Two fun ways to camp this summer

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Camping is a favorite Michigan summer pastime, but in recent years, innovative Michiganders have been taking camping to another level by adding amenities and finding ways to increase social activities. From glamping to adult summer camps, this summer’s camping trip promises to be even more enjoyable.

Summer glamping

No need to pack a tent for your trip to The Fields.

By Terri Finch Hamilton

Joey’s here, the vintage pick-up truck that will tote you back to your tent for the weekend. You’re just in time for Pie Happy Hour. It’s fresh-baked. Strawberry-rhubarb, maybe, or peach.

A cattle farmer named Dave will have your campfire started. S’mores? Your marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate bars are served on a plate.
Sure, this is camping. Sort of.

Well, not really. It’s luxury camping at The Fields in South Haven. Call it “glamping,” a trendy blend of glamour and camping. Your tent features a king-size bed with luxury linens, a private bath with sink, shower, towels and high-end toiletries.

Leave your Coleman lantern at home. These tents boast lamps and chandeliers.
The high-end tents are situated on a 10-acre working blueberry farm. “It has everything you need,” said Irene Wood, The Fields owner and your host.

Here’s a sneak peek of your weekend
How will a weekend at The Fields unfold?

Friday night, after Pie Happy Hour with live local music, you can order dinner prepared by a chef who used to work at the Ritz Carlton. Or order a dinner kit to grill yourself.

Enjoy a campfire, roasted marshmallows, smoosh some s’mores. Most guests hit the hay by 10 or 11, Wood said, tired from traveling.

Saturday starts with complimentary breakfast, then head out to enjoy your day. Maybe bike to the South Haven farmers market, then take a winery tour. How about a workshop at the Ox-Bow School of Art, or a retro boat rental?

Wood can recommend one of her favorite restaurants for dinner out.

When you return for the evening, your room is ready, and your campfire is roaring.
Sunday morning might start with yoga, followed by a late breakfast. Check out is
11 a.m.

Wood sees a lot of guests exchanging contact info before they leave. She loves that part. “I’m a connector,” she said. “My favorite kind of weekend is when nobody knows each other.”

Who’s in the tents?
On a full weekend, about 30 guests are lounging around, staying in 15 tents.

“We know them by name,” Wood said. “It’s very intimate. They send us Christmas cards and handwritten thank you notes.”

Last year she hosted 1,200 guests, most of them age 40-70 who didn’t bring kids. But kids are welcome. Dogs, too.

“Most of our guests are not campers,” she said. “Campers find it hard to justify a $300-night stay. Our guests don’t want to pitch their own tent, blow up their mattress or buy a bunch of gear. They want more solitude than a crowded campground. They want the finer things. They want to be served.”

Prepare to be pampered
“Your bed is made, your food is delivered, your campfire is started, your s’mores ingredients show up on a plate,” Wood said. “Just turn off your brain and enjoy.

“When you go regular camping, the list of things you have to bring is so long,” she said. “When you come here, just throw a few clothes in a bag. Bring sunglasses, a hat, your swimsuit, some flip flops. A basket if you want to pick blueberries. You can fit it all in a duffle bag.”

Forget your blueberry basket? She’ll give you a zip-lock bag. “It’s seamless,” she said.
Wood doesn’t have a liquor license yet, so it’s also BYOB.

Your itinerary, sir
Part of the pampering is the itinerary Wood creates for you. No wandering aimlessly around town looking for stuff to do and places to eat. Unless that’s what you want.

“We’re constantly on the lookout for cool things to do in town,” she said.

Wood will chat with you for an hour on the phone when you book your stay so she can whip up your perfect itinerary.

A walking meditation on a farm? Goat yoga? Retro boat rental? Art class? A drumming circle? Sheep shearing? Wine tasting? A bike rally?

“We know all the hidden gem places to send guests,” she said. “It’s like we’re hosting them at our own home. It’s like an outdoor B&B.”

She loves showing off South Haven. “South Haven is just as pretty as Telluride, just as pretty as Aspen, just as pretty as Big Sky, Montana,” Wood said. “I’ve been to all those towns.”

