GARRISON - It may be hard to precisely judge the need for a little relief from everyday routines, but those who camp place a very high value on their time outdoors. A day or two outside, watching a campfire brighten as the sun sets or listening to the gentle sounds of waves slipping ashore, has its own value to each individual. It is refreshing and invigorating.
North Dakota offers a variety of choices for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. While some enjoy returning time and time again to a specific area or campground, others prefer to vary their outdoor time by trying new destinations. Both are great ways to step out of everyday routines and get back to nature.
"It's very refreshing. It's nice to get out and get away and unwind," said Allen Himmelspach, Bismarck, who was tent camping this past week at the East Totten Trail Recreation Area on the shore of Lake Audubon. "It is my first time out here and it is beautiful. It's really nice out here. I never knew this place existed."
These campers are parked in a portion of the East Totten Trail Recreation Area which allows easy access to Lake Audubon.
Himmelspach spent time in a lawn chair at the water's edge, soaking up the sun's rays while keeping watch over a nearby fishing pole. Occasionally a fish would interrupt a good rest.
"Probably the best part is the nothing," remarked Himmelspach. "Pulling up a chair and just sitting there. No stress. No work. It is so peaceful. It is a good way to get away from the hustle of everyday life."
Himmelspach's wife, Lisa, was at the shore as well.
"I'm no fisherman," she said. "I like to relax and get some sun. I like to tan. It's very nice just to be away. It's very relaxing."
The East Totten Trail Recreation Area is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The area has become more and more popular with campers in recent years. It is well maintained. Camping is allowed on a first-come, first-served basis. Campground rules are posted near the entrance.
Pat Green, Bismarck, was among those camping at East Totten Trail last week. It was her first visit to the location in three years. Green, Lisa Himmelspach's grandmother, had an explanation for her absence.
"My husband passed away three years ago. We used to camp right over there," said Green while pointing to a nearby camping spot. "It's what we always did. I still like the water and the campfire. I like to get away."
That's the way it is with camping. The desire to camp often grows greater with each outing. Sometimes it is the small things, like the simple sounds of birds late in the evening or early morning, the crackle of a campfire or the beauty of a sunset or sunrise, that leaves a lasting impression on the camper. All are personal invitations to return.
Sportsmen's Centennial Park
Another popular campground located not far from the East Totten Trail facility, and referred to as a "secret" by caretaker Les Hultberg, is Sportsmen's Centennial Park. The McLean County Park Board operates Sportsmen's Centennial with the intent of keeping rates as low as possible to still properly maintain the park.
"A lot of folks don't seem to know about the park out here," remarked Hultberg. "It's been around since about 1992. Our building was put up in 1997."
The building is a multi-purpose facility, housing maintenance equipment, a small store, a shower house and meeting room. The meeting room is free to paid campers who often take advantage of the indoor space for family reunions and other gatherings, or just to get together during inclement weather.
Three different boat ramps have served the park in recent years, including both low water and high water ramps. The regular ramp, which is in service today, is of poured concrete construction and offers excellent access to Lake Sakakawea. It faces west, but Centennial Bay offers some protection for boaters during times of high winds.
Sportsmen's Centennial is a fairly large park, encompassing about 60 acres. It currently has 118 camping spots. About a dozen more are planned near an area where a seldom-used volleyball court was located. Construction on those sites is expected to be completed in the near future.
"We have 28 electric sites and are adding six more," said Hultberg. "We do have some long-term sites out here. The remaining sites are first-come, first-served. Electric is $17 a night, primitive $10."
Many of the trees at Sportsmen's Centennial provide excellent shade, something that can be a premium when camping in North Dakota. A bonus for park users are rows of apricot trees and berry-producing bushes. Park regulations state that, "visitors are allowed to pick Nanking Cherries, Wild Black Currants and Gooseberries. All three make excellent jams, jellies and syrup. We also have plums, apricots, buffalo berries and wild grapes within the park which may be picked in season by campers."
The park does have restrictions on usage. It is for recreation purposes only and is not intended for temporary housing. Reservations and inquiries should be directed to 337-5377.
"This is for the convenience of the people in the county. What a nice thing," said Hultberg.
In addition to more camping sites, a few more improvements are about to be undertaken by some young volunteers - members of Garrison High School's Vocational Agriculture class and local FFA.
"Teacher Glen Heuttle and his kids offered their services to put in horseshoe pits here at the park," said Hultberg. "They're also putting up a brand new metal sign out by Highway 37 as well. I tip my hat to them and surely thank them."
on the Prairie
July 13-14 has been set aside at Sportsmen's Centennial for the second annual event billed as the "Premier Party on the Prairie." Several bands are scheduled to perform, with proceeds destined to benefit North Dakota military veterans. Last year's event, which was limited due to inclement weather, raised $5,000 for veterans.
In addition to the bands, several displays and attractions will be in place for attendees. Further information about the event is available by calling 898-4913.