Michigan State Parks make infrastructure upgrades with Recreation Passport support

Some campsite numbers have changed; double-check before reserving

More than a dozen of Michigan’s 102 state parks have recently completed infrastructure upgrades to campgrounds and day-use areas, improving the state park experience for visitors.

Revenue from the Department of Natural Resources’ Recreation Passport entrance fee and the State Parks Endowment Fund supported the necessary updates, which ranged from overhauling outdated electrical and sewer systems to the construction of new shower facilities and ADA-compliant campsites.

For example, Bewabic State Park in Iron County recently completed upgrades throughout the campground, installing electrical pedestals at each electric campsite and providing 20- and 30-amp service sites. The park also repurposed 16 campsites to be ADA-compliant, creating a better camping experience for visitors with disabilities. This has reduced the number of sites with no electrical service in the campground.

Orchard Beach State Park (DNR images)
“Campers at the park this summer have already expressed their sincere appreciation for the upgrades,” said Bewabic State Park Supervisor Jamie Metheringham. “One thing for our regular visitors to note is that due to the upgrades, some campsite numbers have changed. We encourage campers who would like a specific site to call the park before making their reservation online.”

In addition to the improvements at Bewabic State Park, projects also were recently completed at the following state parks, thanks in part to Recreation Passport funding:

“This is part of our strategic plan to rebuild and modernize the Michigan state park system,” said Ron Olson, chief of DNR Parks and Recreation Division. “While many upgrades and improvements have been made, there still remains nearly $300 million in outdated or failing park infrastructure throughout the state. By purchasing the Recreation Passport, you are also helping to support and improve the Michigan state park system.”

Campers wishing to make reservations should visit the DNR’s Central Reservation System (CRS) at www.midnrreservations.com or call 800-447-2757.

For further details on improvements at specific parks, contact Dan Lord, DNR Parks and Recreation Division Development Program manager, at 517-284-6113 or click on the park names above for local contact information.

Recreation Passport
The Recreation Passport vehicle permit system was adopted by the DNR in October 2010. This new funding model was designed to provide a sustainable source of revenue for maintaining facilities managed by the DNR’s Parks and Recreation Division.

Michigan motorists who purchase their Recreation Passport for $11 per year ($5 for motorcycles) gain vehicle access into all state parks and recreation areas, as well as state forest campgrounds, boat launches and non-motorized trailheads.

Purchasing the Recreation Passport is an easy way to support and preserve Michigan’s woods, waters, trails, historic and cultural sites. In addition, when Michigan residents check “yes” for the Recreation Passport during vehicle registration renewal with the Secretary of State, they gain access to thousands of discounts at Michigan retailers through the Passport Perks program.

Learn more about the many benefits of the Recreation Passport at www.michigan.gov/recreationpassport.

Nonresidents can purchase the Recreation Passport ($31 annual; $9 daily) at any state park or recreation area or (annual passes only) through the Michigan e-Store at www.michigan.gov/estore.

New cabin at Sleepy Hollow State Park now available for reservations

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently announced that Sleepy Hollow State Park's newest cabin, complete with plenty of features to offer a relaxing stay at this popular mid-Michigan park, is now available for reservations. The cabin is nestled atop a hill near the beach and offers a beautiful view of Lake Ovid. 

The above video is one that I did when the Michigan DNR built two cabins at Holly State Recreation Area, which are similar to the one at Sleep Hollow State Park.

The cabin currently sleeps four people, with a full bed in each of the two bedrooms. In August, the cabin will accommodate up to six people, with a full-size bed and single bunk in each of the two bedrooms. Other amenities include a kitchen with a sink, refrigerator, microwave oven, toaster oven and coffee maker. The cabin is ADA-compliant, with an accessible bathroom and shower, as well as a picnic table, grill and fire ring outside. Guests will need to bring bedding, toiletries, towels, pots, pans and cooking utensils. There is no daily maid service and guests are asked to clean the cabin so it's ready for the next group to enjoy.

The rate for the cabin is $90 per night and there is a two-night minimum stay on weekends, which must include a Friday or Saturday night. The cabin is a smoke-free environment and pets (except service animals) are not allowed. Reservations may be made online at www.midnrreservations.com or by calling 1-800-44-PARKS (1-800-447-2757). Additional questions can be directed to park staff at 517-651-6217.

Sleepy Hollow State Park is located at 7835 E. Price Road, in Laingsburg.

Report: National park tourism in Michigan creates $166 million in economic benefit

Isle Royale National Park (NPS photo)
New report shows visitor spending supports 2,547 jobs in the Great Lakes State

A new National Park Service (NPS) report shows that the nearly 2 million visitors to Michigan’s national parks in 2013 spent $166.4 million and supported more than 2,547 jobs in the state.

“The national parks of Michigan attract millions of visitors a year from across the country and around the world,” said Patricia Trapp, acting director of NPS’s Midwest Region, which includes Michigan and 12 more states. “Whether it’s a day trip of a long family vacation, they come for a great experience -- and they end up spending a little money along the way, too. This new report confirms that national park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy, returning $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service. This reality makes parks tourism an important factor in Michigan’s economy as well. It’s a result we all can support.”

Michigan’s national parks are Isle Royale National Park, Keweenaw National Historical Park, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and River Raisin National Battlefield Park.

The peer-reviewed NPS visitor spending analysis was conducted by U.S. Geological Survey economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas, Christopher Huber and Lynne Koontz of the National Park Service. The national report shows $14.6 billion of direct spending by 273.6 million park visitors in “gateway” communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported more about 237,000 jobs nationally -- 197,000 them in park gateway communities -- and had a cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy of $26.5 billion.

The 2013 national economic benefit figures differ from the 2012 results, which were reported earlier this year. In 2012, Michigan’s national parks attracted  nearly  2.2 million visitors who spent $181.7 million supporting more than 2,800 jobs in the state. The authors of the report said the 16-day government shutdown in October 2013 accounted for most of the national decline in park visitation. The economists also cited inflation adjustments for differences between visitation and visitor spending, jobs supported and overall effect on the U.S. economy.

According to the national report, most park visitor spending was for lodging (30.3 percent), food and beverages (27.3 percent), gas and oil (12.1 percent), and admissions and fees (10.3 percent). Souvenirs and other expenses accounted for the remaining 10 percent. Nationally, the largest jobs categories supported by visitor spending were restaurants and bars (50,000 jobs) and lodging (38,000 jobs).

The 2013 Visitor Spending Effects Report can be found at http://www.nature.nps.gov/socialscience/docs/NPSVSE2013_final_nrss.pdf.

To learn more about economics within the National Park Service, please visit http://www.nature.nps.gov/socialscience/economics.cfm.

To learn more about Michigan’s national parks and how the National Park Service works with communities in the state to help preserve local history, conserve the environment, and provide outdoor recreation, go to www.nps.gov/michigan.

Showcasing the Michigan DNR: MSU researcher gives rare turtles a head start on survival

Jim Harding shows off an adult wood turtle he found on a
recent excursion on an Upper Peninsula river. (DNR photos)
To Jim Harding, spending nearly a lifetime studying wood turtles just makes sense.

“These are very long-lived animals,” Harding said. “And if you want to understand them, you have to study them over a long period of time.”

An instructor and outreach specialist with Michigan State University’s Zoology Department, Harding has been studying the wood turtle population along an Upper Peninsula river since 1969, when he was working on his master’s degree. But, he’s quick to tell you, he’s been interacting with them even longer; he has a photograph of himself and a turtle from his study site – on property owned by his grandfather – when he was five years old.

“I was always fascinated by turtles,” he said. “It wasn’t until many years later that I realized these weren’t just any turtle. They were special.”

The wood turtle is one of 10 species of turtles that live in Michigan. Of the 10, one species is considered threatened (spotted turtle) while the wood turtle joins the box turtle and Blanding’s turtle as a species of concern, explained DNR fisheries biologist Tom Goniea, who oversees reptiles and amphibians as coordinator of the state’s Scientific Collector’s Permit program.

Wood turtles join Blanding’s and box turtles in a group of turtles that are unusually long-lived, Harding said. Wood turtles have unfortunately been attractive to the pet trade, due to their ornate, ridged shells that look like carved wood; their striking, brightly colored yellow bodies; and their similarities to tortoises, which seems to lead people to believe wood turtles are more intelligent or wiser than other species of turtles.

Jim Harding removes the eggs from a wood turtle
nest so he can head-start the hatchlings.
Wood turtles are associated with moving water, from small creeks to large rivers. Although Harding finds them upland at times, “you never find them too far from the river,” he said.

The population on his study site is “just a shadow of its former self,” Harding said, something he attributes to two causes: collection by the pet trade back in past decades and a burgeoning raccoon population.

“For years we’ve had no evidence of natural reproduction at all,” said Harding, who recently spent time with several associates looking for wood turtles – and their nests – on his study site. “We don’t see any juveniles. The raccoons are getting all of their nests.”

As a result, Harding – who has the appropriate permits from the DNR – has taken to “head-starting” wood turtles: If he finds a turtle nest, he collects the eggs, incubates them, and raises the hatchlings for a year, then releases them at the study site.

By head-starting the young turtles, they are able to reach the size of a three- or four-year-old by the time Harding releases them, which he hopes will lead to better survival rates, even with some loss of adult turtles to raccoons.

Raising the hatchlings for a year is more of a chore than it sounds; the eggs are delicate and must be handled with care. The juveniles must be kept in separate holding areas as they’ll bite each other’s tails and limbs if left together.

To accommodate the hatchlings, Harding raises a few himself, has help from some fellow turtle aficionados with a couple more, and enlists the aid of John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids for help with the rest. So far, his work appears to be bearing fruit as he’s found some of his released turtles surviving in the wild.

Head-started turtles in a bucket await release by Jim Harding.
Omnivorous creatures that have developed a unique hunting technique – they thump the ground with their shells, creating vibrations that send earthworms to the surface – wood turtles are in short supply across their home range, which extends west to Minnesota, north into Canada and southeast to perhaps Virginia. In Michigan, wood turtles are found across most of the U.P and northern half of the Lower Peninsula.

“Michigan may be one of the states that is very important to their future because we have habitat,” Harding said. “They use a mosaic of forest and more open terrain. Timber harvests don’t bother them. Wood turtles do not require wilderness. All they require is that they be left alone.

“They live long lives because, even under the best of conditions, most of their eggs and young are destroyed,” he continued. “So few of them grow up, they have to lay eggs over 30 or 40 years in hopes that they can replace themselves. Every individual is valuable.”

Harding can’t tell you how long they live, but he has one specimen that he marked when the turtle was at least 20 years old and subsequently observed 45 years later, making the creature at least 65.

“I suspect they can live a lot longer than that,” he said.

Wood turtles lay five to 18 eggs with an average clutch size of around 10. The turtles nest on sand banks that are large enough that they can get above typical high-water stages so the nests are not drowned out by floods. Harding said he “used to find dozens of clutches of eggs,” but these days, if he finds five or six nests “it’s a really good year.”

“I’m happy finding any,” he said. “Some years I’ve gotten skunked.”

A young wood turtle walks across the sand.
If a hiker or paddler encounters a wood turtle, they are advised to enjoy the sighting but then to move on.

“It is illegal to collect, possess, kill or otherwise harass or harm wood turtles or any other species of special concern,” Goniea said.

Except for possibly helping one across a road, observers should keep their hands to themselves.

And that will serve wood turtles splendidly, Harding said.

“All they ask is to be left alone” he concluded.

For more information about wood turtles or the other nine species of turtles found in Michigan, visit www.michigan.gov/wildlife. To learn how to get involved with citizen monitoring of reptiles and amphibians in Michigan, visit www.michigan.gov/herpatlas.

Seeking a Thrill: 7 Great Amusement Parks with Nearby Campgrounds

Cedar Point
Theme parks and campgrounds are a perfect pairing for family activities, says Sandy Muller of GoCampingAmeria.com.

Imagine spending all day speeding around in roller coasters, flying down a towering waterslide, or showing the world of Planet Snoopy to your children, then being able to keep the family bonding time going by roasting marshmallows and watching the stars above.

Muller then offers a few suggestions for you to enjoy the theme-park-campground combination.

  • Knotts Berry Farm (Buena Park, Calif.) and Anaheim Resort RV Park
  • Cedar Point (Sandusky, Ohio) and Sandusky KOA/Bayshore Estates
  • Mt. Olympus Water and Theme Park (Wisconsin Dells, Wis.) and Mount Olympus ‘Zeus’ Village and Camp Resort
  • Schlitterbahn Waterpark (Kansas City, Mo.) and Walnut Grove RV Park
  • Hersheypark (Hershey, Pa.) and Hersheypark Camping Resort
  • Busch Gardens (Tampa, Fla.) and Lazydays RV Campground and Tampa East RV Resort.

Austin Adventures Sees Strong Trend In Last Minute Demand for Summer Vacations

Enjoy this guest post from Austin Adventures.

Travel companies must turn on a dime faster than ever these days. A leading multisport tour operator, Austin Adventures, reports that summer bookings once averaging 40 to 60 days in advance of departure are now coming in under 30 days or fewer this season.

“Because people are planning summer vacations at the 11th hour, it takes all of our skill and connections to be able to pull it off,” reports Dan Austin, president and founder. “’Where can I go next week?’ is becoming the new norm.”

Last summer, Austin reported that just six percent of all bookings took place within 30 days of departure. This year that segment of business is predicted to double to over 12 percent.

Austin thinks that this past hard winter and cool and wet spring effected how folks planned – or didn’t – for their summer vacations. Many didn’t get away in the first half of the year but he sees pent-up demand now for the annual summer escape.

“The air deals for summer are also finally here and families have sorted out their children’s complicated schedules,” he adds.

