ATLANTA - The Department of Natural Resources is working to reopen two closed state forest campgrounds as destination for horse riders, including one south of Atlanta.
Big Oaks State Forest Campground is on Avery Lake, and one of many shut down in 2009 due to budget cuts. These rustic, self-serve campgrounds are now being administered by the DNR's Parks and Recreation Division, District Supervisor Rich Hill said. This change, along with some tweaks in division employees' daily maintenance runs, means there's an opportunity to reopen some of them. Now the DNR is working with local partners to see if the campground will work for equestrian use.
"With additional staff now being involved in these programs, that has afforded us the ability to reevaluate some of these facilities, and this was one of them," he said.
It's one of two state forest campgrounds DNR Director Keith Creagh ordered reopened in February, according to meeting minutes. At a Natural Resources Commission meeting, he signed a land use order reopening Big Oaks and Headquarters Lake campgrounds, and designating Cedar River North and Little Brevoort Lake North for equestrian use.
There's no set timeline when Big Oaks will reopen, Hill said. DNR employees need to look it over to see how much work is needed to reopen the campground and whether the drives have enough turning room for vehicles pulling horse trailers. And before that can happen, the snow needs to melt.
There's a group of volunteers willing to help as soon as the DNR gives the word. Jinjyr Miller is the Walking Horse Association of Michigan's Region One director, and is working with three local groups interested in creating an equestrian campground and nearby riding trails. Atlanta's Tourism Council, the Back Country Horsemen Pigeon River and Beyond and Alpena County Horsemens Club are involved.
Between the three groups, there's a volunteer base of about 83 people, Miller said. That includes some who are already certified to use chainsaws. They want to help clean up the campground and create four loop riding trails nearby.
"It was big news to us," she said. "There are some small equestrian campgrounds in that area, the main one being Elk Hill. We are trying to get more trails open for equestrian use, because Elk Hill... has a lot of use."
Elk Hill, about 10 miles east of Vanderbilt, draws in horse riders from all over, so Miller said Big Oaks could be a tourism draw for the Atlanta and Lewiston area.
The group wants to make the campground a destination, and to help maintain it and any trails into the future, Miller said.
"We want to let the DNR know that we're their friends, and we want to back up our words with actions," she said.