounds of the resort. Formerly only open to guests, this year, for the first time, the Nordic Center is available to non-guests as well for a small access fee. The Nordic Center includes a retail shop with a wide variety of outdoor equipment and apparel, and opens to more than seven miles of cross-country ski trails, snowshoe trails, a sledding hill, and a picturesque, one-acre outdoor skating pond.

“The Nordic Center at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa is a wonderful place to bring the family for winter fun,” said Debra Malone, owner, Fever Ridge Outfitters. “Guests can rent or buy any kind of outdoor equipment, from cross-country skis to a warm pair of gloves, and be off in the snow having fun in no time.”

In addition to individual rentals and activities, the Fever River experts at the Nordic Center also offer private lessons and group activities, such as cross-country skiing classes on Saturday mornings, Friday-night sunset snowshoeing, and friendly games of broomball on the skating pond. Many guests also take advantage of Eagle Ridge’s proximity to Chestnut Hill, one of the best downhill skiing locations in Illinois, then return to the Nordic Center to relax by the fire or to participate in other winter activities.

The Nordic Center is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. with extended hours for special activities. For more information, guests can visit www.eagleridge.com, or call the activities desk at (815) 776-5033.

About Fever River Outfitters
Fever River Outfitters is an outdoor adventure outfitter based in Galena, Ill., leading outdoor adventure trips year-round in Northwestern Illinois for more than 11 years. With its primary location in downtown Galena, Fever River Outfitters also runs and manages the retail store and activities at the Nordic Center at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa.

About Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa
Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa is located 150 miles west of Chicago in the heart of The Galena Territory, a 6,800 acre recreational, residential and resort community nestled amid the rolling hills of northwestern Galena, Ill. The resort’s grounds include 63 holes on four award-winning golf courses, and accommodations that range from quaint Inn rooms to more than 250 villas and distinctive homes. Eagle Ridge has 15,000 square feet of state-of-the-art meeting space and beautiful conference homes, which regularly accommodate corporate groups, banquets and weddings. Other features include award-winning restaurants, the tranquil Stonedrift Spa, and an incredible selection of outdoor activities including miles of biking, hiking and horseback riding trails, as well as tennis, hot air balloon rides, boating and fishing on the picturesque 225-acre Lake Galena. For reservations or additional information, call (800) 892-2269 or visit www.eagleridge.com.

Six videos from the 48th annual Detroit Camper & RV Show

'Traverse City 2014' magazine hits the stands

Traverse City Tourism Corporation has just released the 2014 edition of its popular magazine and visitor’s guide, Traverse City.

 The free publication features 107 pages of articles, colorful photos and useful information designed to bring this picturesque Lake Michigan vacation region to the attention of a wider national audience.

Traverse City has long been treasured by Michigan residents for its matchless scenery, colorful history, imaginative cuisine and laid-back friendliness, as well as the low humidity, warm sunshine and cool coastal breezes that make its summers so comfortable. Still, until recently it has remained relatively unknown outside the state.

“Traverse City is a wonderful destination, but historically we haven’t done a really good job of sharing it with the rest of the world,” says Traverse City Tourism president Brad Van Dommelen. “The most common thing we hear from first-time visitors is, ‘I had no idea there was anything like this in this part of the country!’ Now, at last, we’re doing what we can to spread the word.”

The word is certainly getting out. This past year, Travel & Leisure Magazine named Traverse City one of America's favorite Towns, while Fodor's called it one of America's 10 Best Small Towns, and Family Fun magazine listed it as one of  America's Top 10 Tourist Towns.

More of a coffee-table magazine than a tourist guide, Traverse City avoids promotional clutter in favor of clean layouts, large color photos and informative articles. The 2014 edition, for example, features a guide to the region’s award-winning wine varieties, some pointers on finding the most secluded spots at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and a primer on the “idiot-proof” winter sport of snowtubing.

Naturally, the magazine also contains a great deal of practical information to help visitors plan their vacations, including detailed schedules of activities and events, a helpful lodging section describing the area’s best hotels and resorts, a guide to some of the region’s best restaurants and a section called “Traverse City Regions” that describes the area’s diverse neighborhoods, enclaves and communities.

The entire magazine can be viewed online by visiting the TCT website at www.TraverseCity.com. (The site also has a handy online order form that viewers can use to order a free copy of the real thing.)

Video: 'Trailer Towing Tips, Weight Ratings' by Mark Polk of RV Education 101

Enjoy this 1:00 video on Trailer Towing Tips, Weight Ratings" by Mark Polk of RV Education 101 and RV101.TV.

Here's what Mark had to say about his video:
RV101.TV - expert help for your RV with Mark Polk of RV Education 101. In this informative RV 101 how to video Mark Polk discusses the importance of understanding that each component in a towing system has a separate weight rating.

Check out more free RV how-to videos at RV 101 TV http://rv101.tv/

RV Education 101 e-book series
As I've said many times, Mark Polk is my favorite RV expert. I'm pleased he and his wife, Dawn, have allowed me to sell his RV e-book series. E-books (electronic books) are immediately downloaded to your computer after you make the purchase. The RV Education 101 e-book series includes:
  • "The Original Checklist for RVers"
  • "The RV Book"
  • "RV Campground Basics"
  • "101 Tips for RVers"
  • "RV Care and Maintenance"
  • "Insiders Guide to Buying an RV"
  • "Winterizing & Storing your RV"
  • "RV Awning Use & Care"
  • "Deep Cycle Battery Care & Maintenance"
  • "RV Buyers Survival Guide"
  • "Complete Guide To: RV Towing, Weights, Hitch Work & Backing"
  • "Pop-Up Basics 101"
  • "Dinghy Towing"

Remember safety when venturing on the ice

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources reminds ice fishermen and snowmobilers of its mantra: No ice is safe ice.

“Just because a lake or stream looks frozen doesn’t mean the ice is safe,” said Lt. Andrew Turner, marine safety and education supervisor for the DNR Law Enforcement Division. “By following some guidelines on how ice looks and feels, you can avoid your day of ice fishing ending in a life-threatening incident.”

According to Turner, you can’t always tell the strength of ice simply by its look, its thickness, the temperature or whether or not it is covered with snow. New ice, he said, generally is much stronger than old ice; a couple of inches of new, clear ice may be strong enough to support you, though a foot of old, air-bubbled ice may not.

DNR conservation officers practicing rescue
 techniques on the ice make sure the rescuers
remain well away from the thin ice. (DNR)
“Clear ice that has a bluish tint is the strongest,” Turner said. “Ice formed by melted and refrozen snow appears milky, and is often very porous and weak.”

Ice covered by snow always should be presumed unsafe. Snow acts like an insulating blanket and slows the freezing process. Ice under the snow will be thinner and weaker. A snowfall also can warm up and melt existing ice.

If there is slush on the ice, stay off. Slush ice is only about half as strong as clear ice and indicates the ice is no longer freezing from the bottom.

Turner said anglers should be especially cautious in areas where air temperatures have fluctuated. Any newly formed ice that is created after a cold front moves through should be regarded with caution. A cold snap with very cold temperatures quickly weakens ice and can cause large cracks within half a day. A warm spell may take several days to weaken the ice. When temperatures vary widely, causing the ice to thaw during the day and refreeze at night, the result is a weak, “spongy” or honeycombed ice that is unsafe, he said.

Anglers also should bear in mind that ice weakens with age, and late in the season, when it turns dark and gets honeycombed, it’s time to quit for the season. A cold snap sometimes halts the deterioration, but honeycombed ice never will refreeze to its original strength.

The DNR does not recommend the standard “inch-thickness” guide used by many anglers and snowmobilers to determine ice safety because ice seldom forms at a uniform rate.

Three or 4 inches of ice on a shallow farm pond with no inlets or outlets, for example, cannot be compared to the same amount of ice formed over a river with strong current, or to ice covering the bays of the Great Lakes, where ice cover always will be more fragile, Turner said.

Deep inland lakes take longer to freeze than shallow lakes. Ice cover on lakes with strong currents or chain-of-lakes systems also is more unpredictable.

