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When You Go Rustic Camping; Go Rustic

Posted on April 22nd, 2021

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As part of its Project Rustic this summer, the Michigan DNR is promoting its system of small rustic campgrounds with Paige Lackey visiting 77 of Michigan’s 145 state forest campgrounds. She’s going to pull up in a 33-foot-long Class C motorhome that features two slideouts, sleeps up to seven and retails for $120,000. It’s the wrong message writes Jim DuFresne in the latest Trail Talk blog for MichiganTrailMaps.com.  If Lackey really wants to experience what rustic camping is all about, she should pitch a tent.

By Jim DuFresne

One summer, I was tent camping with some friends at Cusino Lake, a small, remote State Forest campground in the Upper Peninsula, when a pair of 30-foot motorhomes lumbered in and parked at two of the six sites.

Jim DuFresne

We were surprised to see them and then shocked when the RVers started their generators late afternoon and were still running them after the sun had set.  When someone in our party finally approached them about the offending noise, he was told that the engines would be humming throughout that hot, muggy evening. It was the only way they could use the air conditioners in their recreational vehicles.

So much for the quiet and wild setting of a rustic campground.

I thought about my stay at Cusino Lake when the Michigan DNR recently announced its Project Rustic, a five-month statewide tour by Paige Lackey to visit 77 of Michigan’s 145 state forest campgrounds. The goal is to collect information for the DNR and, more importantly, highlight Michigan’s outstanding network of small rustic campgrounds in blogs, podcasts, and a page on the DNR website.

I’m all for promoting state forest campgrounds and pathways; I’ve devoted a good portion of my career to writing books, magazine articles and outdoor columns doing that.

A rustic state forest campsite at Pigeon River Country State Forest

What I’m stunned at are Lackey’s sponsors. The main one seems to be General RV, which bills itself as the country’s “Premier RV Supercenters.” They’re providing Lackey a Class C motorhome that is 33-feet long, features two slideouts, sleeps up to seven and retails for $120,000. They’re also hosting her blog.

Another sponsor is Jackery, which manufactures portable generators that use two large solar panels to recharge them. Then there is Winegard, whose motto is “Put more home in your motorhome.” Winegard specializes in portable satellite TV antennas and cellular devices that link to nationwide 4G internet service for “uninterrupted, in-motion and stationary coverage!”

I assume Lackey will have all this when she pulls into those rustic state forest campgrounds. One of them this summer will be Cusino Lake.

Why even go camping at Cusino Lake? Better to go to a state park campground designed for the RV experience with hook-ups, modern restrooms and a sanitation station where you can empty your tanks. Some even supply wifi.

If you’re going to promote rustic campgrounds, especially those remote gems in the Upper Peninsula, pitch a tent. Or, at the very least, arrive towing a pop-up.

For various reasons, people in large recreational vehicles have been showing up in increasing numbers in rustic campgrounds since the mid-1980s, bound and determined to enjoy all the comforts of home. But in a rustic setting, the only way they can use their microwave, turn on the television or make daiquiris in the blender is to have a generator supplying the power.

Noise conflicts are a problem in rustic campgrounds. So are RVers trying to save a buck.

RVers at a state park campground with the hook-ups and amenities they need to fully utilize their rig.

A full-hookup campsite at Hartwick Pines State Park is $38 a night during the summer. Cusino Lake is $15. Get a Golden Age Passport ($10 for life), and senior citizens can pull their motorhome into a rustic national forest campground for $9 a night. And many do just that because aging baby boomers have both the time and the disposable income to spend a summer exploring rustic campgrounds in their motorhome.

All they need to purchase is a $300 generator if their rig is not already equipped with one.

“We have a generation of campers who are too use to AARP discounts and Golden Age rates when they camp,” a U.S. Forest Service ranger once told me.

Whatever their reasons, tent campers say, RVers can spoil the atmosphere of a rustic state forest campground, generally a small, remote facility with less than 20 sites on a lake or river in the middle of the woods.

Rustic camping is a get-in-touch-with-your-senses experience, and if Lackey truly wants to understand that and promote the best thing about state forest campgrounds, she should forgo the 33-foot motorhome and pitch a tent.

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