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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: Campsite Ticket Scalpers

April 18, 2011 by Gr8LakesCamper · 506 Comments 

Bridal veil falls, Yosemite National Park

Bridal veil falls, Yosemite National Park

Fellow RVers, I’d like to start a discussion about scalpers – not ticket scalpers, mind you, but campsite scalpers.

I recently came across this news item from The Sacramento Bee, by way of the Associated Press:

Yosemite battling pest problem: Ticket-scalpers
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) — Yosemite National Park has a pest problem: Ticket scalpers who are selling the limited camping reservations at exorbitant prices.
Spokesman Scott Gediman tells the Sacramento Bee that park officials are becoming more aggressive as they try to curb scalpers.
The nation’s third-most visited park has only 900 reserved campsites available at any given time. They go for $20 a night but scalpers advertising on Craigslist are offering them for $100 or more — sometimes for hundreds of dollars.
They’re also selling permits to climb Half Dome, which the park essentially issues for free.
Gediman says it appears that some scalpers may have devised ways of jumping the reservation queue, possibly through automated computer programs that can instantly snag cancellations.

My only experience with ticket scalpers is at sporting events, where it always seems to be the same guys selling tickets at the same venues, regardless of the game or event taking place. Occasionally I’ll sell or buy an extra ticket, but never more than for face value.

I have no experience with this campsite ticket scalping, and was wondering if anyone else does.

In addition, what are your thoughts on this?

This obviously sounds like its something much bigger than someone selling an unused campsite. And I certainly don’t like that someone can apparently “jump the reservation queue.” That needs to be corrected – fast.

Would you ever buy a campsite from a scalper? Would you pay more than face value for it?

I don’t think I would. For something as big as camping in Yosemite (or any other popular National Park), it would be such a big vacation that planning for it would start months in advance. That planning would include securing our campsite. If, for whatever reason, we don’t get a campsite, then I think we would pick another destination.

But, like I said, I’m curious what others have to say about this.

From the companion blog: Since we’re on the topic of National Parks, I have a post about the 2011 Yellowstone CycleFest, taking place July 23-30 at Yellowstone National Park. In addition to daily road biking, CycleFest will offer a host of exciting activities including trail walking, horseback riding, rafting, mountain biking, canoeing, gondola riding and something called “water cycling.”

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: Are you ready for a good paddling?

April 3, 2011 by Gr8LakesCamper · 5 Comments 

025After years of being a canoeing expert – and by expert I mean I’ve canoed about four or five times – the last two summers during our annual Camping & Canoeing Extravaganza I switched to kayaking.

A quick aside: Like many, we have an annual trip each summer with a group of family and friends in which we camp, canoe and do our part to stimulate the economy of the local party stores. Ours we call the Camping & Canoeing Extravaganza, and besides my family it also includes my brother-in-law and his family. Our oldest kids also now bring a friend; it’s not too big compared to some groups, but it’s big enough for us. (Click here to read Parts I and II of last year’s monsoon of an Extravaganza.)

As I said, I am a canoeing expert. But the last two years of our Extravaganza, I switched to a kayak.

So now I am a kayaking expert – and by expert I mean I can zig zag from bank to bank with the best of them. (In all honesty, I found the kayak less likely to tip and much easier to steer.)

So it was with collegial eagerness that I was able to rub shoulders with a fellow paddling expert (paddling – that’s what we canoeing/kayaking experts call what we do). And by rub shoulders, I meant I was part of the audience who listened to Doc Fletcher, author of a handful of paddling books on Michigan and Wisconsin rivers. Fletcher was the guest of my local library, and he also happened to be a 1972 graduate of our local high school. So for him it was a homecoming, and for us in the audience it was nice hour-long paddle down some of Doc’s favorite rivers.

Doc’s books include “Weekend Canoeing in Michigan: The Rivers, The Towns, The Taverns,” “Michigan Rivers Less Paddled: The Rivers, The Towns, The Taverns” and “Canoeing and Kayaking Wisconsin: The Rivers, The Towns, The Taverns.” The titles kind of give you an idea that Doc is one of us. He’s not a stuffy, scholarly type. He’s simply a guy who, after retiring from a career selling batteries, pursued his life long love of paddling.