“In accommodating the demand, it doesn’t hurt to have good connections either,” added Austin. His company became part of the Xanterra Parks & Resorts family last year, a fact which also aids in accommodating last minute space requests, as Xanterra is the largest concessionaire in America’s National Parks.

“This partnership brings access to hard-to-get hotel rooms, off-the-tourist-track itineraries and access to local specialists whose expertise adds unique perspective to our national park travel experiences,” Austin notes.

“We seem to thrive when faced with a good challenge,” states Austin. “For example, just last week we had a guest call up on the Monday she returned home from our Montana Adventure and asked us to create a special “custom” Western experience for her children and their grandparents – next week!  She wanted the grandparents to experience what the family just did.  Needless to say getting rooms in Yellowstone or Jackson can be a bit tough, but we did it and the grandparents and grandkids are currently exploring Grand Teton National Park after spending the last few days in Yellowstone.”

Austin reports that this client is also booking a custom trip in Yellowstone in September for her office staff. “We are thrilled because with this much notice, September is easy!”

Word-of-mouth recommendations from family and friends are still the company’s best advertising. Austin points out that 28 percent of all Austin Adventures travelers are direct referrals from past guests.

Taking the risk out of booking is another factor that helps encourage last minute reservations. Austin Adventures, throughout its history, has offered a guarantee of satisfaction which is among the industry’s best. It simply states: “If we fail to meet your expectations and are unable to resolve a matter to your satisfaction during your trip, we’ll refund up to the full amount you paid to Austin Adventures.”

Whether guests want to explore the granite spires and soaring redwoods of Yosemite, take the kids kayaking through Alaska's Kenai Peninsula or discover all of the incredible wildlife and geothermal features of Yellowstone, last minute space is still available for the following six-day/five-night vacations (and others – call 800.575.1540):

Yellowstone Family: The rate is from $2,298 per person double ($1,838 and up for children). This adventure spirits guests away from crowds into back country where elk, bison and bear freely roam. Horseback riding and rafting the Yellowstone River promise family bonding moments. Guests enjoy accommodations at four distinctive lodges.

Montana Family:  Big Sky, Yellowstone, Paradise Valley: Guests are immersed in the majesty of Montana. The per person double rate is $2,398 ($1,918 and up for children). This adventure that accommodates guests at a guest ranch, Yellowstone Lake Lodge, and Chico Hot Springs Resort features hiking, biking, horseback riding and rafting. See: http://www.austinadventures.com/packages/montana-family-big-sky-yellowstone-paradise-valley/

Yosemite Family:  During this immersion guests begin to understand Yosemite’s lore as they stand at the base of a tumbling 2,425’ waterfall, under a soaring 8,842’ granite dome and witness a 3,000-year-old giant sequoia.  John Muir’s experience will become theirs too: "by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.” Rappelling is a highlight of this trip. The per person double rate is $3,298 ($2,638 and up for children). Accommodations include the iconic Yosemite Lodge. See:

Alaska Family: Guests explore the Kenai Peninsula at a comfortable pace by train, small ship, sea kayak, mountain bike and on foot while enjoying the hospitality of three distinct lodges. Wild, pristine and blessed with an abundance of astounding scenery and wildlife, the wonders of Alaska amaze explorers of all ages. The rate is $3,198 per person, double ($2,558 and up for children). See: http://www.austinadventures.com/packages/alaska-family-kenai-peninsula/

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/.

About Austin Adventures 
In addition to multi-sport adventures, Austin Adventures offers family, biking and hiking tours and small ship cruising, in total spanning 35 countries on six continents.

Outside Magazine recently singled out Kasey Austin, Vice President of Operations and trip leader extraordinaire, as the world’s top Family Guide for 2014. Past recognition includes; Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Values Award for Tour Operators and Global Vision Award for its Wheels of Change bicycle empowerment initiative.

The Firefly LDG Bulb promises to 'change the camping experience for good'

Here's an interesting product that claims to be a better alternative than nightlights, and promises to change the way we go camping. 

The Firefly LDG Bulb for Camping

Need to light up your campsite or tent without disturbing your neighbors? Ever feel like you are living out the tent shadow scene from Austin Powers? The Firefly LDG Bulb will soon be your new best friend! Thanks to the blue laser technology in the LDG Bulb "Destination Lighting" is sure to change the camping experience for good.

The LDG bulb is a blue laser night lamp that completely revolutionizes the way you think about lighting. After successfully raising $500,000 on Kickstarter the team has launched a new Indiegogo campaign to meet growing demands.

The Firefly is excellent for lighting the inside of tents. It lights up the tent 180 degrees and takes up very little room. Treat it the same as you would any electronic device, and protect it from humidity. To protect your Firefly simply use a clingy, kitchen plastic wrap over Firefly and use it that way. This solution will not in the display or coolng when appropriately stretched. Optionally, Firefly can be transported and stored in a resealable freezer bag. This will prevent your optics from getting moisture behind them.

Michigan DNR offers mother/daughter kayaking and hiking workshop August 2 in Marquette

Class size is limited; register by July 28

The Michigan Department of Natural ResourcesBecoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) program is offering a mother/daughter kayaking and hiking workshop at Marquette’s Tourist Park, Saturday, Aug. 2.

The program is designed for mothers and their daughters (10-17 years old) to learn side-by-side the outdoor sports of kayaking, hiking and backpacking.

The event will run from 9:15 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., with each class session lasting approximately two hours. Registration fee is $20, which includes lunch and the use of all necessary equipment. Class size is limited to 10 mother/daughter groups; registration deadline is Monday, July 28.

More information about the workshop and registration materials can be found online at www.michigan.gov/bow, and registration can be paid online at www.michigan.gov/estore. The event will take place rain or shine. For further details, contact Sharon Pitz at 906-228-6561 or pitzs@michigan.gov.

BOW is a noncompetitive program in which each individual is encouraged to learn at her own pace. The emphasis is on the enjoyment, fun and camaraderie of outdoor activities, and sharing in the success of one another. To learn more about the DNR’s BOW program, visit www.michigan.gov/bow.

New Wisconsin state park, forest, trail events and nature programs calendar available

MADISON - People now have an easier and more convenient way to find activities, events and nature programs at Wisconsin state parks, forests, trails and recreation areas with a new mobile-friendly events calendar on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website.

The new calendar has several user-friendly features including being able to search for events by date, property, or type of activity. The calendar shows event location information including contacts and maps and has links directly from event locations to park campsite reservation system. It also has an "add to your calendar" function that allows people to add event reminders to their personal electronic calendars.

The new calendar also includes a RSS feed so that a new Wisconsin State Parks and Forests mobile app that will be available later this summer can pull in event information directly from the DNR website.

The new calendar can be found by searching the DNR website dnr.wi.gov for keyword "Get Outdoors."

Videos: French Lick, Indiana and Minnesota by Motorcycle

Enjoy this 31-second video from Visit Indiana as they take us on a Road Trip to French Lick.

Enjoy this 31-second video from Explore Minnesota asking us to "Explore Northeast Minnesota by Motorcycle."

