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Gr8LakesCamper: Top 10 Most Beautiful Places in the Great Lakes

August 10, 2011 by Gr8LakesCamper · 42 Comments 

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Recently ABC-TV’s Good Morning America came out with a list of “The Most Beautiful Places in America.

In alphabetical order, the list included:

Sleeping Bear Dunes image courtesy of traversecity.com

Sleeping Bear Dunes image courtesy of traversecity.com


1. Asheville, North Carolina
2. Aspen, Colorado
3. Cape Cod, Massachusetts
4. Destin, Florida
5. Grand Tetons, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
6. Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
7. Newport, Rhode Island
8. Point Reyes, California
9. Sedona, Arizona
10. Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan

Obviously, all of these places are spectacular. Majestic mountains, sweeping vistas, gorgeous sunsets over water – they all very much deserve to be on such a list.

But it got me to thinking: Only one spot from the Great Lakes region? Surely there’s others, right? Where’s Hocking Hills, Ohio … or Door County, Wisconsin … or New River, West Virginia … just to name a few?

Obviously, the Great Lakes/Midwest needs its own list.

I now invite you to submit your nomination for the “Top 10 Most Beautiful Places in the Great Lakes.” No rules, no limitations, no prizes, and no handcuffing on what places would be considered in the “Great Lakes/Midwest region.” Include reasons why your nominated place ought to make the list.

I’ll compile all the submissions, research them with the crack Gr8LakesCamper staff (which would be me) and then – perhaps over a beverage or two – put together the list and publish the results here in a future post. Winners will receive tremendous notoriety and a slap on the back.

From the companion blog: I continue to post something new everyday, and some recent ones that might be of interest include the one (with videos) about when my wife and I ran the Warrior Dash, a muddy, ruddy 5K that was “the craziest frickin’ day of our life.” Another good one was the two-part post about our camping trip to Montague, Michigan. The first post talks about how, while en route, one of our camper’s wheels sheared its bolts, came loose and tried to pass us on the highway. The second post reviews our campground, White River RV Park, and some of the area attractions we took in (with videos).

Gr8LakesCamper celebrates the world of RV Camping in the Midwest. Gather around the campfire and share tips, ideas and stories on RVing, camping and travel destinations. Follow Gr8LakesCamper on Twitter, Facebook and the personal blog, as well as the Gr8LakesCamper YouTube channel.

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Gr8LakesCamper: Michigan campgrounds with available sites for Memorial Day Weekend

May 25, 2011 by Gr8LakesCamper · 7 Comments 

volleyballtypec-webAttention procrastinators: There are plenty of campsites – for tenters, RVers and cabin-dwellers – available at private campgrounds throughout Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas for the upcoming Memorial holiday weekend.

Courtesy of ARVC-Michigan, here is a list of campgrounds with available campsites for the Memorial Day weekend:

Fine print: Type and date(s) of site availability vary by property. This is not an all-inclusive list. This list includes campgrounds that responded back to a survey indicating availability, as of May 24, 2011. Availability subject to change. Reservations are required.

From the personal blog: I came across this Mini Surge Dual USB Charging Station that would be perfect for RVers; Wisconsin State Parks, Forest and Recreation Areas will have special events and free admission during a June 5 Open House; and I love Morels smothered in butter as much as the next guy, but hopefully the chef knows what’s a morel and what’s one of these 50 poisonous mushroom varieties.

Gr8LakesCamper celebrates the world of RV Camping in the Midwest. Gather around the campfire and share tips, ideas and stories on RVing, camping and travel destinations. Follow Gr8LakesCamper on Twitter, Facebook and the personal blog.

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Gr8LakesCamper: Michigan DNR delays closing state forest campgrounds

May 16, 2011 by Gr8LakesCamper · 37 Comments 

Good news from the state of Michigan regarding its proposal to close 23 state forest campgrounds: it’s not gonna happen … well, not yet, anyways.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Rodney Stokes recently tabled a director’s order to close 23 state forest campgrounds until the June 9 Natural Resources Commission (NRC) meeting. The order was eligible for Stokes’ signature at Thursday’s NRC meeting in Flint.

My story publicizing the original proposal to close the campgrounds can be found by clicking here.

Stokes said he was tabling the order to give DNR staff more time to work on two plans to keep more of the campgrounds open. First, he wants to give DNR staff more time to discuss leasing agreements with local units of government that have expressed an interest in some of the campgrounds targeted for closure.

Stokes also wants to give the DNR’s Forest Management Division staff time to work with the DNR’s Parks and Recreation Division staff on a joint management agreement for some of the campgrounds. He also announced that the Lime Island State Forest Campground in the St. Marys River near Sault Ste. Marie, on the list for closure, would be transferred to the DNR Parks and Recreation Division to manage.

“It is always unfortunate when we have to close campgrounds due to budget cuts and low revenues,” Stokes said. “However, by tabling this order until the June NRC meeting, we buy some time to keep discussing options with local units of government and within the Department to keep some of these campgrounds operating this year.”

In May, the DNR announced it would be closing 23 of the 133 state forest campgrounds in the northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula. State forest campgrounds are rustic camping sites located within state forest land – they are not state parks. Reasons cited for the closures are a 63 percent reduction in General Fund support for the State Forest Recreation Program over the last three years and declining use and revenues.

The June 9 NRC meeting is scheduled for the Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health in Lansing near the Michigan State University campus.

