On camping, not ‘glamping,’ in the Lake Michigan dunes

The gnarled roots of this cottonwood tree cling to the sand despite the erosion of the dune surrounding it.
The gnarled roots of this cottonwood tree cling to the sand despite the erosion of the dune surrounding it.

We were driving west along I-94, through that weird part of Michigan that mixes Bible Belt with adult video superstores, when I read about “glamping” in an old copy of The New York Times my wife had kept for our trip.

We were starting our vacation, headed to a campground ourselves and had made a few concessions to creature comforts (organic turnip greens, anyone?) — but nothing like this:

Washington’s first glamping concessionaire, Pampered Wilderness, opened two years ago in Millersylvania State Park. The half-dozen swanky tents, bearing twee names like “Safari Suite Cabin” and “Shabby Chic Cabin,” have amenities like flat-screen TVs or microwaves and fireplaces. And throw pillows.

The author of the essay, a contributing editor to Outside magazine, writes that these glamping sites, which can cost upwards of $200 a night, are a result of states cutting funding for their own public parks systems. Yes, the sage men and women controlling these legislatures and governorships want their parks “running more like a business.”

Ah yes, the magic of the Free Market.

Thankfully, Michigan hasn’t gone down that road, turning instead several years ago to a dedicated Recreation Passport fee you buy when you renew your license plate tab. This helped Michigan shore up its own parks funding shortfall — and it made it cheaper to buy an annual pass, to boot.

All of which is a good thing for Michigan’s many beautiful state parks. Let’s hope our own fearless elected leaders don’t get any similar bad ideas.

The view from the top.
The view from the top.

Go climb a dune

Over the Fourth of July break we spent a couple nights tent camping at Warren Dunes State Park, way down in the southwest corner of the state near the Indiana border.

Our family recently discovered the hidden riches of this nearly 2,000-acre park. It’s a fantastic place to explore, with six miles of hiking trails, three miles of shoreline and lots of biological diversity to satiate your inner nerd.

It’s easy enough to hit the park’s main attractions — the 260-foot tall main sand dune and (often crowded) public beach, both of which are easily accessed from huge parking lots. But like most good things, the visitor is rewarded by scratching beneath the surface.

IMG_0861You’ll find incredible and strange dune environments, lung- and quad-searing dune climbs, creeks and towering, massive trees. The lush forest here is a unique mix of sassafras, maple, oak, beech and hemlock, with the forest floor made up of trillium and mayapple (both were past their blooms), Solomon’s seal, bloodwort, columbine and other northern woodland wildflowers. I saw lots of other people, of course, and the freeway is unfortunately only a mile or so to the east, but I also saw lots of swallow nests, some wild turkeys and a whitetail deer on a trail. And thanks to a weird air inversion effect, during our first day we could see a few of the tallest skyscrapers in Chicago off on the distant Lake Michigan horizon.

There are lots of fun things to do in and around Warren Dunes State Park. By all means, splurge on fine eats at your campsite, smoke an expensive cigar, brew some fair-trade coffee in a French press pot, whatever your thing is. But do it over a smokey campfire and camp stove. Gather kindling from the woods. Get dirty.

Let’s hope Michigan resists the urge to accommodate glamping.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: