Last Tuesday we returned from a fifteen day stay as volunteer campground hosts at Big Bay State Park located on Madeline Island. I’ve written previous posts about Madeline Island (in fact my very first post was about the Island) and displayed a number of photos taken around the Island and at the State Park. While next week’s post will delve more into our overall Madeline Island stay, this week I’ll share our story and some photos about our camp host experience at the State Park.
After about a six plus hour drive from Madison to Bayfield, Wisconsin located in northern Wisconsin on Lake Superior, we had a short wait to board the car ferry with our truck and travel trailer for the 20 minute ride across the bay to the village of LaPointe. By coincidence we were on the ferry at the exact same time that the eclipse was beginning. Watchers on board with the appropriate glasses reported a very short window (about 30 seconds) of seeing the beginning of the eclipse when the clouds moved in and obscured the sun. So no eclipse watching for anyone for the duration of the event!
As we drove off the ferry onto the dock and through the small town of LaPointe, we could feel the tension in the air starting to lower, we were now on Island time! We immediately headed out on Middle Road for the six mile drive to the State Park.
Upon arrival, we checked in at the office to officially begin our duties. One of the maintenance guys, Gary, showed us to our campsite that would be our home for the next couple of weeks. Over the two weeks, we got to know the park staff (Diana, Cary, Julie, Craig and Gary) and enjoyed working with them.
After setting up, we went back to the office to get our orientation on our duties and take the safety training to drive the Gator UTV that would be our campground transportation for the next two weeks. Below is a photo of our trailer set up in the camp host site with the Gator waiting to work! Note the dead branches on the lone tree in the campsite. A couple of years ago, a Gator burned up (likely from some hot campfire coals that caught fire) and scorched the tree on one side.
And this was our back yard with the goldenrod, tall grasses, and trees.
Our duties were pretty simple, we put up reserved signs on camp sites, cleaned the fire pits, picked up any trash or garbage that was lying around, answered questions from campers and other park visitors, and generally monitored the 60 site campground. We worked anywhere from 1 hour on light days and up to 6-7 hours on very heavy check-in and check-out days. We didn’t have to clean the toilets (yeah for that!) but did check periodically to make sure everything was working.
During our stay we met and talked with some great people. We’ve done campground hosting before but the folks that were camping on Madeline Island for a day or a week were way friendlier than our previous gigs. We chatted with a child psychologist that was a full time RVer traveling around the US with her daughter. She made her living by teaching online classes for two universities. We talked with a delightful semi retired couple from Des Moines, Iowa that were tent campers and enjoying the experience wherever they went. Also talked with a young fellow from Louisiana now living in Milwaukee and a retired Marine sergeant who is now doing a lot of building and construction work for the Native American tribes in the area. We also met some folks from our native state of North Dakota who’ve been coming to Madeline Island with some friends for the past four years. Again, a lots of nice people.
While the positives truly outnumbered the negatives, there were a few to remember. Our pet peeve soon became folks who thought their mother cleaned up after them! There weren’t many but enough for me to mention them here. Some folks would try to burn their paper trash in the fire pit but it didn’t always work out that way so it was our job to make it right. Also, I haven’t done butt patrol (cigarette butts that is) since I was in the Army many, many years ago, but I did have to do it again during this gig, always with a few choice curse words just like in the Army! The point is that after a couple of days, the campground became ours and we took a great deal of pride in trying to make it presentable for those coming to camp.
A couple of funny things happened during our stay too. One evening around 9:30 there was a knock on our door. When I answered the cold, shivering guy in shorts and flip-flops (it was cool during our stay, in the upper 60’s and lower 70’s during the day and into the 40’s some nights) asked if we had an air pump to inflate their mattresses! Unfortunately, I couldn’t help him that late at night. On our last day in the campground, we were making our cleanup rounds when a woman asked us where the AA meeting was held. She was told by her sponsor there was a daily meeting in the campground. We weren’t aware of any such meeting and neither were the office staff, it was a first for them too!
We also observed that when some campers come to Madeline Island especially first timers, we’re not sure what they are expecting. It’s certainly not the Wisconsin Dells, there aren’t any water parks (just the big lake) or attractions or even much shopping in LaPointe. There are a few gifts shops, a couple of bars and restaurants, a great museum but not much else except the natural beauty, peace and quiet, and the opportunity to decompress. That being said, we saw some campers who planned to stay for a few days, packed and left the Island after one day. On Madeline Island, you have to make your own fun. The State Park has a great sandy beach on Big Bay. While Lake Superior water is cool, on a warm day it can be refreshing. Boating, fishing and kayaking are popular activities. Here’s a few photos of the beach area in the Park.
There’s also hiking on the boardwalk along the beach and other trails throughout the Park.
My favorite park of the Park is “The Cliffs” just a short walk from the Point Picnic Area parking lot. I learned while on the Island that these were called “Sleeping Dogs” by the Ojibway Indians who said these sandstone rock formations were like sleeping dogs that protected the Island from the treacherous storms that blow in from the northeast.
The plant life especially the mushrooms were very fascinating, we saw many different varieties when making our rounds of the campground and the Park.
The goldenrod and other plant life was very prolific this year due to the large amount of rain so everything in the plant domain was doing very well.
You might ask: Did you see any wildlife during your stay? Glad you asked, we saw a lot of deer, in fact we saw a doe with twin fawns almost everyday as well as a number of deer wandering through the campground. We also saw some eagles, hawks and other birds. We heard the Sandhill cranes making their calls but didn’t see them. There were a lot of raccoons in the area, we never saw them but did see the mess they made when campers left stuff out side at night. We even picked up a very nice steak (it went in the trash!) that they confiscated from someone’s cooler! A very expensive lesson. In our campsite, we had a war with flies in the trailer, some days committing homicide with a fly swatter several times in a day! For some reason they liked us! Also because of the heavy rains this summer there is a bumper crop of mosquitos. So yes, a lot of wildlife, some desirable some not so much!
Our stay came to an end all too soon. We really enjoyed our experience as campground hosts in the Park, meeting interesting people and relishing the outdoors. We are planning to return next year if they’ll have us.
Next week, more on our stay on Madeline Island.
Until then travel safe,