From the companion blog: Among other items, River Ridge Campground in Breckenridge (Mich.) will be celebrating its 20th Anniversary the weekend of May 20-21; 10 great reasons why camping during the springtime most anywhere in the Great Lakes region is a wonderful experience; a handy-dandy list of Pittsburgh area festivals and events; and Ohio going all out with a bunch of deals and discounts to lure summer travelers.

Gr8LakesCamper celebrates the world of RV Camping in the Midwest. Gather around the campfire and share tips, ideas and stories on RVing, camping and travel destinations. Follow Gr8LakesCamper on Twitter, Facebook and the personal blog.

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Gr8LakesCamper: Q&A with ARVC Michigan’s New Director

May 4, 2011 by Gr8LakesCamper · 7 Comments 

A recent Associated Press story that made the rounds in Michigan suggested that the high cost of gasoline will have a positive impact for campground owners this summer.

People can’t afford to take an expensive vacation that includes air travel, hotels, rental cars and restaurants. Instead, they’ll choose to go camping and, furthermore, they won’t travel very far from home to do it.

Makes sense to me. A year ago people might not have even taken a vacation. But the economy is slowly coming around, at least enough for people to enjoy more affordable vacations. And camping fits neatly into this category.

Reservations at private and state campgrounds in Michigan are up by as much as 18.5 percent over last year, according to the AP article. I would suspect that this trend is not unique to Michigan and would be evident nationwide.

I wonder if this means we might just see another RV boom. These people will discover — or, in some cases, rediscover — what we all love about camping with an RV. And if they aren’t camping in an RV, more than a few will look jealously at those of us who are.

One of the people quoted in the article was Tracie Fisher, executive Tate Fisher imagedirector of the Michigan Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds. She said many campers are looking for seasonal options rather than weekend reservations.

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with “Tate” via email, and she answered a few questions for me.

First of all, congratulations on being named the director of ARVC Michigan! Tell us briefly about yourself and your background in RVing and camping.

Thanks for the congrats; it’s an exciting challenge for me. I’ve been involved with ARVC Michigan since 2004 when I began working as the office manager of Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping, in Mackinaw City. I thought that job was going to be a piece of cake but soon found it is one of the toughest jobs I ever loved. Managing a campground is a very big job and I learned to really appreciate all the hours these park owners put into serving their guests.

I camped with my family as a kid and still love exploring new parks and places. There is something about being outdoors that rejuvenates your spirit.

I’m looking forward to visiting many ARVC Michigan member parks this summer. I want to meet them, see their parks and hear about their plans and concerns. What a great job to have — visiting campground owners in their own environment. I know I’ll learn a lot about what they need from this association.

As you begin your first year as the director, what sorts of things are first on your agenda?

Sadly, there is a trend of disappointment in the industry with park owners wondering about the value of their association membership. They are questioning the cost of membership in relation to the value they are receiving.

The first thing on my agenda is to find out what park owners need and then find a way to provide it. I’ve learned that my ideas of value may not necessarily be shared by an ARVC Michigan member. It will be my goal to hear directly from them those things they want from ARVC Michigan.

What are you hearing from ARVC Michigan members? Are they anticipating a good season, perhaps a sign that we truly are on the road to economic recovery?

It’s early in the game for me but what I’m hearing so far is that things are looking up. The downturn in the economy may have created new avenues for park owners in offering a more affordable vacation option for our citizens.

You recently hosted the ARVC Michigan Spring Convention and Trade Show. How was it?

It was surprisingly well attended with 130 attending — representing 60 parks and also 47 vendors displaying their wares. Cindy Keineth and Cathy Krueger — of Frankenmuth Jellystone had been working on it for months and really had it wrapped up nicely by the time I arrived on the scene.

ARVC Michigan had been four months without an Executive Director and these two women really stepped up to keep the convention on track. Tom Briggs, president of ARVC Michigan and owner of Grand Rogue Campground, worked to ensure that we were able to hand out a huge amount of our 2011 Campground Directories and was able to get many campground owners to take extra boxes and deliver to libraries and Chamber of Commerce in their area. It was quite a successful endeavor and it also saved us much in shipping.

Barb Youman, the senior director of administration and education of National ARVC, attended our convention and filled us in on the many great programs coming out of national this year. Most park owners seemed upbeat and ready to begin another season.

What are some of the things ARVC Michigan offers to campers? Are there plans to improve these, or add anything new?

Our www.michcampgrounds.com website lists all our member campgrounds and provides for ease of searching by campground name, area, or amenity. It gets a lot of traffic and is a great resource for campers to find just the right kind of camping experience they are looking for. We distribute over 300,000 copies of our annual campground directory, known as “The Little Green Book” and it is a very big benefit for campers who wish to carry it with them and use it as a paper reference of where they might like to go camping.

What are the benefits ARVC Michigan offers for its members?

ARVC Michigan member benefits include a listing in our camping directory and also exposure on our www.michcampgrounds.com web page. Both of these venues are very popular and provide great exposure.

We also offer discounts with some of our suppliers and currently the board of directors is working hard on expanding these discounts.
Our Spring and Fall conventions provide seminars which assist our members in keeping up to date on industry trends and the trade show brings over 40 suppliers together in one place for easy access to our members.

I want to reach the park owners who find it hard to leave their parks and attend conventions so I’m working with several people in a variety of industries to develop a series of online classes and informational material to the ARVC Michigan members. These will be targeted for launch in the Fall, along with a revamp of our member website which will be improved and will provide much needed access to topics which our members may have a difficult time researching for themselves.

How does the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds benefit ARVC Michigan?

