Adventures in Campground Hosting – Big Bay State Park, Madeline Island, Wisconsin, v2018

Greetings everyone,

A couple of weeks ago, we returned from serving as volunteer campground hosts at Big Bay State Park located on Madeline Island just off the the mainland in Lake Superior. This was our second year campground hosting at Big Bay and perhaps our busiest hosting experience so far. Follow along for a few adventures and misadventures that happened during our stay, including the startling ending (stay tuned!).

We crossed over from Bayfield August 9 on the Madeline Island Ferry disembarking at the landing in LaPointe, the little town at the tip of the Island that grows in population during the summer tourist season.

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Leaving Bayfield

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Arriving in LaPointe on Madeline Island

When riding on the ferry, it’s always so refreshing to absorb the beauty of the water and the land as we make the two mile float to the Island. I always take a deep breath to take in the clean, fresh air and exhale slowly to relax for we’ll soon be on Island time! People watching is also fun, on our trip over there were a lot of walk on visitors, those that left their cars behind in Bayfield and anticipating exploring the village of LaPointe on foot.Big Bay SP-9009

We stopped at the local farmers market that happens every Friday morning in LaPointe and purchased some produce for the week. You see, there are two small groceries on the Island that are more like convenience stores so it’s important to have provisions that last until it’s time to cross back over to the mainland to stock up.IMG_3871IMG_3870

Soon we were on our way for the six-seven mile ride up Middle Road or County H to Big Bay State Park, our home for the next two weeks.Street-1705Street-1704

After renewing our acquaintances with the camp office staff, Diana and Kari, and the maintenance guy, Gary, we made our way to the host site to set up our trailer and get ready for the busy week.IMG_2364IMG_2363

You might be wondering what a volunteer campground host does in exchange for free camping. Our main job at Big Bay is to put up reserved signs on the sites that have a party arriving and to clean sites after people depart. Our routine is to check in at the office at around 9 AM to get the list of ins and outs. Here’s an photo of a few examples of our morning list, as you can see we had some busy days with over 50% turnover in the 60 campsites.IMG_3903

Then we jump on the gator and start checking the sites. I have to say that the vast majority of campers(95%+) leave their campsites like they found them, clean and ready for the next occupants. Then all we have to do is scoop the ashes out of the fire ring and move on. There are very few that don’t leave it clean, here’s an example of what a group of campers left for us to clean up!IMG_3894

And another group left these ruined shoes, I won’t even try to explain what that was like to clean up, let’s just say too many adult beverages the previous night!IMG_3897

An irritation for me is when smokers throw their cigarette butts on the ground, they are not biodegradable! One day, I was whining to the camp staff about having to do butt patrol, just like when I was in the Army. They looked at each other and then at me with this very confused look. After a wistful remembrance, I explained that in basic training, when there wasn’t anything else to do, we would have to walk the parade ground an arm length apart to look for cigarette butts that other soldiers threw on the ground. It was after that little story, they figured out that’s the kind of butt patrol I meant! In the Army, we quickly learned to field strip our cigarettes (dispose of the unsmoked tobacco) and put the butts in our pockets to throw in the trash, also a good practice when in a combat zone, no evidence for the enemy.IMG_3895

Some of the other duties we performed, we answered questions for campers such as where to get firewood, things to see in the park, restaurants in LaPointe, and where to by supplies. On this tour we also borrowed out our hammer to a camper who forgot theirs, hauled a load a firewood for a very pleasant, elderly Canadian couple who had a car/tent camper and boosted a couple of cars with dead batteries. Oh, I almost forgot, two nights in a row, we borrowed out our corkscrew to uncork those wine bottles. I hope they had fun! One of the rewards of campground hosting is meeting people from all over and chatting with them about the State Park and Madeline Island. The following are a few photos from the Park.

The Boardwalk
The Cliffs (the most scenic place on the Island, IMHO!)
The Beach

One of the very pleasant duties we were asked to do this year was to judge the sandcastle creations for the park’s annual Sandcastle Days. There were thirteen entries with a lot of very creative kids and families working together. Here are a few examples of their work.Big Bay SP-9020IMG_3886IMG_3879Big Bay SP-9039Big Bay SP-9034Big Bay SP-9027Big Bay SP-9021Big Bay SP-9022

After the judging was completed, this family had great fun destroying their creation. Here’s short video of the finale.


Some of the entries were so creative that we had a hard time picking winners. After making our decisions, prizes were awarded in four categories and each family received a participation certificate and a small prize.Big Bay SP-9050

There were also other activities kids and families could take part in such as these:Big Bay SP-9016Big Bay SP-9018Big Bay SP-9052

Here Kari and Ashnee (park staff) try their hand at macramé.Big Bay SP-9047

All was going well, campers were moving in and moving out, we were doing our jobs keeping the campground cleaned up when a so called disaster struck. A gas leak was discovered in the line to the hot water heater, so the heater had to be shut off. That meant there were no hot showers for about a week until the parts arrived (remember we are on an island) and the workman could get over on the ferry to make the repairs. For the first couple of days, one would have thought the world was coming to an end because of the lack of hot water for showers. We fielded several complaints but the office staff took the brunt of the anger by a few people. Most folks bucked up and accepted the fact they might go a few days without hot water. We were camping after all, I can recall times in our camping past when we had to heat up water on the camp stove to clean up, shave and sometimes wash our hair. As new campers arrived and were told at check in that hot water wasn’t available, the complaints stopped and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and adapt to the situation. Lots of people did brave the elements by either taking a swim in the lake (water temp of between  65-70 F) or a cold shower.IMG_3873

Unfortunately, we had to cut our camp hosting duties short to return home. On Monday night at about 11 PM, we were sound asleep in our trailer when a knock came on our camper door announcing that it was a police officer. I scrambled out of bed and opened the door with my heart beating very fast to hear the officer tell us to call our daughter and that our house in Madison was flooding! Scared the bejesus out of us until we woke up enough to figure out that we needed to drive to near the campground entrance to get cell service. We found out that our neighbors who look after our house while were are gone, were picking up and moving stuff off the floor of our lower level. You see, it had rained between 9-14 inches over a few hour period and there was water coming in the back door of our house. After we talked with our neighbors, we settled down and made plans to leave the Island the next morning and make the six hour drive back to Madison and take care of our house. Thanks to our neighbors, the Jackson’s, we lost very little but did have to remove the carpets in two rooms.IMG_3900

Despite the not so fun ending (not anyone’s fault, just the force of Mother Nature) we had another great time on Madeline Island and look forward to returning again next year for new and more fun experiences as campground hosts.

Up next week, Here and There! Stay tuned.

Until then, travel safe.