Each chapter of each of his books features a paddling trip down a segment of one river. Chapter information includes: River name; how long the segment is; about long it takes to paddle the segment; skill level; recommended livery and contact information; landmarks; and two maps, one that’s a detail of the river segment and the other to show where the river is located in the state. He also writes about the history of the nearby town and provides a narrative of the paddling trip.

Two other items of information he also includes deserve special mention: what local radio station carries the Detroit Tigers (or Milwaukee Brewers) broadcasts; and what local tavern is worth a visit, especially if it serves Doc’s preferred beverage – Pabst Blue Ribbon. (”You can only be young once, but you can be immature all your life,” he quipped.)

You can probably find Doc’s books at your local library, but they’re also online at Amazon and at Doc’s website.

During Doc’s talk at the library, he took us down four rivers, two in Michigan and two in Wisconsin.

The first river was a 7-mile stretch of the Mecan River in south central Wisconsin – “One of the most enjoyable rivers I ever paddled,’ Doc said. “It’s a spirited river with deceptive quickness. There’s a lot of tight turns, and it was very cool and a lot of fun.”

A second river was the Jordan River in the northern part of Michigan’s lower peninsula – “It’s my favorite 35-minute stretch of any river,” Doc said. “There’s plenty of fast water and it sort of has a dark beauty about it; it takes you through medieval forests.”

A third river was the Middle Branch of the Ontonagon River in the western part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – “There’s no other two-hour stretch as exhilarating as this six-mile run,” Doc said, adding it includes seven Class II rapids and the incredible beauty of nearby Bond Falls.

The fourth was the portion of the Milwaukee River that ran through downtown Milwaukee. The urban setting with its architecture and three breweries and five taverns located right on the river were a nice change of pace, Doc said.

I was jealous of Doc and his experiences. His slide show of snapshots he took along each trip showed nothing but smiling faces, beautiful scenery and some great tales that would only grow better with each telling. As I said, Doc seemed like a regular guy, enjoying what he likes to do, and just happens to write books about it in the process. The kind of guy you’d want to go with you on a paddling trip, and the kind of guy who’d happily accept the invitation.

“Paddling is such a good activity because it’s a sport that can be enjoyed by the young and old alike,” Doc said.

And a sport enjoyed by us experts, too.

From the companion blog: I continue to add at least one post per day, usually about travel destinations such as Benzie County, Michigan and Bluffton/Ft. Wayne Indiana KOA’s offering a free night of camping. I even came across a new bungee cord that is said to be a huge improvement on the classic bungee.

However, what you most might be interested in is my post about the Ohio State Parks online reservation system being hacked. I’ve placed a call to InfoSpherix, the third-party vendor which operates Ohio’s state park reservation system, and will update the post as soon as I can.

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: Do our National Parks suffer from a lack of diversity?

December 23, 2010 by Gr8LakesCamper · 46 Comments 

The Roosevelt Arch at the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park d0002470features a placard that reads, “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People,” words that Pres. Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed as the arch was dedicated in 1903. Yet, many people of color have not had the opportunity to experience our country’s national parks – their national parks.

Just recently, The Oprah Winfrey Show chronicled Oprah’s camping trip to Yosemite National Park. Oprah was invited to the park by Yosemite National Park Ranger Shelton Johnson, an African American who played a prominent role in Ken Burns’ film, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.

While visiting Yosemite, Oprah took in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, went fly fishing on the Merced River, and was awed by Johnson’s incredible Buffalo Soldier persona. But, for Oprah, this place of inspiration raised a much larger question: “Why aren’t there more visitors of color in the national parks?”

The preceding paragraphs are taken from a press release distributed by the National Parks Second Century Commission, an independent group charged with developing a 21st Century vision for the National Park Service. The Commission was formed in 2008 by the National Parks Conservation Association and its findings were made public in 2009. I really don’t know why a release from them made it to my desk just this past week, other than it is capitalizing on Oprah Winfrey’s recent camping trip to Yosemite.