Well, there are big things happening at National ARVC these days and I’m excited about getting onboard through ARVC Michigan.

They have developed several new marketing campaigns which I believe are going to really help all of us in the industry. June will bring a new “Get Outdoors and Go Camping America, It’s Easy” promotion in which members can offer a 20-percent discount coupon for camping during the June shoulder season.

I anticipate any park owners who make this available in their parks will attract new campers who just may become return campers, and that’s always a good thing. I’ll be sending information out to all our members regarding how they can use this promotion to benefit their parks.

Looking down the road a bit, where do you see ARVC Michigan after your first 3-5 years as director?

In 3-5 years I see ARVC Michigan as one of top three ARVC-affiliated associations. There is huge latitude for growth and we have an excellent board of directors, all of which are ready, willing and able to do big things for our members.

There’s an excitement in the air with Michigan winning a fair amount of travel promotion money and National ARVC digging in to create a buzz about the benefits of camping.

I see our members being entirely satisfied with what ARVC Michigan is providing them in the coming years.

I also see many more of our members stepping up to be involved in the decision making and committee projects we’ll be needing help in developing. The very best way to get your way is to be involved in the process so I’m going to be actively inviting members to join us in becoming better and stronger.

Happy camping!
Rick Kessler (Gr8LakesCamper)

From the companion blog: Ohio DNR officials are hoping to lure campers back to Grand Lake St. Marys State Park with 50-percent discounts. Officials have struggled to correct a toxic algae problem with the lake, which naturally has meant a huge drop-off in campers. Also, the popular camper storage program at select Michigan state parks and recreation areas will return this camping season to help families offset the cost of rising gas prices and enjoy their summer vacation plans. Finally, campers with reservations at Illini State Park in Illinois need to check on the status of the park as it is temporarily closed due to problems with its wastewater treatment system.

Gr8LakesCamper celebrates the world of RV Camping in the Midwest. Gather around the campfire and share tips, ideas and stories on RVing, camping and travel destinations. Follow Gr8LakesCamper on Twitter, Facebook and the personal blog.

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Gr8LakesCamper: Gas prices are putting a serious dent in summer plans

March 13, 2011 by Gr8LakesCamper · 559 Comments 

UPDATE: I recently came across this excellent article by Marianne Lavelle for National Geographic News. Lavelle does a good job of explaining the history of gas gouging, and the reasons for it. In a nutshell, the lack of U.S. refineries means a handful of people/businesses can control the prices. I encourage you to read this article.

87690211 The cost of gas at stations near my home are typically about 15-25 cents cheaper per gallon than those around my in-laws. So, of course, every time I fill up I call my father-in-law to gloat.

But the price of gasoline is getting crazy, even around me. This morning it topped $3.50 per gallon. I realize it’s more expensive in other areas, but – as they say – it’s all relative. What’s worse, “experts” say the cost will only climb higher as the summer driving season approaches, turmoil in oil-producing countries escalates and any number of other reasons these people usually roll out at times like these.

Regardless of the reasons why they’re on the way up, the price of gas is serious business for RVers. For most of us, this can’t help but affect our travel plans this summer.

As for my family, we’ll either be heading out to campgrounds closer to home, or not camping as much as we’d like, or a combination of the both. Other circumstances will factor in for us – two kids are going to camp for a week or two, and the third will likely be playing baseball well into July – but the fact remains gas prices will be putting a serious dent into our RVing plans.

In January of this year, when gas was $3.10 per gallon, the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) issued a press release putting a positive spin on how the cost of gas affects RVing. Excerpts of that release follow:

• RV travel is a great value. The PKF Vacation Cost comparison study showed that a family of four can save 26-to-71 percent on vacation costs depending on the type of trip and type of RV used. More than 80 percent of RV owners say their RV vacations cost less than other forms of vacation.

• While fuel prices remain well below their pre-recession high, prices are 36 cents per gallon higher than they were a year ago. When fuel prices rise, RVers adjust by traveling to destinations closer to home or driving fewer miles, according to surveys of RV owners conducted by RVIA and CVENT, a leading provider of online surveys and research technology.

• More than 80% of RVers say their RV vacations cost less than other forms of vacation, even when fuel prices rise.

• To save on fuel, RVers typically spend more time enjoying the campground experience and less time on the road. More than 16,000 campgrounds nationwide give RVers the flexibility to save fuel and cut costs by staying closer to home. Whether they travel five miles or 500, they can still enjoy a great outdoor experience.

• Fuel prices would need to more than triple from their current level to make RVing more expensive for a family of four than other forms of travel, according to PKF Consulting. PKF’s spring 2008 vacation cost comparison study shows that RV trips remain the most affordable way for a family to travel because of the significant savings on air, hotel and restaurant costs, which continue to rise.

• Fluctuating fuel prices affect the cost of all modes of travel and transportation. Airfares and hotel rates rise rapidly when fuel costs increase.

• Many RV owners surveyed take additional measures to reduce fuel consumption through simple steps like driving 55 instead of 65 miles per hour, packing lighter to reduce weight in the RV, and turning off home utilities to save energy when traveling. RVers travel at a leisurely pace with no tight schedules for flights, hotels or restaurants.

It’s hard to argue with several of those points, especially that the high price of gas also affects all other modes of transportation. Airlines are raising their ticket prices nearly everyday, and tacking on fees – carry-on baggage, really? – at a ridiculous rate.

About the only thing that isn’t going up is my salary, and that’s why our camping this summer will be less than what we had hoped. I suspect I am not alone. Sure, there’s going to be a certain segment of RVers who will continue on as they always have, but for the majority of us camping is one line item that gets cut when it comes time to balance the family budget.

How is the cost of gas affecting your plans this summer?

From the companion blog: Ohio recently improved its online travel site, making it easier to use and the search results better as well. Similarly, Indiana Department of Natural Resources also improved its online campground reservation system. I also have a number of other posts about events, festivals and other information about travel destinations.

Gr8LakesCamper celebrates the world of RV Camping in the Midwest. Gather around the campfire and share tips, ideas and stories on RVing, camping and travel destinations. Follow Gr8LakesCamper on Twitter, Facebook and the personal blog.

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Gr8LakesCamper: Detroit Camper & RV Show reports huge attendance

March 7, 2011 by Gr8LakesCamper · 17 Comments 

Thought I might pass along this bit of good news.

The 45th Annual Detroit Camper & RV Show experienced its best show in 10 years. The show, which ran from Feb. 16-20 at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, recorded 18,400 attendees — a 12 percent increase from the 2010 show. The show was sponsored by the Michigan Association of Recreation Vehicles and Campgrounds (MARVAC).

Saturday alone saw over 9,000 attendees, making it the busiest day in MARVAC RV show history. According to Bill Sheffer, director of MARVAC, show visitors lined up on Saturday before the show opened, with strong ticket sales continuing all day.

I was able to attend the show on its opening day – more later on why I wasn’t able to go other days – and personally saw a ton of people going in and out of the 280 RVs on display. I was also able to talk to several of the RV dealers both that day and more recently, after the show was over and they had time to recuperate. Many reported customers looking for smaller, lightweight and more fuel-efficient RVs.

“Buyers are back,” said Victoria Rokas of Vicars Trailer Sales in Taylor. “Customers were upbeat, positive and confident about purchasing an RV as they look for more value for their dollar.”

“Overwhelming” was the word used by another dealer, Tim O’Brien of Circle ‘K’ RV in Lapeer. “All our salespeople were so busy.”

O’Brien said the record number of people attending the show – and willing to do more than just kick the tires – is a sure sign that the economy is improving. And that’s saying something, because southeast Michigan has been one of the hardest hit regions in the entire country during this past (current?) recession.

“I call it ‘frugal fatigue’,” O’Brien said. “People have been frugal for so long that they’re tired of it. They’re ready to get out and start looking at things, and – I know I’m biased here – but RVing is one of the most affordable ways to travel and spend recreation time. Dollar for dollar, RVs offer the most bang for your buck.”

RaptorRP365LEV_Garage_BtoFLarry See, of A&S RV Center in Auburn Hills, said he, too, was very busy during the show. That opening day I tried talking with him at length, but he understandably was needing to excuse himself as people constantly wanted him to talk about the Keystone Raptor Velocity 5th Wheel and its “rear porch” feature (which is pictured at left).

According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, RVs are now attracting young buyers between the ages of 18 and 34. In fact, the fastest growing group of RV buyers falls in this age demographic, although buyers between the ages of 35 and 54 remain the largest segment of RV owners.

MARVAC’s Sheffer noted the same trend at the Detroit Camper & RV Show, saying “show attendees varied in age, but large numbers of families with young children were prevalent throughout the day.”

As I said, I was able to attend the first day of the show, and Sheffer told me then that a banking official had casually mentioned his bank was offering nearly $100 million in financing to RV buyers, nearly double from the previous year. Sheffer added that within several minutes of the show’s opening, one dealer was already closing on sales to a handful of customers.

My thoughts on the show? It was bittersweet. It was great, but I was only able to go for a few hours of the first day. I had planned on going every day, but life got in the way.

If you want to read more about my experiences at the show, you can read the post from my companion blog here. In it, I talk more about the Raptor Velocity as well as the Fleetwood Terra and its Hide-A-Loft feature and the brand new Holiday Rambler Trip motor home.

From the companion blog: It’s been a while since I’ve posted at RV.net, so I must have about 30-40 posts on my companion blog. Most of them are about great specials and events at popular travel destinations, including St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago and in Saugatuck, Michigan, Newsbits from the Illinois DNR, and the Ohio DNR offering big discounts at Grand Lake St. Marys State Park.

Gr8LakesCamper celebrates the world of RV Camping in the Midwest. Gather around the campfire and share tips, ideas and stories on RVing, camping and travel destinations. Follow Gr8LakesCamper on Twitter, Facebook and the personal blog.

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Gr8LakesCamper: What started us down the RV road

January 25, 2011 by Gr8LakesCamper · 17 Comments 

Brighton 1The following post tells the story of how my family and I got into RVing. I tell this story in the hope you also might care to share what, or who, first got you into RVing.

As for me, my extended family have been RVers for years, and growing up I always envied the tales of their camping trips. Little did I know that the RVing bug had bit me way back then, but it turned out to be an infection itching at me for many, many years before I was able to apply the ointment. It only took about 10 or so years of me whining like a hungry dog every time we passed an RV dealership before my wife finally uttered those three wonderful words … “Oh, all right.”

The first of my family to start us all down the RVing road were my grandparents, Art and Curley Brighton. That’s them in the picture, with two of my uncles sticking their heads out the window of the 1971 25-foot Superior. I love that photo, especially how proud my grandpa looks holding a bucket of KFC!

