ESCANABA - The Delta County parks system will officially open in May and park-goers and campers alike will notice several new upgrades.
Pioneer Trail and Fuller parks and campgrounds, as well as Sac Bay and Rapid River Falls day parks, will officially open for the season May 12.
Since late 2010, the Delta Conservation District has managed and maintained the parks system for the county. In that time, several improvements have been made to Fuller and Pioneer Trail parks, according to DCD Executive Director Rory Mattson.
At Fuller, which is located about 16 miles south of Escanaba, all RV campsites have undergone improvements to electric infrastructure.
"This fall when we closed, we brought it all up to 50 amp with water, so that will be all brand-new this spring," said Mattson. "Then we'll also have some rustic (camp) sites. We've never had rustic camping there."
Also new this year, campers at Fuller will have kayaks available to rent.
Additional improvements to Fuller Park in the past three to four years include: expanding the sand beach; creating a playground using equipment relocated from Pioneer Trail Park; repairs to the restrooms, bathhouse, boat launch ramp, and RV dumping station; and the elimination of tree stumps and leveling all the RV camp sites.
At Pioneer Trail Park, located half-way between Escanaba and Gladstone, work on the state-of-the-art 27-hole disc golf course is on-going.
"I was hoping to have the whole thing up, but now we won't be able to start on it until May the way it looks," said Mattson. "We can't even get into the woods over there because the ground's still froze."
Though 18 holes have already been installed, nine more will be added with all 27 holes to be open for use sometime this summer, though their ultimate goal is to be finished even by Memorial Day.
The old open-air pavilion at Pioneer Trail Park has also undergone some improvements. Mattson said one side of the pavilion, where food is served by those who rent out the building, will be enclosed, and there will also be better electrical infrastructure. All improvements to the pavilion are expected to be completed by the time the park opens May 12.
A new year-round pavilion with restrooms and a full kitchen is also being constructed.
"We wanted to start on that last fall," said Mattson. "The weather did not let us because of the rain and that so as soon as we can get some snow pushed out of the way we'll be cranking on that. The goal for that one is to be open and fully ready by July 4."
Pioneer Trail Park will also have kayaks and other recreational games such as bean bags and horseshoes available for rent.
The front office will also function as a camp store again, but this year it will be open seven days a week.
"It'll stay open fairly late in the evening for reservations and for going in and buying from the store and also renting games," he said.
As for the future of Pioneer Trail Park, Mattson said he hopes to bring a children's water play area there sometime in the next few years - which would be yet another draw to Delta County.
One of the biggest improvements to Pioneer Trail Park in the past few years has been upgrades to water and electrical systems as well as the addition of several RV camping sites including some pull-through sites big enough to accommodate luxury motor coaches.
Eighty of the 96 RV sites now have 50-amp electricity, water, WiFi access and cable television service.
Additional improvements there include: the rebuilding of restrooms near the pavilion area; repairs to the 16-site rustic campground, bathhouse, and laundromat at the RV campground; repairs to the RV dumping station; repairs to the roads and boat launch ramp; a new children's playground area; remodeling of the former manager's house for use as park and DCD office space; and insulation and electricity installation of the workshop located next to the house for year-round use.
Mattson said over the past few years, parks and camping attendance has gone up with approximately $812,000 in revenue brought in and paid out through the parks in the last three years. Of that amount, $150,000 has come from Delta County, as they provide a $50,000 allocation to the parks each year.
The parks have also benefitted from grants through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund and the sale of firewood at Pioneer Trail Park.
With all these upgrades, $162,000 was also donated from the community in time, labor, and materials.
Moving forward, Delta County's day parks are expected to see upgrades, including Sac Bay Park, located near the south end of the Garden Peninsula.
"There will be some bathroom upgrades out there," said Mattson. "There's going to be a changing house upgrade and rustic camping put in out there. All of that will be done towards the end of summer, basically to be open for camping season 2015."
A "theme park" likely tailored to ORV or equestrian use is also being considered out at Rapid River Falls Park, north of Rapid River, sometime in the next few years.
Delta County Board of Commissioners Vice-Chair Mary Harrington who serves on the county's Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and is an avid camper herself, said the goal of all the improvements are to make the parks financially self-sufficient and more attractive to tourists and residents alike.
"Recreation is a big thing for people in this county," she said. "As commissioners, we want to find ways of putting money back into the county and giving people something they can say is theirs, and that they can use and enjoy."
Camping fees, seasonal contracts and more information on the Delta County parks system can be found online at www.deltacountyparks.com or by calling 786-1020.