According to the release, “a lack of diversity is a longstanding issue for national parks, public lands and the environmental movement as a whole.”

To be honest, I didn’t realize this issue even existed. And to be even more honest, I struggle with accepting this as a legitimate issue. Visiting our national parks, to me, seems to be the ultimate in freedom of choice. You either choose to go to a national park, or you don’t. Lack of awareness might be a problem, but is it enough of a problem that our government needs to put forth taxpayer resources toward it?

Still not convinced, I continued reading the Commission’s press release.

At Yosemite, less than 1 percent of the visitors are African American. In Florida, only 4 percent of visitors to Everglades National Park are Hispanic or African American – even though nearby Miami is 54 percent Hispanic and 14 percent African American. As the demographics of America continue to shift toward a non-white majority, visitation numbers like these will diminish the relevancy of parks.

The Commission recently laid out potential Park Service actions to better connect diverse and urban communities with the national parks. The Commission recommended engaging diverse communities to build personal connections to parks, expanding educational opportunities, ensuring interpretation through the context of diverse perspectives, and actively recruiting a new generation of park leaders that reflects the nation’s diversity.

Hard to argue with those recommendations; who doesn’t support making more people aware of what our national parks have to offer, especially if you take into account that one of the Park Service’s goals is to educate the public. The Commission’s release explains this further…

Although more widely known for the great natural parks, like Yellowstone and Glacier, the National Park Service is one of the largest stewards of sites that tell the story of cultural diversity. At Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, W.E.B. DuBois and other members of the Niagara Movement issued a clarion call for full and immediate suffrage. San Antonio Missions National Historical Park preserves four Spanish missions in Texas – the greatest concentration of Roman Catholic missions in North America. Even Yosemite, one of the majestic natural parks, holds a rich and diverse history – home to Shelton Johnson’s interpretation of Buffalo Soldiers at the park.

Despite this rich history, national parks across the country face funding and staffing shortfalls that often limit the Park Services’ ability to interpret cultural sites and expand educational opportunities for visitors to learn about our shared heritage. While outreach to diverse communities is a stated priority for the Park Service, they often lack the funding and staff to do so.

Well there you have it, I thought, yet another special interest group and/or government program whining about a lack of funds. Here’s a better idea: our federal government needs to do a better job with the taxes it already receives – i.e. eliminate unnecessary programs and those that are kept must be made more efficient. That ought to free up some money – if indeed more money is a legitimate need in this case.

But I digress.

Back to the release again.

There is currently an opportunity to ensure that our national parks remain relevant to a changing America. Pres. Barack Obama recently established the America’s Great Outdoors initiative to create a 21st century strategy for reconnecting Americans with their rich natural heritage. The National Parks Conservation Association, a nonprofit advocacy organization for the parks, has recommended that national parks play a prominent role in such an initiative.

“Many urban and rural communities have national parks in their backyards and we must ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to experience these places that preserve our natural and cultural heritage,” said NPCA Legislative Representative Alan Spears. “We hope that the administration takes bold steps to better connect people of color to our national parks through the America’s Great Outdoors initiative.”

Throughout the country, there are successful models of outreach to urban and diverse communities around national parks. For example, at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in Los Angeles, nearly 10,000 inner-city youth have learned to grow native plants and care for restoration sites. Santa Monica Mountains is the world’s largest urban national park and although the park is within walking distance, most children in the year-long learn and work program had never visited before. Since the program, visitation has increased as students bring their families for weekend and after-school visits – creating a lasting connection to a place that once barely existed to them.

Oprah’s visit to Yosemite National Park brings to the forefront a longstanding issue for national parks. By increasing diversity in the workforce, interpretation and ultimately visitation, parks can maintain relevancy in their second century and truly provide benefit and enjoyment for all Americans.

And that concluded the Commission’s release.