She’ll even suggest cool stops along the way from Detroit or Chicago, or wherever you’re coming from. A winery here, a brewery in an old church there.

Meet Irene
Who is this woman who turned a blueberry field into a luxury camping destination?

There’s no simple answer. She used to work in automotive engineering and pharmaceuticals but loves art history and women’s studies. She was a single mom at age 19. She’s traveled the world, visiting nearly every continent. She has four kids, ages 18 to 30, and three dogs. She bartended through college at Western Michigan University.

“Bartending is the art of hosting,” she said. “It’s more intimate than just serving.”

Wood grew up in South Haven, splitting time between her divorced parents. Her mom lived in town, her dad farmed corn and soybeans and raised pigs.

“I grew up groomed to work,” she said, doing chores on the farm. But she loved city life, too, living two blocks from the candy store and the movie theater.

Combining luxury with a night outside under the stars makes sense to her.

After she met her CEO husband, Cary Wood, she moved to Chicago and made a career of event planning.

When he traveled the world for work, she went, too, meeting rice farmers in the paddies with their water buffalo and chatting with women selling ducks along the side of the road.

“I fell in love with authentic, cultural travel,” she said.

When her dad decided to sell his farm five years ago, she bought it, converted it to grapes, restored the falling-down 1880s barn, and rented the farmhouse out to tourists, who loved feeding the chickens and gardening during their stays.

It was authentic. Just like the travel experiences she loved.

A night in Montana sleeping in a luxury tent got her thinking.

“I thought, I could do this. What kind of experience could I create that only I can do?”

Her own farm didn’t meet zoning requirements. So, she bought a blueberry farm three miles down the road, equipped it with luxury tents, an attentive staff, an accomplished chef and fresh-baked pies.

Soon, she’ll add a small chapel.

“Wedding planners love us,” she said.

“The bohemian daughter has a space that suits her, but her parents still have luxury for their friends.”

The price
The cost for a night in a luxury tent at The Fields starts at $329 for two adults and varies from weekdays to weekends and depending on the season. There’s an additional charge of $100 for each child 12 or younger.

“People come here if they’re looking for an experience they can’t get anywhere else,” she said. “It’s not just a place to sleep.

“You wake up in a blueberry field.”


Around the state

Michigan is filled with camping options.

Prefer your tent with a chandelier, fresh, fluffy towels and scented soaps?

Or so rustic there’s raccoon tracks on your sleeping bag?

Either way, Courtney Sheffer can set you up. Michigan has a camping experience for everybody, said Sheffer, marketing director at the West Michigan Tourist Association.

Including campers who don’t want to get their hands dirty.

“We’ve definitely seen growth in the past couple years in the glamping lifestyle,” she said. “There are people who want to get outside and experience the gorgeous nature we have in Michigan, but without giving up their creature comforts. It opens up camping to a much wider audience — to people who don’t want all the nitty-gritty of nature.”

She recommends The Fields in South Haven as the most high-end camping experience.
“The Fields is such a unique offering right now, even among high-end glamping experiences,” Sheffer said. “It’s the most all-inclusive experience. They’ll customize your visit for you. You won’t find that other places.

“It’s an Instagram-worthy glamping trip.”

She also steers luxury campers to the St. Joseph KOA, which offers raised platform glamping safari tents with a queen bed, futon couch, lighting, mini-fridge, air conditioning and paved patio.

Timber Ridge RV and Recreation Resort in Traverse City offers deluxe yurts, Sheffer said, complete with beds, equipped kitchens and bathrooms with showers.

Too fancy?

Choose from 364 state park campgrounds or more than 1,000 privately run spots, she said.

“The variety is huge,” Sheffer said. “From rustic campgrounds where you pack everything in and pack everything out to a high-end RV park you can rent for the whole summer.”

Want to camp in the woods? Along the shore of a lake? Close to a quaint downtown? Where you can rent a kayak or canoe on-site?

Check, check, check and check.

“We’re seeing continued growth on our website with people looking for camping experiences,” Sheffer said. “But the popular ones fill up fast.”

Need help planning your camping or glamping adventure? Visit wmta.org.


 

Adult summer camp

Summer camp is no longer just for kids.