Western River Expeditions rafting guru shares 10 curious Grand Canyon factoids

Enjoy this guest post from Western River Expeditions.

The lure of a Grand Canyon raft vacation on the Colorado River has lots to do with the lore.

One Grand Canyon guru guided on the river for some 700 days before leaving the rapids to join Western River Expeditions as website and online marketing director.
But Kamron Wixom can’t leave the lore alone. Here are 10 of his favorite facts and trivia about the world’s grandest canyon: 
  1. The first known exploration of the Grand Canyon by boat was in 1869, the John Wesley Powell Expedition. He was the first to use the name “Grand Canyon”. By 1969, fewer than 100 people had his followed by boat through the remote gorge.
  2. Outside of the occasional dust storms and forest fires, the Grand Canyon is home of the some of the cleanest air in the United States.
  3. The Kaibab Tree Squirrel, a unique species that lives only on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, was separated from its South Rim cousins millennia ago.
  4. An estimated five million people view the Grand Canyon annually from the North and South rims. Only 20,000 see it by river raft or dory. (Western River Expeditions is the leading outfitter, putting some 4,000 guests through the Canyon each year.)
  5. Grand Canyon was named America’s 17th National Park in 1919, following in the footsteps of, among others, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Crater Lake, Glacier and Denali.
  6. Senator Bobby Kennedy took a highly publicized Grand Canyon rafting trip in 1972 and the popularity of rafting in the Grand Canyon suddenly skyrocketed.
  7. Grand Canyon still uses a scale of rapids from 1-10, a system that was grandfathered in before an international system scaled rapids from 1 to 6. A 10 is like a 5 on the international scale; a 6 on international scale cannot be navigated.
  8. Because they couldn't afford a boat, two swimmers in 1955 swam the entire length of the Grand Canyon, a distance of 288 miles.  (see: http://www.amazon.com/We-Swam-Grand-Canyon-Vacation/dp/0963405594)
  9. The Grand Canyon National Park has recorded more than 4,800 archeological sites and has surveyed just 5 percent of the park’s 1.2 million acres.
  10. On June 30, 1956, two planes flying from Los Angeles to Chicago, a United Airlines DC-7 and a TWA Constellation, had a mid-air collision over the Canyon and all on board perished. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was created in 1958 as a result of this accident. 
“There’s a synergy between a human being and a canyon. We get possessive of it; it’s our canyon. It’s so huge on one scale but so intimate on the other scale that it becomes our own. When people talk about their experiences in the canyon you have an instant bond with each other but at the same time you’re possessive of it. This contrast is indicative of nearly every experience you have in the Grand Canyon,” says Wixom.

After some 700 days in the Grand Canyon, what was his most satisfying moment?

“As a guide, it was the last night of the trip. I walked down the beach and saw a guest staring at the sunset with the canyon walls and river flowing through the foreground. I asked how she was doing. She turned and it took a few seconds for her to say something. Her Zen moment was happening. I was privileged to be the guide who helped her get to that moment,” he says.

Western River Expeditions has guided more guests through the famous gorge over the last 53 years than any other outfitter - and the word has gotten out.  “It’s an absolutely inspiring adventure,” says Brandon Lake, CMO of Western River Expeditions.

Annually, by the start of spring, Grand Canyon river trips for the upcoming summer season are usually sold out, notes Lake.  However this year the company has openings on a few departure dates on their signature six-day journey: July 22, 23, 24, 29, and Aug. 13, 21, 26, 27, 30, 31.

For a copy of the 2014 catalog, questions, availability and reservations call toll-free: 866.904.1160 (Local: 801.942.6669), or visit: http://www.westernriver.com/.

Western River Expeditions
Western River Expeditions is an adventure travel company headquartered in Salt Lake City, with operations and offices in Moab, Utah and Fredonia, Arizona. Annually from March through October it escorts more people down rivers on professionally guided rafting trips in Utah, Idaho and Arizona than any other company. It is the largest licensed outfitter in the Grand Canyon and the largest single tour provider in Moab, UT, through its division Moab Adventure Center (http://www.moabadventurecenter.com/).

Western River Expeditions, providing Grand Canyon rafting, Utah rafting, and Idaho rafting trips, was founded in 1961 by Colorado River rafting pioneer Jack Currey. It has been named one of the “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth” by the editors of National Geographic Adventure magazine. The company is the proud recipient of the "Best of State" award through Utah’s Premier Recognition and Awards Program for nine consecutive years.

Two videos from RV Education 101 on 'Installing a Ceiling AC Unit' and 'DIY Kitchen Tile Project'

How To Install a Deluxe Free Delivery AC Ceiling Assembly -RVDIYChannel.com.

In this RV "HOW-TO" video Mark Polk, with RV Education 101, demonstrates the features & benefits & installation of a Deluxe Free Delivery AC Ceiling Assembly designed for use on most Coleman Mach RV air conditioners.

RV DIY Kitchen Tile Project

In this premier RV How-To video Mark Polk with RV Education 101 demonstrates how you can upgrade your RV kitchen at an affordable price by adding some attractive peel & stick tile. 

Adding the look of tile to your RV kitchen, bathroom or wherever you like is a fun weekend project and a simple, lightweight design solution to update the look of your RV.

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"

Missouri's Current River State Park to hold kayak clinics on Fridays, including today

Current River State Park in Missouri will be hosting a series of free kayak clinics during the months of July and August. Sponsored by Missouri State Parks, the clinics will be held on Fridays from 10 a.m.to noon and will be taught on the park’s lower lake. The first clinic will be held today (July 18) and the last clinic on August 15.

Kayaks will be provided, and visitors will learn about kayak safety and skills. Topics covered include kayak equipment, basic paddle strokes and maneuvers, river safety and basic rescue techniques. Clinic instructors are certified by the American Canoe Association.

Sessions will be limited to 12 participants and advanced reservations are required. Reservations can be made in person or by calling Current River State Park at 573-858-3015.

Current River State Park is located 25 miles south of Salem or 15 miles north of Eminence on Highway 19. For more information about the clinics, call the park at 573-858-3015.  

For information on state parks and historic sites, visit mostateparks.com. Missouri State Parks is a division of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

Two Oakland County (Mich.) Parks Campgrounds offer Wi-Fi hot spots

The waterslide at Groveland Oaks.
Campers coming to Oakland County, Michigan in Metro Detroit can now continue to reach out to the world while enjoying the great outdoors through the new Wi-Fi hot spots at Addison Oaks and Groveland Oaks county parks campgrounds.

Wireless network will be available in Section C (restroom area) at Addison Oaks and at the concession/bath house/beach area at Groveland Oaks.

“We understand that, while it is great to be able to get away from it all, sometimes you have to keep in touch,” Oakland County Parks and Recreation Executive Officer Dan Stencil said.

The hot spots will allow laptops, smart phones and any device that uses wireless connections access to the Internet.