All of the Commission’s suggestions sound like worthy goals, and you certainly can’t argue with wanting to make people more willing to visit the national parks and enjoy their beauty and majesty and historical contexts.

The Commission’s report sheds light on an apparent lack of diversity at our national parks. But is this lack of diversity an issue that needs to be dealt with? Or is it a something less – perhaps nothing more than a statistical observation that will likely fluctuate over time? Again, everyone is free to choose whether to take their family to visit a national park – or a state park, or an amusement park, or an RV park … you get the idea.

I have to admit that I was hesitant to post this. This post is not meant to stir up a hornet’s nest. But I am curious how others see this particular “issue” as it relates to our National Parks.

From the personal blog: I continue to post information on travel destinations – including “Women, Winter, Wine, and Chocolate” plus “Winterfest” and “Shiver by the River” events in Michigan’s northwest lower peninsula – as well as 10 Great tips for Traveling with a Litter of Kids.

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: Holiday Gift Guide

December 13, 2010 by Gr8LakesCamper · 3 Comments 

Here — in no particular order (or rhyme or reason) — is a somewhat decent holiday gift guide for RVers, starting with three new products from the Fastway company:

Fastway Flip automatic jack footFastwayFlipB3WEB
The new Fastway Flip automatic jack foot adds 6 inches to your jack instantly, and flips up and down automatically as you retract or extend the jack. The Flip jack foot eliminates the hassles of storing and stacking wood blocks, or finding a place to store a removable extension. The Flip jack foot puts itself away each time you use it. No springs, cables, or pins are required. The Flip jack foot installs easily using pilot holes in the foot as a guide; then a single bolt (supplied) mounts the Flip to the bottom of the jack. The Fastway Flip jack foot fits most tongue jacks round or square, with models to fit 2-inch and 2 1/4-inch jacks. Maximum tongue weight rating is 1,400 lbs. and designed for use on horse, RV, cargo, boat, and utility trailers. For more information call (877) 523-9103 or visit www.FastwayTrailer.com.

Fastway ONEstep tandem axle wheel chock84-00-4000Web
The Fastway ONEstep is the fastest and easiest tandem axle wheel chock. The ONEstep wheel chock eliminates common chocking hassles like ratcheting, pinched fingers, bending or kneeling down, splintery wood chunks, and stuck wedges pinched by trailer movement. The ONEstep chock sets quickly in place by simply stepping down on the scissor arms, and removes easily by pulling up on the cable handle, even when wedges have been pinched under a tire. The ONEstep chock is adjustable from 16 inches to 24 inches to fit most tandem axle trailers. It works great with horse, RV, boat, cargo, utility, and farm trailers. An XL model that reaches up to 30 inches is also available for trailers with “wide track” type axle systems. The ONEstep is made from solid steel wedges and arms, with zinc plate and powder coat finishes helping it look great for years. For more information, call (877) 523-9103 or visit www.FastwayTrailer.com.

Fastway Zip breakaway cableFastwayZipCableOnlyWEB
The Fastway Zip is the new, fast and easy way to protect your breakaway cable. With the Fastway Zip there are no frayed ends or cables dragging on the ground. The unique coiled cable of the Zip easily stretches to your tow vehicle and clips right on with the included carabiner. There is no looping over and around the trailer tongue to keep the cable out of the way. It is faster and easier to use than the standard breakaway cable. The Zip quickly replaces your current breakaway system with its coated high-strength coiled cable, split ring, and easy to use carabiner. The Fastway Zip breakaway cable is available in 4-foot and 6-foot cable lengths, and is offered as a universal replacement cable only, or a complete set with a cable and switch. For more information, call 877-523-9103 or visit www.FastwayTrailer.com.

iWavecube microwaveRedOpen_wDims
For those who want a microwave when camping, but not anything larger than necessary, the iWavecube measures just one-cubic-foot — plus it has all the electronic controls and safety features you would expect, and it plugs in anyplace that has a standard outlet. It’s quiet, super-energy-efficient, and measures just 10 inches by 10.5 inches by 12 inches — weighing only 12 lbs. It features a built-in carry handle and view-through door. The product is available in red, black, and silver. Perfect for a dorm room, camping trip or just at the office. For seeing the different ways campers are using their iWavecube check out this link.

