Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Bay Furnace Campground, Christmas, Michigan

After purchasing the Guppy a couple years ago we discovered the battery charger didn't work right. It didn't seem to know how to shut itself off so would keep trying to charge the RV battery even after the battery was fully charged. End result? An overheated battery and way too much voltage going to the lights and other devices that run on direct current. Also as a side effect, because things weren't charging right if we did have to rely on the battery, like when we boondocked in a Walmart parking lot, it went flat fast.

The S.O. replaced the charger, but we hadn't had an occasion to test it to see just how much of a difference the new charger made until this past weekend. The Historical Society of Michigan's annual Upper Peninsula History Conference was scheduled for Munising, a city that is technically within easy driving distance (less than 100 miles), but nonetheless struck me as being a good excuse to use the Guppy. Besides, although the bulk of the conference took place on Saturday, there was a workshop on fund-raising scheduled for Friday morning. Ergo, we had to plan to be at a campground for at least 4 nights: arrive on Thursday, do conference-related stuff on Friday and Saturday, play tourist in the Munising area on Sunday, amble home Monday. So I went online and reserved the last available space at the Bay Furnace Campground.

Bay Furnace is in the Hiawatha National Forest, which means it's managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Sort of. It's one of the campgrounds the Forest Service uses a concessioner on, Recreation Resource Management. RRM pays people to serve as campground hosts or area managers; camping fees get paid straight to the corporation, not to the Forest Service. I have no idea just how the mechanics of the deal works other than people who do it get some financial compensation in exchange for having a place to camp for the summer. I do know the Forest Service wound up semi-privatizing public campgrounds because the agency's budget for recreation, the people who maintain campgrounds, trails, and other facilities, kept shrinking. Given a choice between closing campgrounds because there was no money and no staff to maintain them or bringing in a concessioner, in many locations the Forest Service opted for the latter.

It's an arrangement that annoys many people, going by some of the discussions I've seen in various forums, because it means someone is going to be right there asking you to pay a fee. One of the favorite gripes is that "camping used to be free." Nope. With some exceptions, it wasn't free. It was on an honor system: you put your money in an envelope and dropped it into a piece of pipe that might not get emptied until several days after you'd been there. Any time it's on the honor system, you know there are going to be people who go, "Oh, good. Free camping" instead of actually paying. But, as usual, I digress.

If Bay Furnace is a good example of RRM in action, they do a decent job. In addition to the area manager at the entrance to one loop of the campground, there was a campground host in the other. The campground was neat, all the sites were mowed, the privies were clean, and in general everything you'd expect to be done was being done.

The campground is in Christmas, Michigan. It's on the site of an iron-smelting town, Onota; the only structure left from its ore processing days is the Bay Furnace ruin, the remnants of a blast furnace. It's an impressive ruin. The Forest Service stabilized it and did some reconstruction about 20 years ago, and, to be blunt, probably hasn't touched it since. There is interpretive signage saying the plantings around the base of the furnace are "native" and providing illustrations of numerous different types of flowers. Well, it's solid goldenrod now. There may have been a couple dozen types of flowers in there originally, but one type obviously won the war when it came to which one was going to dominate. I don't think it's particularly good for a ruin to have trees taking root between the rocks either, but I could be wrong.

Rock dove in a semi-natural environment.
It is a rustic campground -- no hookups -- but there are multiple potable water taps so a person doesn't have to walk far to refill a water jug. And, unlike some Forest Service campgrounds, Bay Furnace actually has a dump station for the convenience of people with RVs. Because it is a rustic campground, there were a fair number of people who were tent camping or just had pop-up campers. Most of the spaces are back-ins; we wound up with the only pull-through and that was by accident, not design. It was the only space left when I did the on-line reservation. After we got to the campground, I figured out why: the online map indicated it was located between the privy and the dumpster, which turned out to not be true. That same map also failed to convey just how large each site is. There was a pretty good buffer zone between us and the facilities, such as they were. All the sites are decent size and spaced so that you'd never feel crowded; most have enough vegetation (trees and bushes) between them to give you a lot of privacy. The only way to tell just how many sites were occupied was to drive around the loop -- you couldn't tell by just looking in the general direction of where the other sites were.

If you look closely, you can see tiny trees (the orange flagging) that will eventually form a visual barrier between the campsite and the privy.

Although the campground is managed by RRM, the Forest Service does do interpretive programs (aka ranger talks, campfire programs). According to a schedule on the bulletin board, there's a live raptor program every Saturday evening during the height of the camping season. We missed the one held while we were there, but did go to a talk about owls in Michigan on Sunday evening. In the case of the owl talk, the guy giving the talk (a seasonal intern) walked around the campground telling everyone he saw that there was going to be a program because it wasn't posted on the board. It was pretty interesting; I found out there are owls in Michigan I didn't know existed. I wasn't sure if the kids who were there were listening or not, but when the talk ended and they had a chance to open some owl pellets themselves, they were pretty eager to do so. (Who knew there are companies that will take the stuff owls puke up and sterilize it so it can be used in science classes and ranger talks?)

The campground is right on the shore of Lake Superior and has a lovely sand beach. Depending on where a person is in the campground, the beach is a pretty short walk away. The only negative thing that I noticed at was traffic noise -- M-28 is really close so you do hear traffic out on the highway. It is a popular campground. It was 100% full on Saturday, and I imagine it'll be close to full during the week once it gets a little later in the summer. Overall, we thought it was a pretty nice place and may camp there again -- it's far enough away from home to feel like a real break from the normal routine, but close enough that the Guppy can get there and back again on one tank of gas.

As for how much of a difference the new charger made, the answer is A Lot. We figured out, more or less, how long we can behave as though we have a limitless supply of power (e.g., not worrying about playing the radio for several hours at a stretch) before things might start to go dim, and it's a dramatic improvement. And we did figure out that our cordless toaster actually works.

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