General RV is sponsoring Project Rustic, a five-month long effort by the MI Dept. of Natural Resources to gather information about rustic state forest campgrounds and update their Recreation Search directory of campsites and outdoor recreation opportunities. Paige, an AmeriCorps member serving with the DNR, will be traveling by RV to visit sites and gather data and photos. Christina, a communications specialist at General RV, interviewed Paige to find out more about her and this exciting project. The transcript below has been edited for length and clarity.
Meet Paige and learn about Project Rustic
Christina: Welcome, Paige! Tell us a little about yourself!
Paige: I am a second term Huron Pines AmeriCorps member serving with the DNR up here in Traverse City but I’m from the Grand Rapids area originally. I have a background in natural resources which led me to me serving with the DNR and my interest in this project.
Christina: And how did you get this ‘dream job’ to travel around Michigan in an RV?
Paige (laughing): Last year, in a meeting with the Parks and Rec division, they were discussing efforts to update the Recreation Search database with more information for users to prepare for their trips or learn about a certain campground or area. I thought the best way to do that would be to take a boots on the ground approach and visit each campground myself. So, I called my supervisor and proposed this crazy idea. She was all for it and was like, “Ok, let’s see what we can do.” With a lot of help and support from a lot of DNR folks and partners we were able to make Project Rustic happen.
Christina: Very cool. You kind of touched on my next question: The purpose of your journey. It sounds like you’re collecting information. Can you tell us about that?
Paige: Yeah! I will be collecting a variety of information on the state forest campgrounds, which are all rustic campgrounds, scattered throughout primarily the northern Lower Peninsula and into the Upper Peninsula. The info will be used to help improve Rec Search, the directory that has all of our state forest campgrounds, state parks, and trails and pathways in one location for users to reference as they are doing research or planning their trip. I am collecting various GPS data points within each campground to help create maps for users to view, as well as taking updated photographs, and working directly with the unit supervisor to collect accurate information so users know what to expect when they arrive and see what recreation activities are available. For example, if there’s a boating access site or if cross country skiing is available, things like that.
Why state forest campgrounds are unique
Christina: And these are not are not your typical campgrounds, right? I think the correct term is state forest campgrounds.
Paige: They are called state forest campgrounds. They are rustic. There’s no running water, no hookups for RVs. Some have hand pumps for water that people can use, but there are no bath houses. There are vault toilets.
Christina: Ok, so these are for the more adventurous camper. Do you have a lot of experience camping or RVing?
Paige: I have a lot of experience camping but I’m a tent camper. I’m a minimalist camper and like the idea of roughing it. So traveling in an RV around the state and staying in these same campgrounds that I’m used to staying at in a small tent will be a whole new perspective for me.
Christina: That’s awesome that you get to gain a new perspective, especially since you’re doing an extended trip. You’ll have a lot of experience by the end!
Paige (laughing): Yes!
About the RV she’s living and traveling in for the next five months
Christina: You picked up your RV at the end of March. What were your first impressions of the vehicle – a Nexus Triumph – that you’ll be staying in?
Paige: I could not believe it! I’d seen photos and looked at those thoroughly and read about the unit, but being able to stand next to it and walk through it was so cool. I was really blown away. There are so many features that are just so glamorous! I’m really excited to move in. There’s so much storage, which I was really impressed with. My favorite feature is probably the little outdoor shower, because I’ll have Willow – my dog – with me and we’ll be outside every day so that will be really convenient for washing her off.
Christina: Oh yeah, that’s a really nice feature – the outdoor shower – especially if she gets dusty or muddy and you just want to clean her up before getting back in the RV or on your sleeping bag (laughing).
Paige (laughing): Yes, exactly! And right now, because it’s spring and it’s been very muddy, I have to throw her in my actual shower so having the shower outside is just amazing.
Christina: Is there anything else you want to say about the RV? Like, some people name their vehicles, especially if they’re going to be spending a lot of time in them. Is that something you’ve considered or might do?
Paige: Definitely, but I think I need to bond with the RV first in order to be to be able to give it a name. I need to get the feel and see what the vibe of the RV is before I can name it.
Christina: That sounds good, see what fits. So how are you preparing for your trip? You said you don’t have much RVing experience. Have you been watching videos, listening to podcasts, reading any blogs or books you want to mention?