My grandparents were prolific RVers; they traveled from Alaska to the Panama Canal and all parts in between during their five decades of travel in their various motor homes. Actually, they first started by car-camping, sleeping in the back of their ridiculously huge Town & Country station wagon. Their first motor home was the brand new Superior. They enjoyed that big green motor home for over a dozen years until they bought a new 35-foot Holiday Rambler in 1984. Then in 1987 they bought a 33-foot Foretravel, and finally a 1989 33-foot Foretravel Grand Villa motor home only three years after that. They traveled quite a bit, especially after they both retired from teaching. Often they hooked up with the FMCA-sponsored rallies for months at a time, and later they would say those rallies were among their best RVing memories.

My grandparents have since passed on, but they passed on their love of RVing to several of their eight children and 28 grandchildren (31 great-grandchildren and counting!). My Uncle Art and Aunt Ellen have a 42-foot Monaco Dynasty motor home, my Uncle Tom and Aunt Diane have a 2004 Nomad North Trail fifth wheel, my parents have a 25-foot Keystone Outback travel trailer, my Uncle Bob and Aunt Sharon just bought a 2001 24-foot Trail Lite fifth wheel and my Uncle Ed and Aunt Sandy have a 2003 27-foot Rockwood travel trailer.

My Uncle Art and Aunt Ellen were full-timers for a few years and had previously owned a 40-foot Monaco Windsor and a Southwind before that, but my Uncle Ed and Aunt Sandy hold the record for number of campers owned: They bought the last Foretravel motor home from my grandparents, and their other travel trailers were a 1998 Dutchmen, 1978 28-foot Yellowstone, 1976 25-foot Golden Nugget and a 1984 19-foot Sportsman.

I also have a few cousins who are RVers; Matt and Tracy own a 2005 21-foot Keystone Outback travel trailer, and Jill and Bob were proud owners of a pop-up camper until it was completely destroyed when they were rear-ended a few years back (crumpled like a pile of kindling wood, they said).

Us? We’re the proud owners of a new-to-us 2000 Trail Lite Bantam 23-foot hybrid we bought in 2007. It sleeps all five of us, has tons of storage and has withstood many of my modifications. Plus, it’s paid for!

What do we love about RVing? Probably for many of the same reasons that you and other RVers love about it! Before our RV, we tent-camped a few times, always cursing the trek to the vault toilet in the middle of the night and the cold hard ground every morning. Not so with the RV! We’re off the ground, sleep in (mostly) comfortable beds and the bathroom – like everything else we decide to bring – goes where we go.

I like to think of our camper as a cottage-on-wheels. We can take our cottage most anywhere, and although we have a few favorite campgrounds we always seem to return to, we enjoy discovering new campgrounds in distant locations and all the area has to offer. My favorite thing about camping is sitting around the campfire, a s’more in one hand and a cold beverage in the other, and doing nothing more than relaxing and laughing with family and friends.

So there you have it. My story is not that unusual from other RVers, but it is my story and one I enjoy adding to each and every time we go camping.

Now it’s your turn. How did you get started into RVing?

From the personal blog: It’s been a while since I’ve posted here on RV.net, so there’s a couple of dozen posts on my companion blog you might want to take a look at. Most are travel-related, including a Frank Lloyd Wright tour of eight homes and Wintertime events in Chicago. A few RV-specific posts include a comprehensive list of North American RV shows now through April (complete with links), the planned expansion of Detroit-based General RV dealership and my take on RV Buddies’ recent poll results of what features people want in an RV.

Gr8LakesCamper celebrates the world of RV Camping in the Midwest. Gather around the campfire and share tips, ideas and stories on RVing, camping and travel destinations. Follow Gr8LakesCamper on Twitter, Facebook and the personal blog.

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Gr8LakesCamper: Top 10 Reasons I’d Rather Drive an RV than Fly in a Airplane

December 1, 2010 by Gr8LakesCamper · 14 Comments 

As if we RVers needed any more fuel for our pro-RV fire, here’s a “Top 1087756063 Reasons I’d Rather RV than Fly” list. (With my comments thrown in here and there.)

Note: I came across this great list – slightly modified for RVers – from Dave Hunter, author of “Along Interstate-75,” an award-winning book which helps people enjoy driving this major freeway between the Midwest and the Georgia/Florida border.

1. Before you get into your RV, you don’t have to wait in long lines or wait for your seat row to be called for boarding. (Although I’m tempted to try this with the family next time we go camping.)

2. No embarrassing X-ray or pat down. (Tempted to try this, too.)

3. Your luggage always arrives at the same time you do and never costs extra. (Luggage? What’s luggage?)

4. No need to arrive at your RV two hours ahead of departure time – it will wait for you.

5. You can bring as many bottles of water into the RV as you wish.

6. The bathroom in your RV, or the restrooms at roadside rest areas, do not have line-ups in the aisle.

7. The air you breath is “family” — you know how healthy they are. (Granted, this may or may not be a positive.)

8. No need to surrender your favorite knitting needles or other sharp objects.

9. Stiff legs? No need to wait until you arrive — you are 2 feet off the ground and can stop for exercise whenever you want.

10. And there’s no need to rent a car when you arrive – you are already sitting in the vehicle of your choice, with no insurance waivers to sign!

A quick side note: My parents are about to fly to New York City to visit my brother and his family. When pricing airfare, ticket prices were $2,500 each (not including taxes, fees and luggage). They switched their schedule from Wednesday-Sunday to Sunday-Wednesday and the prices dropped to less than $500 each.

