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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Vacation Dreaming

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.


dmarks said...

totally off topic: the Borrowers got adapted YET AGAIN:

Figured you might want to know. Feel free to delete this :)

P. J. Grath said...

The Clocks live "anonymously"? No, they have a name but they live hidden, secret lives. Frankly, there will never be an animated version of this story that has the charm of the original book illustrations for me. But thanks for the heads-up, dmarks.

Now about this Timber Shores land. Imagine how cool it would be for winter residents to explore there on cross-country skis or snowshoes!

dmarks said...

And there's yet another one coming out this year, staring one of the Doctor Who actors as Pod. As for animated, Japanese "Anime" does nothing for me.

I've been working slowly on a post about the original Borrowers illustrations.

I remember driving by Timber Shores around the time Tim Allen had it. I hope I am thinking of the right place.

Dawn said...

I love camping. We went camping at the Muskegon State Park almost every summer too, when I was little. Mom would pack us all up in the station wagon and go over Friday morning so we'd get a spot (long before they had reservations!) and then Dad would come after work and leave his car somewhere outside the park. We played in the sand dunes and swam in Lake Michigan. That park is the reason I'm still in love with Lake Michigan today. I remember the smell of the old canvas tent and the prickly feeling of the wool blankets and the sand in my ears from tumbling down the dunes. Good times.

Summer before last when I drove to AL I had the hardest time finding any campground at all in southeast OH. I agree we need more campgrounds!

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn, thanks for weighing in on this issue. And say, wouldn't it be funny if you and I were playing on the beach at Muskegon at the very same time? My family went in August every year beginning in 1960.

Oh, and then I thought, how huge would 450 acres be to borrowers?! The size of North America?

Dawn said...

I remember going to that park at least from 1966 on....we probably were there the same summers!

P. J. Grath said...

We may have overlapped in 1966, my last family vacation year before college and marriage. By summer of 1967 I was living in Pentwater.

Gerry said...

Canvas tent camping, The Borrowers, dmarks wandering off topic--it doesn't get any better than this. I should get up earlier more often. Best of luck putting a low-impact high-nurture campground together. Miss Sadie, the Cowboy and I would assay a small vacation over there. We would borrow a lightweight tent from Rob the Firefighter, who owns an astonishing array of recreational equipment, and would catch fish for our supper. Just thinking about it is a bit of a vacation.

P. J. Grath said...

Other people envision phalanxes of motor homes, gargantuan breadboxes on wheels. You and I see little tents along meandering sand trails. I’m sure there would be room for both on 450 acres. My solution would be to keep the lumbering supervehicles closer to the road and provide electric golf carts (free with campground fee) so that those “campers,” most of whom would be older visitors, would have easy access to the beach. I’d put tent campers closer to the water, as they would be more likely to want beach campfires at the end of the day—and also, I would want to reward those who were stepping more lightly on the land and keep the heavier “footprints” from trampling vulnerable pathways.

I love the off-topic stuff, too. Now I wonder if I will always associate borrowers with Timber Shores?

P. J. Grath said...

What happened to the comment I know I wrote replying to dmarks? Sorry, here goes again: I believe Tim Allen’s association is with Shady Trails, not Timber Shores. The Shady Trails land is the scene of a summer day camp for kids. It's not far from the Timber Shores property.

I look forward to your post about the original illustrations from the Borrower books, dmarks.