A pair of ice spikes, like these, can help someone
who falls through the ice get back on top of it.
“Always presume that ice is unsafe,” Turner said. “Do not venture out onto the ice unless you test the thickness and quality with a spud or needle bar or an auger. Ice that is 6 or 7 inches thick in one spot can be only 2 inches thick close by.”

On the big lakes, ice cover in some spots may be thick enough to safely hold a car while other areas of ice are little more than an inch thick. Conditions can change within just a few feet because of currents under the ice. Be especially careful around pressure cracks. When the currents are stronger, the ice gives way to open water.

Ice near shore tends to be much weaker because of shifting, expansion and heat from sunlight reflecting off the bottom. If there’s ice on the lake but water around the shoreline, proceed with caution.

Avoid areas with protruding logs, brush, plants and docks. These structures can absorb heat from the sun, thus weakening the surrounding ice. Also avoid aeration devices, such as bubblers used near marinas.

“I personally would never recommend that you take a car or truck onto the ice,” Turner said. “But those are personal decisions. I would urge that anyone wear a life jacket, wear bright colors and take a cell phone when walking onto a frozen lake or river. Also, bring along a set of ice picks or ice claws, which you can find in most sporting goods shops.”

If you do break through, Turner offered the following tips:

  • Try to remain calm.
  • Don't remove your winter clothing. Heavy clothes won't drag you down, but instead can trap air to provide warmth and flotation. This is especially true with a snowmobile suit.  
  • Turn in the water toward the direction you came from - that is probably the strongest ice. 
  • If you have them, dig the points of the picks into the ice and while vigorously kicking your feet, pull yourself onto the surface by sliding forward on the ice.  
  • Roll away from the area of weak ice. Rolling on the ice will distribute your weight to help avoid breaking through again.  
  • Get to shelter, heat, warm dry clothing and warm, non-alcoholic, and non-caffeinated drinks. 
  • Call 911 and seek medical attention if you feel disoriented, have uncontrollable shivering or have any other ill effects that may be symptoms of hypothermia (the life-threatening drop in the body's core temperature). 

To learn more about staying safe while on the water or in the woods, visit the DNR website www.michigan.gov/recreationalsafety.

RV Product: FIREase IncinerGrate now comes in a collapsible version

Author's note: This is an update to a previous post on the new IncinerGrate from FIREase. The company emailed me to let me know they have developed a collapsible version (C4000) of their campfire grate product, which is perfect for RVers.

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!
IncinerGrate C4000 -- Collapsible for RVers!
Designed for portability and ease of taking from one place to another. This product “comes apart” into two pieces.  It has the durability of the S4000, but extra portability for the RV or car camper. It weighs only 5 lbs and is made of 1/2″ steel bar stock.  It is built to provide years of enjoyment. This product is professionally welded and coated. Height: 13″, Width 13″. ($69.99)

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 www.FIREase.com. 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.

Video: 'Fastway Trailer Products for 2014' by Mark Polk of RV Education 101

Enjoy this 3:38 video on "Fastway Trailer Products for 2014" by Mark Polk of RV101.TV and RV Education 101.

Here's what Mark had to say about his video:
RV101.TV - expert help for your RV with Mark Polk of RV Education 101. In this informative RV video Mark Polk interviews the folks at Equalizer Hitch about some of the new Fastway Trailer Products for 2014. http://www.fastwaytrailer.com/ Fastway Trailer Products are designed to make things faster and easier for trailer owners.

RV Education 101 e-book series
As I've said many times, Mark Polk is my favorite RV expert. I'm pleased he and his wife, Dawn, have allowed me to sell his RV e-book series. E-books (electronic books) are immediately downloaded to your computer after you make the purchase. The RV Education 101 e-book series includes:
  • "The Original Checklist for RVers"
  • "The RV Book"
  • "RV Campground Basics"
  • "101 Tips for RVers"
  • "RV Care and Maintenance"
  • "Insiders Guide to Buying an RV"
  • "Winterizing & Storing your RV"
  • "RV Awning Use & Care"
  • "Deep Cycle Battery Care & Maintenance"
  • "RV Buyers Survival Guide"
  • "Complete Guide To: RV Towing, Weights, Hitch Work & Backing"
  • "Pop-Up Basics 101"
  • "Dinghy Towing"