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Up North campgrounds offer peace, beauty and relaxation

News Photos by Julie Riddle Debbie Altman, of Gaylord, laughs while preparing a card game with competitor and fellow camper Sylvia Altman, of Rogers City, as Noel Altman looks on at Hoeft State Park on Monday.

ROGERS CITY — As October slides in and summer warmth falls away, die-hard camping enthusiasts pack their sleeping bags and marshmallow sticks and take to the woods.

Despite nighttime temperatures in the 40s, hearty campers speckle sparsely-populated campgrounds in Northeast Michigan. Campgrounds packed full and bustling during summer months now offer up peaceful days, quiet nights, and a gentle respite where time is measured in logs added to the fire.

On a card table at Lot 57 at Hoeft State Park on Monday, Debbie Altman of Gaylord laid out a game of Hand and Foot across from opponent and relative Sylvia Altman, of Rogers City.

Watching the leisurely game from his folding chair, Noel Altman, of Gaylord, said he spent many a summer day at the park while growing up in the area. He remembers camping among fishing poles and salmon, his buddies sleeping on a boat offshore at night.

Up North campgrounds offer beauty and peace only a short ride away from residents’ own back yards, he said.

Mike Curtis, left, and fellow camper Steve Basel relax by a fire at Hoeft State Park on Monday.

“You didn’t tell somebody, you take a picture, and they’re like, ‘Holy man, where are you camping?'” he said. “You just feel like you’re 1,000 miles away, in a lot of ways.”

A few campsites away, Hawks resident Sylvia Basel stirred chili outside her camper as her husband, Steve, relaxed near a well-built fire, pumpkin-carving tools on a table nearby.

The couple and some fellow campers planned to stay the week, topping off their outdoor adventure with the park’s annual Harvest Festival this weekend.

The night before, Sylvia Basel had fed a group of enthusiastic young people fresh from participation in a suicide awaremess walk in Rogers City.

Some of the kids hadn’t camped before, judging by the enthusiasm on their faces as they roasted hot dogs, Steve Basel said.

Camper Sylvia Basel stirs chili while Mackenzie Bruning claims a monster cookie at Hoeft State Park on Monday.

The next night’s planned menu featured pulled pork sandwiches, an upgrade from the campground staple of a dog on a stick.

The five-to-a-pound hotdogs in her cooler may not constitute gourmet cooking, Sylvia Basel admitted.

“Oh, but they’re so good,” the cheerful chef said.

On a sand dune overlooking Lake Huron elsewhere in the park, two sisters salivated over that evening’s planned fancy feast of grilled mesquite chicken breast and veggie strips, wrapped in flatbread with gouda cheese and a homemade ranch dressing.

“I mean, we live gooooood,” said Angelique Dustte-Dottery, describing the souped-up cargo trailer with built-in bunk beds and hardwood floors she and her sister use for their twice-yearly sisters’ camping trips.

Sisters Nora Cooper, left, and Angelique Dustte-Dottery share a laugh atop a sand dune at Hoeft State Park on Monday.

The Lansing resident enthused over the bike trail running through the state park, while her sister, Nora Cooper, of the Kalamazoo area, rhapsodized about the charm of the nearby town.

The sisters relish their annual outdoor breaks from busy lives and heaps of grandkids, getaways they spend talking for hours over a hot fire or connecting with strangers in the peace of a campground, they said,

“It just heals the brain for a hot minute,” Dustte-Dottery said.

They’ve camped other places, but they fell in love with Northeast Michigan this summer, enough so that Cooper returned to the campground four times.

In the campground, chipmunks twittered among oaks as acorns thudded onto camper-tops. After two days of intermittent rain, sunshine traced beguiling paths into the woods, and, on the blue horizon, a freighter puttered by.

A chipmunk surveys a Hoeft State Park campsite on Monday.

“This, right here, is heaven,” Dustte-Dottery said, giving the arms of her folding chair a thump from her perch atop a sand hill. “It’s frickin’-frackin’ fabulous.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.

Hot coals glow in a fire pit at Hoeft State Park on Monday.

A marshmallow browns on a stick at a Hoeft State Park campsite on Monday.

A marshmallow browns on a stick at a Hoeft State Park campsite on Monday.

Miniature mushrooms nestle in moss along a trail at Hoeft State Park on Monday.

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