GWINN - Michigan Department of Natural Resources law enforcement officials are hoping the public can help them determine who pushed boulders out of the way, removed a dirt berm and forced locked rest rooms open at a closed state forest campground in northeastern Dickinson County.
The West Branch State Forest Campground, situated along the West Branch of the Escanaba River, was among a dozen of the rustic campgrounds closed by the DNR in 2009, including six in the Upper Peninsula, because of budget shortfalls.
As it did at those other campgrounds, the DNR locked the restrooms at the West Branch campground, dug a ditch across the entrance road, using the dirt for a blocking berm, and put boulders across the park entrance.
This is one of the campsites which was mowed and used recently at the closed West Branch State Forest Campground. Below is a sign near the entrance to the campground in northeastern Dickinson County. (Journal photos by John Pepin)
But recently, perhaps over the Memorial Day weekend, someone illegally re-opened the campground. Grass at two of the campsites had been mowed, as well as along a short path toward the river. The campsites are nearest restrooms, which had their door handles and locks broken away.
Campsites numbers 15 and 16 were mowed and are situated across a dirt roadway from each other. Tracks from a truck and a passenger car were still visible in the sand at one of the sites Saturday.
DNR officials learned about the incident late last week and have not yet replaced the boulders and the berm, nor locked up the restrooms. The campground had no campers Saturday morning and no signs had been posted indicating the campground was closed.
DNR officials said they aren't sure whether someone just really wanted to camp at the campground or if whoever re-opened the campground was attempting to make a statement about the DNR's plan announced in April to close 23 more of the rustic state forest campgrounds.
Either way, DNR law enforcement officers want to talk to the perpetrator.
The West Branch State Forest Campground is not one of 15 slated for closure in the U.P. but expected to remain open this summer under a decision by the DNR expected Thursday.
To report information on the incident, call the DNR's Marquette office at 228-6561, or the DNR's Gwinn Field Office at 346-9201.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.