BY LILY KONGSLIEN
Special to the Star Journal
Back when my children were young, the only way that we, and many other families, could enjoy a week or two of vacation away from home was to pack up our tent and supplies and go camping! We would usually go to a state park, because there would be more places to see and explore around a big state campground.
Weeks before we were to leave, we would all decide on which campground we would go to that year. And, of course, what each one would pack: clothes for a week and toys for the kids. Our daughter would pack her favorite doll, and our son would probably decide on his favorite truck or perhaps his little red Jeep complete with trailer. And I had to pack for the cooking job – the very necessary pots and pans, plus some of our staple foods as cereal, mac and cheese and canned Dinty Moore stew (one of our favorite camp prepared foods). When we were settled in our spot, we would often go into the nearest town for milk, fruit, fresh corn and vegetables.
When we first started camping we had an umbrella tent, and it really wasn’t big enough for two adults and two kids. So our son would bring his little “pup” tent and would pitch it by our tent on the same camping space. In later years we had a large tent with a lot of space for all of us and our equipment.
It must have been quite a sight as we pulled out of our yard with the car so well-packed, as though we were going to be away for a month! We had a homemade wooden box which we put on the top of the car to carry some of our groceries and equipment, including our camp stove and a small ice-box. Half way to our destination, one of us would suddenly remember at least one thing we forgot!
Back in those early days it was not necessary to reserve a spot in a particular campground. When we entered the campground we stopped to talk to the ranger, he would tell us to go in and pick out a spot, and he would see us later to collect the fee. I don’t recall for sure as to the fee, but it was $2 or $3 a night.
One of the highlights of the trip was driving through the camping area and picking out our preferred spot. After we all agreed on the site, we would all help to set up the camp. Soon the ranger would come around to see if we were comfortable, and get the required fee for the nights we intended to stay.
The kids had fun swimming, hiking in the woods, meeting other youngsters and making new friends. I had to get meals ready, but food tasted so great outdoors. We all helped with clean-up, and then we would do some family thing that we all enjoyed. We’d explore the trails and sometimes find a good patch of berries, and then we’d have the luscious berries on our cereal. We would have a campfire in the evening, complete with s’mores and lemonade. The more we got into camping, the easier it was. At first we found out that raccoons like to hunt and pick through anything that is left on the picnic table overnight, and what a mess they can make! So as not to tempt the forest creatures, at night everything went into the tent.
We did not pick out an area that had electricity, as we wanted to make it as rustic as we could, away from the hustle and bustle of the day. When we got back home, it made all of us realize the conveniences we enjoyed every day and took for granted, like modern toilet facilities.
Rain was the one thing we tried to avoid. If it rained for several days, we were tent-bound and could hardly wait for the sun to come out and dry our damp clothes, and allow us to enjoy the outside activities again. We had some experiences with bees, ants and of course lots of mosquitoes, especially in the evenings. Even with the rain, raccoons, bees, ants and the night trips to the outside toilets, we never packed up early and go home before our complete vacation was enjoyed.
The kids learned a lot about nature and were the ones who stalled when it was time to pack up and head for home.
Some of the special campgrounds I remember were Perrot State Campground at St. Croix Falls, Peninsula Campground near Green Bay and Devil’s Lake State Park near Baraboo in Wisconsin.
In Minnesota we especially enjoyed our stay at Gooseberry Park along Lake Superior, and in Upper Michigan I particularly remember Fort Wilkens at Copper Harbor, the campground at Baraga and the Porcupine Mountains. There were a lot more campgrounds in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan that our family enjoyed, each having special features and areas that we remembered.
Camping was the only vacation that we could afford, and even today the children, now grown, remember those care-free camping days as some of the best times they had as children. We enjoyed each other and nature, and got acquainted with other sections of the country. It made us appreciate living in the country where we are free to travel to see the wonders of nature.