Obligatory “About the Author” information:
Since 1992, Dave Hunter (and his wife and travel partner, Kathy) have acquired hundreds of friends and travel industry contacts along the I-75 corridor, who share their “local knowledge” of roadside secrets, local restaurants and ways to save money. “Along Interstate-75″ is published by Mile Oak Publishing, Inc. and is available in bookstores, at AAA in OH, by phone at 800-431-1579, online and at www.i75online.com.

From the personal blog: I recently posted some great information for traveling to southern Indiana for the holidays, and I continue to add many more regional travel ideas as I come across them.

UPDATE: I have also posted on my personal blog about our recent trip to New York City, where we saw the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade (cross that one off the bucket list) as well as my brother’s Broadway debut! (We drove there, by the way.) Click here to read all about it.

Gr8LakesCamper celebrates the world of RV Camping in the Midwest. Gather around the campfire and share tips, ideas and stories on RVing, camping and travel destinations. Follow Gr8LakesCamper on Twitter, Facebook and the personal blog.

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Gr8LakesCamper: Recap of the Fall Detroit RV Show

October 15, 2010 by Gr8LakesCamper · 7 Comments 

RV Show 1 By all accounts, the recent Fall Detroit Camper & RV Show was a huge success. From day one, when people waited 90 minutes for the show to officially open its doors, to day five, when it was shoulder-to-shoulder people enjoying bumper-to-bumper RVs, the show was a good one — and certainly the best in the last few years.

I went to the show for four of its five days and tried to talk to as many people as I could. I also tried to get inside as many RVs as I could. What follows is my recap. (You can also read my individual reports from Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four and Day Five. All but Day Five includes a video.)

The RV dealers I talked to said they sold a lot of campers, or at least made some good leads for future sales. Bill Sheffer, Executive Director of the Michigan Association of Recreation Vehicles and Campgrounds (MARVAC), said across the state RV sales are up 16 percent over the previous year.

“Show attendance was up 20 percent over the 2009 numbers,” Sheffer said. “Dealers and exhibitors reported positive sales numbers and responses from those in attendance, and several $200,000 units were even sold during the show. Many dealers reported meeting and/or exceeding sales goals for the duration of the show.”

Vendors said people were very receptive to what they were offering, including Rick Stafford of River Ridge RV Resort. On the first day he was somewhat lukewarm about the show, but by the fifth day he was extremely pleased. He said three couples were so enamored with his amenities-laden RV resort that they took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and drove the three hours from Detroit to Stanwood, Michigan to take a look around.

And everyone attending the show looked like they were very much enjoying the true stars of the show — the 200-plus RVs lined up in row after row of camperpalooza goodness.

“We generally come to all these shows,” said Jim Felmlee of Rochester, Michigan, who was at the show with his wife, Karen. “We enjoy seeing all the new RVs. We already own our own RV, but generally we come to see all the new features and one we really like are the outdoor kitchens.”

“You know, when you’re camping, you spend all your time outside anyways,” Karen added. “So an outdoor kitchen makes perfect sense.”

Another couple I ran into was Geraldine Laczek of Macomb Township, Michigan and her daughter-in-law Debby Laczek, of Metamora, Michigan. Like the Felmlees, they already owned their own RVs and were at the show just to enjoy all the new models. They, too, liked the outdoor kitchens, and Debby, a fifth-wheel owner, said the Montana with the up-front living room also caught her attention.

Bob Dunn, president of the southeast Michigan Winnebago owners club, was telling me about the Motor City Winnies when he mentioned that the Winnebago Journey diesel motor home behind him was bought earlier that day by two other members of the Motor City Winnies, Skip and Nancy Yates of Rochester Hills, Michigan.

Naturally, I found the Yates inside their new coach. The two had perma-grins on their faces as they greeted everyone who came aboard. They happily told people they had just bought that motor home, but feel free to gently look around.

A few aisles over I found Denny Powlison, from Adrian, Michigan. He brought his wife to the show in the hopes she might catch the RV camping bug. He said she had only been camping once, in a sleeping bag under the stars — not even a tent — so he was skeptical. But she fell in love with a Rockwood Minilite #1809S travel trailer, and they’ll be back to the February show to make the purchase.

As mentioned earlier, most people I talked to said the outdoor kitchens were a big hit with them.

Other innovations and features — some not necessarily new but improved upon — that caught my eye were:

• Second bathrooms. Many of the bunkhouses now have floor plans featuring a second bathroom for the kiddies. And many of these have a second door from the outside providing direct access to this bathroom. What a great idea! Instead of tramping through the entire camper just to get to the bathroom, all you need to do is open the door, take a couple of steps, do your business and get out. No tracking sand and dirt through the camper, and I bet fewer mosquitoes make it inside, too.

• Skylights directly over showers. Again, not a new concept at all. But it seems manufacturers are designing these to better follow the shape of the showers so more natural light fills the shower and bathroom. I especially noticed this in the fifth-wheels and motor homes that had corner shower units.

• Kitchen cabinet/counter extensions. Mostly in Class A motor homes and larger fifth-wheels, these are the cabinet/counter extensions that you pull out to dramatically increase the counter space and cabinet storage.

• Outside televisions. As we all know, the flat-screen TV has been a huge innovation for the RV Industry. Whereas before the old picture-tube TVs took up 3-feet of depth by however wide the TV was, flat screens decreased that depth to a mere 3-5 inches. Suddenly, TV cabinets were smaller, freeing up space for other things, like storage, bigger TVs, etc. The flat-screens also made it easier to mount on the outside of a motor home, hidden behind a flip-up door, to watch ESPN Game Day while tailgating.

• Universal, Portable TV Mounts. I saw this on one of Dan White’s travel trailers in the H.W. Motor Homes display. The camper had three TV mounts, one outside, one in the bedroom and the third in the living area. The articulated arm that inserted into the mounts was securely attached to the TV, making it easy to move the TV-and-arm to and from any of the three areas of the camper. A simple tab locked the arm into the mount, and antenna/cable and power connections were located at each mount.

The coolest RV innovation I saw at the show was the slide-within-a-slide in the 2011 Monaco Diplomat motor home. John Monterusso of American RV in Grand Rapids, Michigan was gracious enough to meet me before the show opened on Thursday for an exclusive tour of this incredible motor home.

The slide-within-a-slide is exactly what the term implies. On the driver’s side of the coach is a slide with the refrigerator, dinette and couch. A push of a button extends that slide 3 feet out of the coach. Then, another push of a button extends a second slide, this one containing just the dinette and the couch, out another 2 feet. The whole process takes about 40 seconds, and the interior space it creates is very impressive, especially since another 3-foot slide is on the opposite side of the coach. Click here for my video tour of the slide-within-a-slide.

All in all, the Fall RV Show was a lot of fun – but I would expect nothing less. I was able to get to the show four of its five days. I enjoyed exploring all the RVs and talking to the people enjoying those RVs. And now the countdown is on for the Spring RV shows!

From the personal blog: I’ve been posting a lot of information lately about travel destinations and specials they’re having, including Ohio’s Brilliant Fall Colors and Halloween Fun at the Kalahari Resort in Sandusky, Ohio.

Gr8LakesCamper celebrates the world of RV Camping in the Midwest. Gather around the campfire and share tips, ideas and stories on RVing, camping and travel destinations. Follow Gr8LakesCamper on Twitter, Facebook and the personal blog.

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Gr8LakesCamper: Theme Weekends Extend the Camping Season

September 13, 2010 by Gr8LakesCamper · 2 Comments 

You may not have read about it in the newspapers, but there was a chainsaw-wielding maniac at a New York campground last month. And he was camping right next door to an 8-foot tall witch. And throughout the campground were all sorts of smaller witches, ghosts, ghouls and goblins.

bxp281326It was Halloween weekend at American Family Campground in Godeffroy, N.Y., and the chainsaw and witch were part of the haunted hayride and other spooky festivities. The little monsters, of course, were after the candy, and campers were all too happy to oblige.

The frightful fun weekend is a way for campground owners to extend the camping season, a growing trend all across the northern United States and southern Canada.

“Labor Day is just notorious for people not camping anymore,” said Susan Novotny of South Haven Family Campground in Michigan. “You’ll still get your diehards who absolutely love camping in the fall, but for the most part we needed something to get the families to come out.”

Many privately owned and operated campgrounds — as well as some state parks — have Halloween-, Harvest- and Oktoberfest-themed activities taking place throughout September and October, as well as other fun family activities. Some also have corn mazes and cooking competitions.

“You’d be surprised to know what campground operators are doing at this time of year,” said Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. “Instead of letting Labor Day be their last hurrah, many campground owners have discovered that they can keep having busy weekends right on through September and October, particularly if they have Halloween oriented activities.”

South Haven Family Campground in Michigan, in just its third year of existence, will have three Halloween weekends this year (Oct. 8-10, 15-17 and 22-24) to go along with an Apple Festival Weekend (Sept. 17-19), a Camper Appreciation Weekend (Sept. 24-27), Harvest Weekend (Oct. 1-3) and a Last Chance Weekend (Oct. 29-31 featuring deeply discounted rates and store prices.

By far, though, the Halloween weekends are the most popular, Novotny said, crediting campers who love to decorate their RVs and campsites for making the event so enjoyable for everyone.

“We have people sign up for all three weekends,” she said. “They really like the haunted house, but I think it’s more of just a way for them to celebrate Halloween in a low economic way, and in a safe environment for the kids.”

Campgrounds affiliated with Kampgrounds of America (KOA) and Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts have been offering Halloween oriented activities for years. But independently owned and operated campgrounds are also increasingly getting into the act, including New York’s American Family Campground, which hosted its Halloween Weekend in late August.

“Halloween weekend was a real big hit with the kids,” said American Family Campground ’s Nancy Lane. “The kids get all dressed up in costumes and trick or treat at the campsites, and a lot of the people decorate their campers. One guy had a 8-foot witch, and another ran around scaring the kids with a chainsaw — all in good fun, of course.”

To be sure, these aren’t your ordinary camping enthusiasts, mind you. Many camping and RVing enthusiasts who book their sites during Halloween weekends at campgrounds come with friends and family members and create their own haunted campsites.

“Sometimes groups of people will come and they’ll use two or three campsites and invite everyone in the campground to come in and visit their haunted RVs,” said Sue Trimble, office manager for Far Horizons 49er Village RV Resort in Plymouth, Calif.

Dana Gabriel, co-owner of the Jellystone Park in Swansea, S.C., said during the last three weekends in October, the park is transformed into “Darkwood Plantation.” Guests start their adventure visiting a haunted plantation house, then proceed into the gardens, a cemetery and a swamp where there is a voodoo witch.

“We have a mix of static props, animatronics and 10 or 15 actors who make it a pretty scary place,” Gabriel said.

The Winston-Salem KOA in Statesville, N.C. has generated a similar following with its “Midway Wicked Woods,” a frightening walk in the woods. “It is very scary,” said Jocelyn Hogue, a park manager, adding that the haunted trail is open to campers as well as the general public.