By Sam Easter

The inspiration for Joel Reisig’s adult summer camp came, of all times, during
a movie shoot.

Reisig, an Ann Arbor-bred producer, was shooting a film in 2014 at Black River Farm and Ranch — a summer horse camp for girls — about 90 minutes north of Detroit. The movie’s cast and crew stayed on location for weeks, and Reisig and the others invested in making the experience feel like home. They threw dance parties; they played glow-in-the-dark sports; they sat around a bonfire at night.

“And I thought, why in the world aren’t I doing this, not just as a side effect of a movie that I’m shooting, but as an actual business?” Reisig said. “Because I think just about everybody I can reach who knows anything about it says, ‘Oh my gosh, I
need that.’”

By 2016, Reisig had launched Camp Forever Fun, a once-a-year weekend that hosts dozens of adults — usually in their late 20s or early 30s — to remake the summers of their childhood. The first year drew just 18 guests, but he said that number has since soared, and he hopes to have a sellout of 66 guests at this year’s camp, set for July 31-Aug. 2
in Bloomingdale.

“My theme is, ‘Everything you love as a kid, plus craft beer,’” Reisig said. And the website more or less bears that out: Guests are seen in a promotional video shooting a bow, eating s’mores, doing lakeside yoga, paddling a canoe and waving sparklers at the campfire.

And lest someone think the camp is just for young adults, Reisig stresses that “there are no ages” at Camp Forever Fun — “everybody at camp is 30.” He explains the aphorism cuts both ways: while the camp is open to adults of all ages, with some guests in their 60s attending, he’s also tried to cultivate a more relaxed atmosphere. This is not the kind of camp where the kids party late and wake up with hangovers.

Though the business model has a more or less tried and true formula — adventure, alcohol and a half-ironic, half-nostalgic wink — there are countless variations, many of which came to the fore over the past decade. Camp No Counselors, a New York City-based brand, holds nationwide camps throughout the year, from Florida to Los Angeles. Camp Grounded — where guests shed their digital devices for the experience — is expected to offer sessions in Northern California this summer. (Reisig, for his part, likes to describe Camp Forever Fun as splitting the difference between the camps that forbid phones and those that emphasize partying).

“I don’t take away people’s cell phones, but I really encourage limited cell phone use,” he said. “Camp is not a spot for sharing funny YouTube videos. It’s not a spot for doing Facebook for hours. And most people don’t want to do this, because most of the time these people are stimulated in real life in a way they’re usually not.”

And as adult summer camps flickered to life during the 2010s, more than a little ink has been spilled in trying to understand why the phenomenon is happening now — and why Generation X, for example, wasn’t spending a Saturday with arts, crafts and beer 20 years ago.

BuzzFeed News, in a 2016 dispatch from a camp just north of Toronto, traced the allure through the alienating experience of young adult life. Suddenly thrust into the working world and out of the easier friendships of college living, millennials, mostly, are looking for a way to make genuine human connections. The Washington Post, quoting a camp director, puts a similar sentiment a bit more pithily: “Nostalgia is a hell of a drug for the 21-to-32 age demographic.”

And Mel Magazine makes maybe the most clinical diagnosis, quoting psychologist Krystine Batcho of New York State’s Le Moyne College. Millennials, she told the magazine last year, are yearning for the kinds of interactions they’d traditionally get from the structure and routines of having a family — but instead are putting off until they’re older.

“Millennials, in delaying marriage and having kids, need an alternative,” she said. “Adult summer camps are one way to fill that hole.”

Reisig prefers not to wade too far into these sociological weeds.

“If something was really enjoyable, then why do we want to stop enjoying it?” he asked. He does acknowledge the attraction of a weekend forging genuine, face-to-face connections with people, though. “Post-college, not a lot of us make friends. We become acquaintances with the people we work with, which is different than the way we meet people when we’re in college.”

That’s also why Reisig said that those who come alone often get more out of the experience. Camp Forever Fun’s premise isn’t as much about doing the activities, per se, as it is about experiencing new people and new connections in a way that guests don’t often do in their daily lives.

“I would absolutely love to run multiple sessions all summer, and perhaps in multiple areas,” Reisig said.

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