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1 RV, 5 months & 78 stops: Michigan backcountry camping improves thanks to woman's odyssey

Paige Lackey, along with her dog, Willow, recently wrapped up a 5-month excursion throughout Michigan gathering information about rustic campgrounds.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — There are three types of campsites: Primitive, Modern and Rustic.

The focus of this story is of the rustic variety, which is camping with extremely limited amenities, including but not limited to, getting water from a hand-pump well, and using a shared toilet pit with no plumbing.

While that might sound like a dream vacation to some, the trip was actually part of a work project for a member of the Huron Pines AmeriCorps, serving with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Her mission was to document previously unknown information about Michigan's rustic state forest campgrounds.

In 2020, Paige Lackey was serving on the first term as an AmeriCorps member when she had an idea and decided to pitch it to Michigan's Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

"I was invited to a meeting where efforts were being discussed on how to increase the depth of the database on all state forest campgrounds," said Lackey, who is a 2012 graduate of Forest Hills Eastern High School in Ada, Michigan. "My supervisor wrote up a proposal, then with a lot of help from my team, we were able to make 'Project Rustic' happen."

Project Rustic was a 5-month-long tour designed for Lackey to visit 78 of Michigan's 145 state forest campgrounds across Northern Lower Michigan and the Upper Peninsula to gather data that would help improve information access for campers who like to 'rough it in the state's backcountry.

On May 7, 2021, Lackey, along with her dog, Willow, commandeered a 30-foot RV and began their journey.

"As I hopped from campground to campground, I collected GPS data for mapping, updated the DNR's photo library and evaluated existing signage."

For example, during her stay at certain campgrounds, Lackey would be able to determine if the location offered kayaking and trails for hiking. If the site offered those opportunities, she'd update the website on location and create signage so visitors can decide when they enter if the campsite is for them or not.

"From now on, when you pull in, there'll be a map posted at the kiosk so you can kind of get a lay of the land before you do your drive-thru and pick out your spot because these campgrounds are all first come first serve," Lackey said.

Lackey's 5-month campground excursion wrapped up on Sept. 22.

"There was so much to explore," she said. "I had the time of my life and was able to record much-needed information that will be a valuable resource for the DNR as well as a valuable source for campers, in general."

If you're interested in reading more about Paige Lackey's camping tour, click HERE and you will be redirected to the Project Rustic website, which is populated with blogs and podcasts she created during her journey.

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