Of course, campground operators aren’t limiting themselves to Halloween-themed activities. Many also offer other activities and entertainment, such as fall harvest festivals, Western-themed weekends and Oktoberfest celebrations. Some campgrounds also offer corn mazes, including the Jellystone Park in Sioux Falls, S.D., which offers a seven-acre corn maze, with an easy section for young children and a more difficult section for teenagers and adults.

Courtesy of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, here is a sampling of some of the activities and special events taking place at campgrounds and RV parks and resorts across the country through the end of October:

American Family Campground, Godeffroy, N.Y.: This park will celebrate Oktoberfest Oct. 8th to 11th with a krautdogs over the campfire, an evening hayride and a Bavarian dinner.

Four Paws Kingdom, Rutherfordton, N.C.: This park will celebrate Oktoberfest Oct. 2nd and 9th with German music, a party and German food, including sauerbraten, spaetzle, knockwurst, brats, kraut, red cabbage, potato salad and more. The campground will also offer sausage bobbing for big and small dogs at its dog parks. A Mediterranean potluck is also scheduled for Oct. 16th and will feature Spanish, Greek, Italian, Croatian French and other cuisines from the Mediterranean region.

Land-O-Pines Family Campground, Covington, La.: This park offers a wide range of activities and entertainment this fall, including “Swamp Pop” band extravaganza Sept. 24th to 26th; a “Pink Party” and walk-a-thon for breast cancer awareness month Oct. 1st to 3rd, with activities including a walk-a-thon, raffles, pink dessert, and a pink bingo party. A “not so scary” kiddie pre-Halloween activity weekend is scheduled for Oct. 15th to 17th with scary Halloween activities slated for the weekends of Oct. 22nd to 24th and Oct. 29th to 31st.

Lazy River at Granville, Granville, Ohio: This park will host an Oktoberfest celebration on Sept. 24th with crafts, five stations of games, a DJ beer garden and German food, including brats, potato salad, apple dumplings and beer. The campground is also planning Halloween weekends, with campsite decorating contests, trick or treating and a haunted house on the weekends of Oct. 8th and 9th; 15th and 16th and 22nd and 23rd.

Mountain Lake Campground and Cabins, Summersville, W.V.: This park will celebrate Halloween with costume and campsite decorating contests and trick or treating on the weekends of Sept. 24th to 26th; Oct. 1st to 3rd; and Oct. 8th to 11th, the latter of which will also include a “Monster Mash Dance.” A spooky haunted trail walk is also being planned for a time yet to be announced.

Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort & Marina in Newport Beach: Special activities this fall include a Halloween party on Friday, Oct. 30th, with a costume contest, music, games and dancing for people of all ages.

Sacred Rocks Preserve in Boulevard: This park, located at the 4,000 foot level in the mountains east of San Diego, is planning a horse camping weekend Oct. 15th to 17th, with free camping offered to those who bring a horse.

Sea Pirate Campground, West Creek, N.J.: This park will celebrate its annual crab festival on Sept. 18th. The campground will celebrate an early Halloween on Oct. 2nd with a costume parade, trick or treating, a Halloween hayride and cupcakes and refreshments.

Sky High Camping Resort, Portage, Wis.: This park will have Halloween costume dances and campsite decorating on the weekends of Sept. 17th to 19th, and Sept. 24th to 26th.

Smoky Hollow Campground, Lodi, Wis.: This park will celebrate Oktoberfest Oct. 1st to 3rd with a mix of adult and kid-friendly attractions, including music, homemade ice cream, root beer, brats and sauerkrat. The campground is also organizing pre-Halloween activities, including trick or treating, costume contests, haunted wagon rides, a haunted pavilion and opportunities to make your own caramel apple on the weekends of Sept. 17th to 19th and 24th to 26th.

South Haven Family Campground in South Haven, Mich.: This campground will have an apple festival on the weekend of Sept. 17th to 19th with apple crafts, apple juggling and opportunities to learn how to make applesauce and caramel apples. Halloween activities, including face painting, mummy wrap races, pumpkin carving contests, costume and campsite decorating contests and trick or treating are scheduled for Oct. 8th to 10th, 15th to 17th and 22nd to 24th.

Woodland Campground in Woodland, Pa.: This park will celebrate Halloween with family activities on Oct. 1st. The park will also have an Oktoberfest celebration Oct. 9th with food, crafts and a flea market.

The Woods Campground in Lehighton, Pa.: This park is having a country western weekend Sept. 24th to 26th with line dancing and a chili cookoff. The park will also have a “motorcycle leather weekend” Oct. 1st to 3rd with a “Mr. and Mrs. Woods Leather Competition.” An Oktoberfest lunch is planned for the weekend of Oct. 22nd to 24th with Halloween activities, including a haunted hayride and costume party on the weekend of Oct. 29th to 31st.

Of course, these are just a sampling of some the activities and special events taking place at campgrounds and RV parks across the country in the coming weeks. Consumers can find private campgrounds in their area by checking www.GoCampingAmerica.com. The site includes links to RV parks and campgrounds, which provide their own “activities” or event calendars, which can help you figure out which parks have activities your family will enjoy.

From the personal blog: Brent Peterson’s “10 Commandments of RVing” needs to be read by every RVer, and probably should be stapled to certain campers’ foreheads.

Gr8LakesCamper celebrates the world of RV Camping in the Midwest. Gather around the campfire and share tips, ideas and stories on RVing, camping and travel destinations. Follow Gr8LakesCamper on Twitter, Facebook and the personal blog.

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