PRESQUE ISLE TOWNSHIP - The Michigan Department of Natural Resources could build backcountry campsites in Rockport State Recreation Area by the end of 2013, a goal laid out by the department and a nonprofit organization aimed at promoting and developing the park.
The Friends of Rockport/Besser Natural Area met Wednesday at the Presque Isle Township Hall to discuss the group's goals for the coming year, group board member Carol Dodge Grochowski said. They and two DNR Parks and Recreation Division employees discussed plans to survey the recreation area's boundaries, map and mark an extensive trail system and put in four backcountry campsites. All three goals need DNR assistance and approval, but any help from friends group members could speed their planning and execution.
Many people have asked members of the friends group when they'll be able to camp at Rockport, Grochowski said, including a few organizations inquiring about special use permits for weekend events.
Before visitors to the recreation area can pitch their tents, the DNR must choose locations for the sites, which consist of a fire pit, picnic table, bear pole and basic privy, Eric Ostrander, unit supervisor for Harrisville and Negwegon state parks, said. Ostrander is also in charge of Rockport, and said planners will draw on the recreation area's general management plan to make their decision.
"There are areas where this type of camping would not even be allowed," he said, referring to their designation under the management plan as primitive areas.
The campsites at Rockport would be similar to the four at Negwegon State Park, where campers must hike at least a mile to reach them, Ostrander said. There are only a few in the state run by the DNR, and they offer a different kind of recreation opportunity.
"These backcountry campsites draw a different type of camper than you may see in state parks or state forest campgrounds," he said. "You have people that have to hike in their gear, and you may have people that may not go to state parks or state forest campgrounds but love to go to backcountry campsites."
Negwegon's campsites have become popular since their opening in 2009, Ostrander said. In their first year, the sites saw 29 nights of use. From October 2011 to the end of September this year, campers spent 214 nights across the four spots.
Campsite reservations, at $14 per night, are required at Negwegon State Park, Ostrander said. Prospective campers can call the Harrisville State Park office at 744-5126 to book a spot by phone. Unlike other DNR campsites in state parks and recreation areas, these backwoods sites cannot be reserved online. This is so state park staff can brief campers on how to prepare for their trip.
In the meantime, friends group members are working to map and mark a sprawling network of trails crossing much of the recreation area's approximately 4,200 acres of land, Grochowski said. These trails can lead hikers through the former limestone quarry on the property, and to a series of sinkholes. However, the trails are mostly winding two-tracks that frequently criss-cross and branch off, with no markings or maps to be found.
"One of the goals for next year will be getting the trails all GPS'd and start putting together maps and markers and all that stuff, with the sinkhole trail being the number-one priority," she said.
By compiling coordinates and locations of existing trails, friends group volunteers are helping DNR planners who would otherwise have to start from scratch, Ostrander said.
"If it comes to the point of our staff coming out there and doing a full-blown trail mapping with GPS, they're not going to know where to go, either," he said.
As more people become interested in seeing what Rockport has to offer, it's important to the DNR to mark at least three major trails in the area so they can hike in without getting lost, Ostrander said.
Ostrander and other DNR employees will be marking a designated snowmobiling corridor through Rockport before winter arrives, Grochowski said.
Several private lots share a border with Rockport, and Grochowski and Ostrander would like a surveyor to establish where their land ends and the state land begins, they said. By establishing and marking property boundaries, a DNR surveyor could help these land owners post signs to discourage trespassing.
Friends of Rockport/Besser Natural Area volunteers could help with the surveying process, Ostrander said.
For more information on Negwegon State Park, visit www.michigan.gov/negwegon.
Jordan Travis can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5688.