The new service comes just in time for the Oakland Parks Foundation’s inaugural “Pics of the Parks" photo contest. Youth and adults can now submit digital photographs right from the park based on the following themes: Historical Photos, Nature Photos, Capturing the Experience, Selfies and The Park Beneath My Feet. All photos must be taken at the Oakland County Parks. The entry fee is $15/image. Individuals are limited to three submissions. The contest runs through Sept. 13 and is also sponsored by The Oakland Press. Noted performer, visual artist and humanitarian Tony Bennett will select the grand prize winner. A list of requirements to enter the contest is posted on DestinationOakland.com

Both parks provide cabins, yurts, individual and group sites. The award-winning Campground Recreation program includes crafts, games, music, theme weekends, mobile recreation unit visits and live entertainment. Dogs are allowed on a leash.

The campgrounds offer recycling containers for paper, plastic and tin. Both have sandy beaches, laundromats and modern washrooms and showers. Addison Oaks has bike rentals, playgrounds and a 24-hole disc golf course. Groveland Oaks has a waterslide into the lake, boat/pedal boat rentals, an 18-hole miniature golf course and a skate park.

Call 248-858-1400 to reserve individual campsites.

For more information, visit DestinationOakland.com, Facebook and Twitter @DestinationOak.

Michigan DNR adds 'featured species' approach to habitat management

The Karner blue butterfly, a Michigan threatened species, is a
featured species in the Department of Natural Resources’
management of prairie habitat. (DNR photos)
From pine barrens to oak savannah, prairie fens to young aspen, state-managed land in Michigan offers a vast array of ecosystem and habitat types, which all call for differing approaches to habitat and wildlife management.

To best manage these various habitats, the Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Division has adopted guidelines that put the focus on "featured species" found in each ecosystem or habitat type - a management style that improves the department's ability to effectively measure outcomes and better engage the public in discussing and developing plans and goals.

To make featured-species management a reality, over the last five years the Wildlife Division has been compiling a list of featured species to guide its management practices. With 42 statewide species and a handful of regionally featured species, the list is designed to help guide DNR habitat work and provide a framework for measuring the impacts of that work.

“We used to talk about ecosystem management. The problem is that the term is so overused that it has no clear meaning,” explained DNR Wildlife Division Chief Russ Mason. “More important, it isn't measurable. Ask 10 people what ecosystem management means and you’ll get 10 answers.”

The featured-species approach is not a return to long-ago, single-species management, Mason said. Instead, featured species are representative of groups of species with similar habitat requirements. Besides providing a way to measure the effectiveness of habitat management, the featured-species concept is easier to explain. Stakeholders and partners get a better idea what management is about.

“If we clear-cut a stand in the Upper Peninsula, we can easily explain the 'why' – benefits to deer, ruffed grouse, woodcock and golden-winged warblers, for example,” Mason said.

“Ecosystems are poorly understood because they are enormously complicated,” he added. “Instead, we manipulate specific features for measurable habitat and wildlife outcomes. What's different today is that we're being explicit about it."

The American woodcock is one of the Michigan DNR’s
featured species for early successional forests.
DNR wildlife biologist Kerry Fitzpatrick designed the process for identifying featured species and writing habitat guidelines for them. 

“When I came to the department I was hired to work on habitat management,” Fitzpatrick said. “There was a focus on natural communities and ecosystems, but it was hard to easily describe what we were managing for.”

Need an example? Fitzpatrick said restoring an oak barren is a good one.

“The thought was, we restore a habitat and everything else will take care of itself,” he said. “Well, how are we going to measure it? As a wildlife division, shouldn’t we be measuring our success by wildlife’s response to management activities?

"Most of our stakeholders are not familiar with terms like oak barrens or pine savannahs. They don't usually think or talk in ecological terms. But, when we start talking about the animals that depend on barrens and savannahs, they understand. We need to be able to communicate our plans clearly."

The Wildlife Division started by asking questions internally, compiling a list, taking it to stakeholders in meetings across the state for feedback, and then revising and presenting again to stakeholders – to make sure the division got it right, Mason said.

Black bear is among the species that
the Michigan DNR will use to gauge
habitat-improvement projects statewide.
It seems the Wildlife Division is in good company with this featured-species approach.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is following suit, developing lists of what they’re calling ‘surrogate species,’” Mason said. “They’re adopting the featured-species concept as well. It’s an effective and clear way of being able to not only explain what we do – but also quantify what we do – on the landscape.”

As Fitzpatrick explains it, when habitat work concentrated on an ecosystem approach, the only way the division could quantify what it accomplished was by acreage. But what if those acres weren’t of high quality for the creatures that use it? By seeing a response in a featured species, wildlife managers can tell whether the work is having its intended effect.

Fitzpatrick said the idea of manipulating habitat to produce feature species prompted the Wildlife Division to ask four questions:
  • Where are we?
  • Where are we going?
  • How are we going to get there?
  • Did we get there?

"By looking at featured species, we can answer those four questions," he said. 

Not all Wildlife Division staffers were on board when the process began. Mark Sargent, then the private lands specialist, said he had grave concerns at first, but as he thought more about it, he became convinced that this route was the way to go.

Volunteers helped the DNR restore a large grassland near Lake
Hudson as part of the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative.
"When I went to college, they stopped holding waterfowl management class and started having wetlands management class," Sargent said. “But we manage habitats for critters and we can’t really know what we’ve done until we put a critter in there and we can evaluate it. Should we spend money restoring a habitat if it doesn’t benefit the critters and the people who like them or want them? Restorations are more valuable if we restore a system that also benefits wildlife.

“It doesn’t mean we’re not managing for a whole suite of species at the same time,” he continued. “When we do grassland management for pheasants, we can do that in a way that also benefits meadowlarks and bobolinks.”

Simply developing the featured-species list was challenging, Sargent said.

“In order to make the list, a species had to have two characteristics – it had to be valuable and it had to have habitat needs that we could address,” he explained. 

“Like woodcock – we know what they need and we know what we can do,” Sargent said. “But other species – like loons, for instance – didn’t make the list. That doesn’t mean they don’t have value. Loons have value.

“There are featured species for most habitat types – species that represent fens, or prairie or old growth,” Sargent continued. “If you’re looking at a particular habitat, you have several featured species associated with it. Generally, there are three or four species that you can manage for at a specific game area or habitat type or vegetative system. We can identify our management activities when we frame them with a species because that’s the output product.”

Trends in ring-necked pheasant populations will help the
DNR determine if its grassland-habitat projects are successful.
Fitzpatrick uses grasslands to illustrate this point. A vast expanse of manicured short grass may be good for a species such as robins, but does nothing for species that need tall grass – like pheasants. And even a vast tract of tall grass isn’t optimal for pheasants if it doesn’t have a winter-cover component, too.

“We have to look at the primary limiting habitat problem – wintering areas for pheasants or deer yards for northern Michigan whitetails – then identify treatments,” he said.

Al Stewart, the DNR’s upland game bird specialist, said the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative is a prime example of managing for a featured species.

“We’re looking at it at a broader landscape level,” he said. “We’re looking at the life requirements of a particular animal within that unit. It helps us be more focused on what we want to accomplish and why.”

The 42 species on the statewide list include game animals, furbearers, nongame animals, threatened and endangered species – even insects. The list includes everything from black bear to massasauga rattlesnakes to Karner blue butterflies.

For more information on the DNR’s featured species and how the department manages habitat, visit www.michigan.gov/wildlife.

Wildflower Hike at Missouri's Prairie State Park July 19

Missouri DNR photo
The prairie is ablaze with color at Prairie State Park. Sponsored by Missouri State Parks, guests can join a park naturalist on Saturday, July 19 at 10 a.m. at the Nature Center for a walk among green grasses and colorful flowers to learn more about the amazing prairie ecosystem.

It is suggested that visitors dress for the weather and hiking across the prairie. Long pants and sturdy shoes are recommended as well as insect repellant. The hike will last about two hours covering 1.5-2 miles.

Prairie State Park is located at 128 NW 150th Lane, Mindenmines. For more information about the event, contact Prairie State Park at 417-843-6711. For more information on state parks and historic sites, visit mostateparks.com. Missouri State Parks is a division of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

Prairie State Park offers a small number of basic campsites and a backpack camp. These basic campsites will accommodate groups of up to 20 people. Current nightly camping fees can be found through Camping Fees on the right or by clicking here.

Potable water is available on the south side of the shop building before you enter the camping area. A vault toilet is the only amenity that serves the campground and backpack camp. Campfires are prohibited at the backpack camp. Please contact park staff at 417-843-6711 for more information.

Rollin' On TV Show takes a look at proper hitch setups, fish tacos and navigation without electronics

Enjoy the latest episode of "Rollin' on TV."

In this episode:
  • What's involved to properly set up your vehicle for towing. 
  • Evanne Schmarder from the RV Cooking Channel shows us a great fish taco meal.
  • And a look at how to find your way without a smart phone, iPad or GPS.

Three videos from RV Education 101 on Deep Cycle RV Batteries, Tire Inflation, and Drinking Water

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"

South Higgins Lake State Park reopens today with new boat launch, boat wash and roadways

DNR photos
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Higgins Lake Foundation (HLF) has announced that South Higgins Lake State Park will host its official grand reopening today (Friday, July 11). A public celebration will be held in honor of the park’s new boat launch, boat wash and roadways, which park visitors began using in mid-June.

The day begins with check-in at 10 a.m. and an optional site tour at 10:15 a.m. A ribbon-cutting ceremony follows at 11 a.m.

“We are pleased to complete these needed improvements to this heavily used boating access site," said Ron Olson, chief of the DNR Parks and Recreation Division. "Higgins Lake is an iconic place that makes for Pure Michigan outdoor recreation experiences.”

Funding for this project was provided by the Waterways Fund from boating registration fees and a portion of the fuel taxes. In addition, the new boat wash was funded by more than $70,000 in donations from the Higgins Lake Foundation and the EnTrust fund.

“The foundation is committed to preventing the spread of invasive species,” said HLF Chair Vicki Springstead. "We're pleased to sponsor this landmark structure which will help protect the natural resources in one of Michigan’s most popular state parks.”

Boaters are encouraged to use this boat wash to clean, drain and dry their boats before and after launching. The boat wash will be free and available to the public on a seasonal basis.

Dale Shagena, supervisor at South Higgins Lake State Park, said some finishing touches (including final grass seeding and stairway handrails) are still in progress but will be completed soon.

South Higgins Lake State Park is located at 106 State Park Drive, in Roscommon, Michigan. The park contains almost 1 mile of shoreline along the clear waters of Higgins Lake. For camping reservations, visit www.midnrreservations.com or call 1-800-44-PARKS (1-800-447-2757).

Bicycle Adventures’ Todd Starnes Puts Lifetime of Experience behind Tips For First Timers Considering Bicycle Vacation

A former bike racer and coach with an MBA and Sports Science degree, Todd Starnes knows something about cycle touring. In 2009, following a career in sports science and marketing which took him touring throughout the U.S., South and Central America and Europe, he and a partner acquired Bicycle Adventures and today he serves as company president and visionary.

Now considered by those in-the-know as the leader in North America bike tours, Bicycle Adventures http://bicycleadventures.com/) is attracting more and more first timers on their tours.  Starnes and his staff have developed a number of useful tips and strategies they like to share with anyone considering their first vacation on a bicycle seat.

If this is the first time testing the waters of a bicycle vacation, Starnes suggests choosing a fully supported tour.

“Instead of camping and carrying related gear, a supported tour allows you to focus on enjoying the ride, landscape, lodges and, of course, well-earned food,” he says. “You save yourself a ton of pre-trip legwork and a fair amount of suffering this way.”

Starnes, who has been leading bicycle tours for over 10 years, says the first thing in advance of a first bicycle vacation is shopping.

“Nothing says commitment as much as putting your money on the line. But it’s not just the money – it’s money with a purpose.  Padded shorts? I know what you are thinking -- those tight-fitting spandex/lycra shorts with ‘monkey-butt’ padding.  This may be what the guy in the office recommends, but don’t listen to him.  There are several better options that look like regular shorts, so you won’t be embarrassed to be seen in them. Ditto with the cycling top; there’s no need to buy a cycling jersey that has your favorite beer, sponsor or the logo for something you don’t understand. Just spend a few bucks to get a quality product that is comfortable both on the bike -- and off.”

Next, says Starnes, ride a bike.

“This doesn’t mean start training; just ride with purpose to help get in better physical condition for your tour. Think back to those days as a kid with wind in your hair (but please wear a helmet). Think about the freedom, the separation and distance. There was always a reward at the end of my rides.  As a kid it was riding with friends to the A&W for a root beer, or riding to a friend’s house to play, or riding to practice.

But I was never riding to train.  Ride for the enjoyment; minimize pressure on yourself. The distance and pace aren’t really important. Your guides will help you through the trip and get you just the right number of miles and difficulty for your level,” he says.
His last tip: ask for help.

“This is the most important and maybe the most difficult. Find a friend, mentor or spouse who will go along for the ride. Preferably it is someone who embraces the joys of riding a bike. They’re not going to try to impress you with their abilities on that first little incline or race you to the destination. They’ll actually ride by your side, chatting and stopping to smell the roses.  If you can’t find someone to ride with, call us and we will guide you every step of the way so that when you arrive for your first bike tour you’ll be confident, excited and ready to get the most out of the experience.”

Starnes notes that most large cities have bike clubs with novice classes and groups. But again, his advice is to ask lots of questions and just ride for the pleasure of it.

“Make sure they understand you just want to go for a bike ride and enjoy the experience,” he advises.

There are still a number of tours ideal for first time cyclists with good space remaining for the 2014 season. For more information, availability and reservations contact Bicycle Adventures by phone: 800.443.6060, email: office@bicycleadventures.com or visit online at: http://bicycleadventures.com/.

About Bicycle Adventures
Scenic byways, four and five-star accommodations and local dining and visits to National Parks are trademarks of Bicycle Adventures, founded in 1984.  Types of tours include Classic (25-50 miles a day), Classic Plus (50-60 miles a day) and Epic (70+ miles a day with the most demanding terrain). Value-driven Casual category trips offer budget-conscious lodging and meals, with the same full van support.