Paige: There’s a podcast called “Women on the Road” that I listened to religiously. They no longer have new episodes, but life on the road in a van or RV or any vehicle has always really attracted me. For navigating the functions of the RV and how to take care of it and what switches to flip when I need certain things, I’m sure I’ll be consulting YouTube a lot. Also, I read a book that my brother got me called How to Live in a Van and Travel by Mike Hudson. Mostly just listening to more fun adventure podcasts to familiarize myself with the lifestyle, and I’m relying on YouTube for any technical questions I’ll have.
Christina: I think a lot of us rely on YouTube for those types of questions.
Why she’s passionate about traveling and the outdoors
Christina: So why are you so passionate about traveling and the outdoors?
Paige: I have always loved being outside. My grand-parents and my great grand-parents are in the Empire area, a small town west of Traverse City, and I remember growing up on the shores of Lake Michigan and being outside all day. My great grand-parents had a cherry orchard and an apple orchard so we’d be helping with the harvest. That’s probably where my love for the outdoors started. We camped a lot as a family, too. My dad and brother are both avid fishermen so I picked up that hobby as well. I recently got really into mountain biking and I like to ski and cross country ski and I love to swim in our Great Lakes.
So, my hobbies are all just things that are done outdoors and that led me to a degree in environmental studies in sustainability at Michigan State. I wanted to go to school for something that I was passionate about and that was the outdoors. Through that, I learned more about natural resources management, recreation, and tourism. I had this epiphany that people don’t want to protect the outdoors unless they’ve had some sort of experience that allows them to love these spaces. So I think it’s important to get people outside and make sure their experience – whether it’s their first or their hundredth – is awesome and something they remember and a place they want to come back to.
How she’ll stay connected and entertained on the road
Christina: How will you stay connected and share your journey since these campsites are rustic and you won’t have electricity or WI-FI all the time?
Paige: I’ll be staying powered with a solar powered generator provided by our partner Jackery and WI-FI provided by Winegard. All my technology will be powered by that generator which is fantastic because these rustic campgrounds won’t have hookups. As far as staying in touch with everyone else working on this project and those who want to follow along, social media updates will be coming out through Michigan State Parks, Trails and Waterways Facebook page and Michigan State Parks Instagram, as well as the Project Rustic website. I know all of you will be sharing updates as well on the General RV Facebook and Instagram accounts, and I’ll be doing a few guest blog posts on the General RV blog.
Christina: Going back to something you mentioned earlier, since the RV has so much storage space, are you bringing any gear to enjoy some of your outdoor hobbies while you’re working on the road?
Paige: I’m definitely bringing my mountain bike, that’s like my newfound love right now. I do have an inflatable kayak that I’ll probably bring when it gets a little warmer. Other than that, I’ll bring a bunch of books, my hammock, and hiking boots of course.
What she’s nervous about and most excited for on her trip
Christina: What challenges that you expect to encounter at some of these state forest campgrounds?
Paige: One thing with the rustic state forest campgrounds is that a majority do not take reservations. They are on a first-come, first-serve system. With the rise we saw in camping last year due to the pandemic, I anticipate that trend to continue as people are able to work remotely or maybe just discovered that they loved camping or want to try it out for the first time. So I assume the campgrounds will be really busy this year and finding a spot to stay the night might be a potential obstacle.
Also backing the RV into a camping spot (laughing) since I’m not an experienced RV driver. Although, I did practice backing the RV up when I did my test drive at General RV and the fellow I was with said I did a good job. I’m trying not to think about the challenges I’ll face because I know they’ll happen and thinking about them will just make me more nervous.
Christina: Well let’s flip that and instead tell me what you’re most excited about.
Paige: Exploring very remote places in Michigan that I have never been. I’m visiting 77 different state forest campgrounds during this tour and I’ve maybe been to three of them. They’re in new areas so I’ll be visiting them for the first time and simultaneously collecting useful information for another person who’s planning their first trip there. And I’m excited to really live the outdoor life and be outside all the time.
Christina: Last question. What advice would you give to someone who is planning their own trip to one of Michigan’s rustic state forest campgrounds?
Paige: Do your research. Every state forest campground is logged on Rec Search, the directory that I was referencing previously. And after this project is complete, there will be even more information there for you. But definitely look up the campground and make sure you know how to get there. Make sure you are bringing the correct gear and check the weather.
Christina: Paige, thank you so much for your time. Good luck on your trip!
Paige: Thank you!