The Perfect CampfireGrillNewOriginal
I have the Perfect CampfireGrill original grill and I have given them as presents. I love mine and recommend them to anyone who cooks over a campfire. The Perfect CampfireGrill original grill ($60), launched in 2005, continues to be popular for its large 20-by-25 inch grilling surface that can easily hold 24 strip steaks, 70 hot dogs or 30 large burgers. The Rebel ($40) fits easily into bicycle and motorcycle saddlebags. It can be used over the campfire or as a charcoal grill where campfires are not permitted. At 10-by-12 inches, The Perfect CampfireGrill Rebel is the smallest of The Perfect CampfireGrill products. The Explorer ($30) with its folding legs can be set up at any campsite on the beach, in rocky terrain or at a conventional campsite. The grill provides 12-by-18 inches of grilling surface. When its legs are folded, its 1 1/2 inch thickness makes it easy to transport in most backpacks and gear bags. The Pioneer ($40) provides a circular 18-inch diameter grilling surface that is perfect for weekend getaways and family outings. It is easily packed into smaller vehicles. For more information, go to www.campfiregrill.com.

REI Camp Mini Kitchen36ad756f-9c74-444a-b6ab-571c7728fb8c
Stow your cooking and dining essentials in the REI Camp Mini Kitchen ($69.93 on sale) so you’re always ready to hit the road! Staying organized in camp helps keep the fun factor high. Features include: Aluminum roll-top table holds most 2-burner camp stoves or other gear up to 60 lbs.; Ripstop polyester storage compartment provides dedicated spaces for a 2-burner stove, fuel bottles, plates, utensils, spices, wet sponges and more; Frame has integrated carry handles. Note: the photo at right shows items not included. For more information, visit: www.rei.com/product/798433

RV Handbook, 4th EditionRV Handbook
Completely Updated – the New RV Handbook, 4th Edition ($29.95) is a 299-page How-To Guide with handy checklists, helpful photos and easy-to-follow charts all designed to keep you on the road and enjoying your RV. This 4th edition of The RV Handbook from Trailer Life Books is known as the “RVer’s bible” for the RV road warrior; it’s a “no-fluff” comprehensive guide for both novice and seasoned RVers. Packed with checklists; photos; schematics and charts, as well as plenty of sound, user-friendly technical advice. Features hundreds of proven RV tips, tricks and techniques to save you time, money and maybe even your sanity! You simply won’t find this level of detail covered in any other RV book. If you are looking for a complete resource that answers all your RV-related questions, the latest edition of The RV Handbook from Trailer Life Books is exactly what you are looking for. 
Click here for more information.

QwikShower WipesShower Wipes
Although this product is marketed toward kids who can use them after gym class at school, I think these would be a great addition to anyone’s RV. QwikShower Wipes – from a company that calls itself My Kids Stink, LLC — are large, moist, single-use disposable cloths with a subtle scent and economical price point. QwikShower Wipes are appealing for many reasons:
• Convenient. Each wipe is individually wrapped for portability and to ensure it never dries out.
• Effective. With a large 10-inch by 12-inch dimension and a resilient cloth-like material, QwikShower Wipes are big and study enough to clean the entire body, also leaving a slight fresh scent behind.
• Green. Environmentally friendly, QwikShower Wipes are non-aerosol and emit zero fluorocarbon emissions unlike popular body sprays.  This also ensures the scent won’t invade the personal space of others or overwhelm the small space of a camper.
• Economical. Starting at just 49 cents each coupled with the company’s free shipping policy, QwikShower Wipes are very affordable.
• Versatile. QwikShower Wipes are great for use after sports practices and games, a day at the beach, or an impromptu restaurant outing with the family. Also a stellar solution for adults, the wipes are perfectly suited for boaters, campers and fitness enthusiasts. They are also a must for emergency preparedness kits in the event of water outages.
For more information about QwikShower Wipes visit www.QwikShower.com.

State Parks gift cards
Quite frankly, a state parks gift card or gift certificate is just about the perfect gift to give an RVer. A State Parks gift card is an appealing choice for anyone who likes to play outdoors or unwind in comfort.  Gift cards can be redeemed for camping, getaway rentals, cottage rentals or overnight stays in state park campgrounds, and some are good for use at state park lodges. Many states allow them to be used used at State Parks’ public courses, boat rentals at some state park marinas, or for food and merchandise purchases.

“Drives of a Lifetime” from National GeographicDrives_COVER web
Fall vacations conjure up images of cozy fireplaces, mugs of warm apple cider and drives through gorgeous foliage, rich with the changing colors of the season. National Geographic provides details of hundreds of scenic fall drives and more in “DRIVES OF A LIFETIME: Where to Go, Why to Go, When to Go” ($40 hardcover). Following on the success of National Geographic Traveler magazine’s popular Drives of a Lifetime series, this sumptuously illustrated gift book will appeal to all who have a yen for the open road and for every magnificent sight along the way. Click here for the Amazon.com page for this book.

Duraflame Gold Firelog177 gold_log_lft
Sick of the high cost of firewood? Sick of buying firewood at some campgrounds that’s little more than bark? How about trying the Duraflame Gold firelog for your next campfire. Packaged in chic gold and black, the Gold firelog is ideal for a great weekend fire, and burns longer with brighter with larger flames. The Duraflame Gold firelog is the first 7-pound firelog that burns for over four hours without tending, and is made from 100 percent renewable resources and burns 80 percent cleaner than wood. Available in a four-log pack for a suggested retail price of $24.99 or sold as a single log for $5-6/log. For more information visit www.duraflame.com.

“Winnebago Man” documentary on DVDWinnebago Man DVD
The outrageously funny, critically-acclaimed documentary “Winnebago Man” ($29.95) is available on DVD by Kino International. Following its much-publicized U.S. theatrical release in over 100 markets, as well as Jack Rebney’s national television debut as a guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the DVD is one of the most talked-about documentaries of the year. Click here for the Amazon.com page for this DVD.

BananagramsBananagrams - Open Banana
Bananagrams ($14.95) is a fast and fun anagram game that drives players bananas! Requiring no pencil, paper or board, Bananagrams comes in a small portable banana shaped pouch and is perfect fun for kids from 7 – 97 years-old, at home or on the go. Bananagrams is available online as a free Facebook Application and on the iPad, iPhone and iTouch as well as in a series of books. Bananagrams recently launched in Spanish, French, Norwegian and German as well as in a larger version – DOUBLE Bananagrams, the big banana for the larger bunch (for 16+ players).

Cascade Sleeping Bag from Peak Camping4_Cascade20
I’m not one for mummy-style sleeping bags, but for those who are then jump in and snuggle up for a long rest with this best-selling High Peak USA Cascade Sleeping Bag.  With a temperature rating of +20, -5, and -15 degrees F (ladies bag is available in +20 and -5), you can be assured a restful sleep outdoors even during the most frigid nights. The Thermolite Quallo insulation is a special fiber technology that promotes warmth and easy packing and maintains resilience and high loft. The Cascade also features an insulated chest collar to keep cold air from sneaking in.  The shell is made of 310T/210T nylon.  Dimensions: 31 inches by 79 inches by 21 inches (footbox).

“Along Interstate-75″ booki75
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. Useful travel information to help anyone driving this popular interstate from Detroit to the Florida border and back.

So there you have it. Granted, it’s not the most comprehensive list in the world, but these are things I’ve come across that I thought might catch your eye as well.

From the personal blog: I continue to post information on great getaways to many popular Midwest destinations, including Traverse City’s Winter Wow!fest, as well as great tips on how to protect yourself from the cold. Another pretty cool post was the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds recent announcement of the 32 campgrounds and RV parks that received an ‘A’ grade.

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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