Pre-set and custom tours embrace the Pacific Northwest into Canada, California and the Southwest, as well as Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, New York, Hawaii and New Zealand. Excelling in its own backyard the Issaquah, WA-based company also conducts tours into Washington State’s wine country. 

'Big Rigs Best Bets Campground Directory' publishes 14th edition

For the 14th consecutive year, K& E Publishing has published its popular "Big Rigs Best Bets Campground Directory."

The 14th Edition includes Alaska and a separate Alaska Highway Section, and the online edition features satellite views of all parks.

Serving the RV community since 2001 with a user friendly spiral bound guide - 506 pages, lays flat, quality paper and large print. All parks personally visited by the authors.

  • A blend of upscale resorts, overnight stays along the interstate, destination parks and suitable public parks in a comfortable surrounding.
  • Become an online member and enjoy all the same content as in the 506 page book. Links to all park websites, pilot/flyingJ.com and gasbuddy.com. One membership is good for all of your family devices/computers and those you purchase in the future. Receive periodic Email updates/revisions/additions throughout the year.
  • Know the best location in the park for you. Each park listing includes specific site numbers and the various lengths of these preferred spaces along with other park details, including WiFi.
  • No surprises! Detailed " dead on " directions from an RVer's point of view. Physical addresses for GPS users are also included.
  • Time to fuel up? Choose from 675 paved and maneuverable fuel stops. For your convenience the online version has links to pilotflyingj.com and gasbuddy.com
  • Don't overlook our 290 Restaurant Tips....we suggest you give 'em a try. We have!

Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping turns 50 years old today!

Today, July 8, 2014, is the official celebration of Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping's 50th anniversary, and a slew of activities and events are planned.
  • Enjoy a parade through the park featuring The Lutheran Van Guard Marching Band, antique vehicles and floats.
  • See live wood-carving demonstrations, live musical performances, a ribbon cutting ceremony with the Mackinaw Commerce, and a BBQ with brats, hot dogs and refreshments. 
  • The Grand Marshals of the parade will feature the very first campers to check in when the camp opened on July 1, 1964 - Malcolm and Phyllis Smith of Livonia, Michigan.

We had the pleasure of staying at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping in 2013; our video is included with this post.

Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping is and has been family-owned and operated since its establishment in 1964 by Richard and Rose Rogala. Set on over 200 acres of woods and one mile of shoreline viewing the Straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Bridge, the campground boasts a spectacular view, unmatched by any other northern Michigan campground.

The campground features sites for all types of campers, from modest supersaver sites (for those on a budget) all the way on up to large RV spots with sewer, water and 50 amp electric. The campground also features beautiful knotty wood pine camping cabins, from economical (but beautiful) basic cabins, all the way up to three-bedroom, two-story loft cabins with bathrooms. 

The 310-acre Mackinaw Club 18-hole golf course was recently acquired, which now allows guests of the camp to receive deep discounts as well as stay and play specials. Voted one of Michigan's top family friendly destinations by the Detroit News, the campground is a recipient of numerous local and national awards.

Minnesota DNR: Private Landowners Vital for Protecting Native Plant Communities

By Judy Schulte
Minnesota SNA Program Prairie Specialist

Of the estimated 235,000 acres of good to excellent prairie remaining in Minnesota (2010 Minnesota Biological Survey), more than 115,000 are privately owned. Private landowners engaged in stewardship of these prairie (and woodland) remnants are essential for long-term conservation. And, when it comes to stewardship, Patricia (Pat) and Larry Wahl, are first-class.

The Wahl's 40 year adventure started when they purchased 80 acres along Plum Creek (near Walnut Grove, Minnesota).  At the time, the land was being rented out as pasture with 10 acres of crops. Pat and Larry recognized early on that management was essential to the long-term health of the remnant plant communities on the property. They worked with DNR Forestry to certify their land as a tree farm with the American Forest Foundation in 1979. This preserved the 30 acres of basswood-bur oak and wet-mesic hardwood forests located on site. In 1999, they enrolled the 10 acres of cropland into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and seeded it with native prairie species.

In 2006 Pat and Larry invited Minnesota Biological Survey staff to visit their land in order to survey and map the native plant communities. Native plant communities are classified and described by considering vegetation, hydrology, landforms, soils and natural disturbance regimes. Four major plant communities were identified on the Wahl property.

After this inventory, Pat and Larry began working closely with the DNR Scientific and Natural Areas (SNA) Program (which offers protection options for private landowners) to focus on both the forest communities, noted above, and the adjacent 30 acres of dry hill prairie and mesic prairie. The Wahls proceeded to cut down woody species that had invaded the prairie communities, using the wood as a source of heat in their home.

This past spring, with help from the Prairie Plan Partnership and the DNR Working Lands Initiative, Pat and Larry took on their largest adventure yet, working with a local contractor to cut invasive woody species throughout all 60 acres of the site's native communities. Once the contracted cutting is complete, the Wahls plan to use prescribed burning and mowing to help improve prairie quality and minimize future woody invasions. It may be a lot of work, but the legacy they are leaving for their children and grandchildren is unprecedented. In the 100 years since Laura Ingalls Wilder passed through this same area, the Wahls efforts continue historic and aesthetic preservation of the banks of Plum Creek that Laura would have known.

Inventor Builds the Perfect Fire

Author's note: Enjoy this guest post from Kickstarter.

Happy Campers Fuelling Campfire in a Can through Kickstarter

The thing that drove a Knight, an inventor, to build the perfect portable campfire was the very 35-pound steel green portable campfire he’d loved at first sight.

“I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when I bought it,” says Leo Knight. That was when he and wife Sherry had just retired, sold the house, and were about to travel across the continent in their motorhome. Knight was anticipating hundreds of sunsets spent around that portable campfire.

“But it didn’t give any heat, and it used a lot of wood,” says Knight. It was big and it was bulky. Soon enough, the couple’s ‘big green thing’ was destined for the dump, but his wife wanted campfires. “She said, ‘Either use that one, or solve the problem.’ That’s when the light went on.”

That light led Knight to investigate how firepits work (or don’t work), and why you’re always adding more wood but you’re never really warm. As he pondered and experimented, the couple carried on, to national parks such as Zion and Death Valley, stopping at junkyards along the way so Knight could build his first prototype.

The result was Campfire in a Can, a portable campfire and cooking stove that uses a vertical chamber to keep wood upright so the fire lasts longer, distributes heat evenly, and offers more warmth.

“With our stand, because it raises the campfire off the ground and the wood is upright, it puts the heat at your torso so you’re always warm,” says Knight. With Campfire in a Can, that single bundle of gas station firewood lasts all night.

In addition to being an all-round user-friendly fire, Campfire in a Can becomes a cooking fire fueled by wood or charcoal under the handy grill or grate. Its accessories, which include kabob skewers and marshmallow roasting sticks, all fold neatly into the can. At the end of the night, putting out the fire is fast and simple because you just place the canister over the base and instantly snuff out the fire.

Giving campers a quick way to put out their fires was important to Knight, who also invented a popular propane-fueled, Campfire in a Can, the only certified zero clearance portable firepit fit for use anywhere, even on condo decks and in campgrounds during fire bans.

But there’s something people will always love about a real wood fire.

“It’s the quietness of it. The fire doesn’t ask anything of you, other than to relax,” says Knight. “It’s always been a natural gathering point.”

Knight is trying to get the wood-burning portable Campfire in a Can to market through Kickstarter, an online funding platform where startups get financial backing by offering discounted products to future customers pledging money. As of June 19, Campfire in a Can’s Kickstarter campaign had raised just over $26,000 with 41 days left to reach the $80,000 goal.

“Kickstarter gives you a chance to build a sense of community because people believe in what you’re doing, and they get behind you,” says Knight. “They like your idea and they say, ‘Hey, we’re with you.’”

About Campfire in a Can
Campfire in a Can is a family-owned company based in Henderson, NV. and Kelowna, BC. With its popular portable propane campfire and a wood-burning portable campfire on its way to market, Campfire in a Can is proud to offer outdoor enthusiasts in Canada and the United States a way to make the most of their fires.

Showcasing the Michigan DNR: Small park illustrates big impact of Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund

A Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant helped to
kick-start construction on a rain garden at Danford Island Park
in Dimondale. The project will help control water runoff
from the parking lot and road. (DNR photos)
Residents who attended the recent dedication of Danford Island Park in the village of Dimondale will get a firsthand look at the community good that comes from Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund dollars. 

Not to mention the fun and food.

“We’ll have music, hot dogs, geocaching and storytelling, and we’re placing some historical signage to let people know a little bit about the areas,” said Denise Parisian, village manager. “This will kick off a serious start to fundraising for the next phase of development. Our complete concept includes a pavilion, bandstand and restrooms, so the park will be appropriate for weddings. 

“The community is completely enamored and happy with everything – beyond thrilled.”
That wasn’t always the case.

The story of Danford Island Park begins with an old mill dam on the Grand River, owned by the Lansing Board of Water and Light. The dam was obsolete, said Chris Freiburger, a Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist who works on river restoration issues.

A cement crew puts the final touches on a handicapped-
accessible path to the fishing dock and kayak/boat launch at
Dimondale’s Danford Island Park – a recipient of a Michigan
Natural Resources Trust Fund grant.
“The dam had a huge crack in it, had failed and was continuing to fail,” Freiburger said. 

Thanks in part to a DNR Inland Fisheries Grant, the dam was removed and an unusual W-shaped structure was built with boulders in the river – the first of its kind in Michigan, Freiburger said – making it easier for sediment to move and fish to pass through. 

“It was a pioneering way to use natural design for river restoration,” Freiburger said. “There’s a deep hole there and good rock habitat for fish to concentrate around. Things look real good from a fisheries standpoint.”

In 2004, the village of Dimondale took ownership of the property associated with the dam, before the dam was removed in 2006. After the river restoration, the Eaton County village began putting together its vision for the park.

“When we took on the property from the Board of Water and Light, we made a commitment to the community that we would work to secure grants and donations, not increase taxes,” said Parisian. “We’ve exceeded our expectations, but the trust fund grant was absolutely key and critical. It allowed us to develop the property.”

Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grants require that applicants provide a minimum 25-percent match. Because the grant process is competitive, the village submitted a bid with a match of $50,000 for the $170,000 grant. George Danford, Jr. – for whom the park is named – donated the money for the match.
The addition of a rain garden (to control water runoff) at
 Danford Island Park, in Dimondale, was supported by a grant
from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. The Trust Fund
has supported outdoor recreation projects in every county
throughout Michigan.

Work on the project began in the fall of 2013. One of the main elements – a handicapped-accessible canoe/kayak launch – was installed this spring.

“We’d worked for several years on design and development and by the time we sent it out for bids, they came in higher than what we had funding for,” Parisian said. “But what was ultimately built was perfect for the site.

“It’s just right, really lovely,” she said. “We have a series of rain gardens that are doing quite a job of managing the surface drainage. There are just a lot of benefits to the community from this park.”

Parisian said it’s rewarding to see this neighborhood park getting a lot of use – people in and out of the water with canoes and kayaks, fishing and using the structures.

“You almost never drive by that you don’t see someone standing on the pier, just enjoying being over the water,” she said. “I know just from talking to the locals that the fishing is very good.”

Providing this type of community-centered outdoor recreation opportunity is exactly what the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund was intended to do.

A handicapped-accessible kayak/boat launch is just one new
 addition at Dimondale’s Danford Island Park, courtesy of a
Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant.
The trust fund officially marks its 38th birthday this year, but after nearly four decades of funding public outdoor recreation projects in every county throughout the state, it seems clear that it’s the people of Michigan who get the best gifts – like Danford Island Park – out of the deal.

Conceived in 1976 as Public Act 204 of 1976 (the Kammer Recreational Trust Act of 1976), the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grew out of the controversy surrounding the development of oil and gas resources in the Pigeon River Country State Forest. The law directed royalties from the sale and lease of state-owned mineral rights into a fund that would ensure all generations of Michigan residents would benefit from the development of non-renewable natural resources. 

In 1984, Michigan residents voted in favor of amending the state constitution to protect and expand the trust fund.

Subsequent legislation (P.A. 101 of 1985) stipulated that, in any fiscal year, up to a third of all mineral lease revenue – as well as the interest and earnings from the trust fund – could be used to purchase land for natural resource protection and development of recreational facilities. 

Dimondale also is home to Durant Park, another beneficiary of
Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund dollars for outdoor
recreation enhancements.
Steve DeBrabander, who oversees DNR grants management, said the law specified that not less than 25 percent of the expenditures would be earmarked for acquisition and land rights, while not more than 25 percent would be used for development of recreational facilities.

“In 1994, voters reiterated their support for the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund by amending a previous provision that had allowed diversion of some of the funds to the state’s strategic fund," DeBrabander said. "Instead, they voted to create the State Parks Endowment Fund, which supports operation, maintenance and capital improvements at Michigan’s beautiful state parks.”

No matter how the underlying structure has changed over the years, one thing is clear. 

“Since the creation of the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, every county in the state has benefited – through better, broader access to quality outdoor recreation opportunities – from these vital dollars,” said DeBrabander. 

Kayakers enjoy spending time at Durant Park, another
Dimondale community park that has benefited from
Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grants.
Danford Island Park, which will be dedicated in Dimondale Saturday, June 28, from noon to 3 p.m., is just one illustration of the significance of these grants.

“We cannot thank the trust fund enough,” Parisian said. “It’s not overstating what a wonderful benefit this has been to our little community.

“It’s such a small footprint, but it’s such a big deal.”

Learn more about the June 28 dedication at www.villageofdimondale.org. For more on the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund, visit www.michigan.gov/mnrtf.