Thursday, October 27, 2011
When I was very young, the word vacation meant two things. First it meant the no-school period between Memorial Day and Labor Day we knew as “summer vacation.” After vacation we returned to school in the next-higher grade. Then there was “going on vacation,” which for my family was always, every year, either riding the train or driving U.S. 30 on our way from Illinois to Ohio to visit grandparents. We didn’t rent lake cottages (let alone have one of our own) or drive out West to visit national monuments. We took the vacation that fit my parents’ budget. And my sisters and I had no complaints. We looked forward to our Ohio trips.
The summer I was 12, however, our horizons opened up considerably. My father and mother borrowed a big old heavy canvas “umbrella” tent, and we had our first family camping vacation, and our destination was the state park north of Muskegon, Michigan. It rained all week, as I recall. My mother had, it seemed, as much housework as she would have had at home. My sisters and I carried endless buckets of water and explored the campground under umbrellas. But somehow we all had a good time, and it was the beginning of an annual tradition.
One year we camped all the way down to Florida and another time as far as the Black Hills in my birth state of South Dakota. But every year there was at least one week in Michigan.
Camping is more elaborate for most families these days than the old umbrella tent our family slept in that first year. Motor homes and RVs predominate. Even tent camping has changed a lot, with lightweight tents that go up quickly and have outside frames rather than those heavy old poles that campers had to maneuver around inside when I was young. Among the more “rustic” campers there are more doing bicycle tours than when I was a kid. But one thing hasn’t changed, and that is that camping is a budget-friendly way to vacation.
The popularity of Michigan as a vacation destination is nothing new, but we’ve seen in recent years a resurgence in state residents taking vacations closer to home, as well as vacationers from neighboring Midwest states coming here rather than going farther afield. As Americans tighten their financial belts in these difficult and uncertain economic times, vacation for a lot of families is starting to look more and more like my childhood vacations. Visiting relatives and camping are coming back into vogue. And along with those simpler vacations come simple pleasures, such as walks on the beach, sitting around campfires, hiking, biking, and reading.
All this is on my mind because right here in Leelanau Township there used to be a family campground on the shore of Grand Traverse Bay. It was called Timber Shores. “Ah, you shoulda been here then!” one elderly shopkeeper used to say to me as she recalled those “glory days” of business in Northport The closing of that campground spelled the beginning of hard times for the village.
But here’s the thing. The land is still there, 450 beautiful acres with 1600 feet of pristine shoreline. In recent years two proposed developments of high-density condominiums, each plan featuring a big golf course, man-made lake and yacht basin—two developments proposed since I’ve had my bookshop in Northport—have gone nowhere. Thank heaven, I say. There are enough vacant condos on the market already. There are plenty of houses for sale, too. Real estate supply is way ahead of demand these days everywhere in the country.
But campsites? There the demand outruns the supply in our neck of the woods.
We have beautiful Leelanau State Park at the tip of the peninsula, and to the south we have the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. There are a couple of well-established private campgrounds on Lake Leelanau and one new private RV park in the county. And still more campers arrive and have to be turned away.
Many people would like to see Timber Shores returned to campground, and it’s beginning to sound very much like a live option. Supporters come from old families in the area as well as newcomers, retired people as well as those in business, all concerned that such beautiful land be preserved for public recreatioal use, all seeing the “highest, best use” in the kind of low-impact development that would benefit the area financially while welcoming families on vacation. I won’t go into the various ways the campground development might be financed or run. That remains to be seen. I will say that “continued maintenance,” cited by one opponent as an argument against the campground, spells J-O-B-S when looked at in another light. We worry how to attract young families to our area? How to keep young people from leaving when they finish school? J-O-B-S is the answer.
Do dreams come true? Might this one? If so, the economic bust that killed the condo proposals would have a happy ending for one beautiful piece of Michigan land and its nearby residents.