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AmeriCorps Member To Take 5-Month Trip Visiting Michigan's Rustic Campsites

Paige Lackey posing in front of an RV
Paige Lackey
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Paige Lackey will be traveling around the state in an RV starting next week visiting state forest campgrounds.

For the next five months, one Michigander will be traveling around the state's rustic campgrounds and gathering data as part of a project with the Department of Natural Resources.

Paige Lackey is an AmeriCorps member working with the state DNR on “Project Rustic.”

The goal is to improve the department’s database of rustic state forest campgrounds as well as online information for campers.

She will also be blogging her about her experience during her trip. You can follow along on the Michigan State Parks, Trails and Waterways Facebook page, the Michigan State Parks Instagram page or the General RV Blog.

WKAR’s Sophia Saliby spoke to Lackey a few days before she heads out across Michigan.

Interview Highlights

On What Rustic Camping Is

Opposed to state park campgrounds where, primarily, most of them will have like a bathhouse with flush toilets and some other amenities, rustic campgrounds provide campers with a more wild experience where there are vault toilets, well hand pumps and more of a bare bones approach to spending time outdoors.

On What She'll Be Documenting At Each Campsite

I'll be collecting some GPS data that will be used for mapping. I'll also be snapping some photos to put online for people doing research on each campground to kind of get a better idea of what to expect, and then I will just be collecting some information about what to expect at each campground.

On What Campsites She's Excited To Visit

About half of my time will be spent in the [Upper Peninsula], and I think the U.P. is always exciting because it's so wild, and I haven't really spent that much time up there. So, [I'm] mostly eager to get up there, and see all of the places that I've never been.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I’m Sophia Saliby.

For the next five months, one Michigander will be traveling around the state's rustic campgrounds and gathering data as part of a project with the Department of Natural Resources.

Paige Lackey is an AmeriCorps member working with the state DNR on “Project Rustic.” The goal is to improve the department’s database of rustic state forest campgrounds as well as online information for campers. She will also be blogging her about her experience along the way.

Paige joins me now a few days before she heads out across Michigan. Thank you for being here.

Paige Lackey: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

Saliby: What is rustic camping?

Lackey: Rustic camping describes a type of camping or a campground where the bare amenities are provided. So, opposed to state park campgrounds where, primarily, most of them will have like a bathhouse with flush toilets and some other amenities. Rustic campgrounds provide campers with a more wild experience where there are vault toilets, well hand pumps and more of a bare bones approach to spending time outdoors.

Saliby: Tell me where the idea came from for the trip.

Lackey: I came up with the idea last year. I was also serving with the DNR. This is my second AmeriCorps term. And I sat in on a meeting where the work [was] to update Rec Search, which is where the online database of all of the state parks, pathways and state forest campgrounds are hosted. And there was a meeting where they were discussing efforts to increase the depth of that database for users.

I thought the best way to capture the details of each destination was to experience it myself and to travel around the state.

And so, I thought the best way to capture the details of each destination was to experience it myself and to travel around the state. I posed this project idea to my supervisor, Maia Turek, and she was on board. And with a lot of legwork and a lot of help from many people and many partners, we were able to make the dream a reality.

Saliby: What type of information will you be gathering for the DNR specifically?

Lackey: I'll be collecting some GPS data that will be used for mapping. I'll also be snapping some photos to put online for people doing research on each campground to kind of get a better idea of what to expect, and then I will just be collecting some information about what to expect at each campground. 'Is it on a river? Is it on a lake? Can you fish? Are there hiking trails?' So that you can plan your experience somewhere that fits your hobbies or your interests.

Saliby: How have you prepared to take this five-month long, kind of rustic trip out on your own?

Lackey: Well, there's been, like I said, a lot of logistical work that has been done by myself, for example, drafting an itinerary. I'll be visiting 77 different rustic state forest campgrounds. You know, [I've done] everything from drafting an itinerary, mapping the points on a map and figuring out exactly where I need to go. I'll be meeting with all of the unit supervisors while I'm on the road, so coordinating all of those meetings.

Paige Lackey on the beach with her dog
Credit Paige Lackey/ MI Department of Natural Resources
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Paige will be on the road in an RV with her dog, Willow.

I'll be traveling actually in an RV provided by General RV, so, packing up that rig which will be my home for the next five or six months as well as my mobile office [and] figuring out how that is all going to function. It's been a lot of work. But you know, as the days are dwindling down to get on the road, I think we're in pretty good shape.

Saliby: Do you expect there to be any challenges with the trip?

Lackey: So, I've never traveled in an RV before. So, navigating a large rig down more remote roads might be a challenge, although I've been practicing driving and parking and everything, so [I'm] feeling more comfortable with that.

And you know, we've seen quite an uptick in interest of folks camping last year and getting outside more, so these rustic campgrounds are all first-come first-served. No reservations are able to be made prior to arrival. So, I might encounter some campgrounds where there is not a spot available, and I will have to improvise at that point. So, we will see.

Saliby: Is there one specific park or campground you're excited to visit?

Map of the Upper Peninsula with colored and numbered circles around campsite markers
Credit Paige Lackey/ MI Department of Natural Resources
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Lackey has mapped her route around the Upper Peninsula's rustic campgrounds.

Lackey: I mean, about half of my time will be spent in the [Upper Peninsula], and I think the U.P. is always exciting because it's so wild, and I haven't really spent that much time up there. So, [I'm] mostly eager to get up there and see all of the places that I've never been.

Saliby: Paige Lackey is traveling around the state for the next five months visiting 77 rustic campgrounds as part of the DNR's "Project Rustic." You can follow along on her journey at Michigan State Parks, Trails and Waterways Facebook page or the MI State Parks Instagram page. Thank you for being here.

Lackey: Thank you.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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