Campers Don’t Let Snow Stop the Fun
The crowds are nonexistent, the silence deafening and the scenery breathtaking, but Charley Polston has an even bigger reason why he enjoys pitching a tent in the snow and camping in the dead of winter at Kohler-Andrae State Park south of Sheboygan, Wis.
“No bugs,” the 52-year-old Cedarburg, Wis., resident said during a recent campout with several friends at the park, located on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Kohler-Andrae is open all winter long for camping, with 48 sites available, and there’s plenty of elbow room compared to the crowded, noisy campground of the summer, according to the Sheboygan Press.
No reservations necessary, either.
“If you want the whole campground to yourself, this is the time to do it,” said Jim Buchholz, Kohler-Andrae park superintendent.
As of Feb. 1, fees for camping at Kohler-Andrae are $15 per night for residents and $17 for nonresidents. Electric sites are $5 more. A valid state park sticker is also required for entrance.
Roughing it is a bit tougher in the winter. Though electricity is available at 44 of the sites, water at the sites is turned off and restrooms and showers are closed. Water is available at the park office and at a hand pump near one of the campsites. There are old-fashioned vault toilets on site.
The group that Polston camps with at Kohler-Andrae each February does come prepared with layers of clothing, plenty of firewood and numerous provisions that help keep them warm for the weekend, including beef jerky, string cheese, doughnuts, steaks for the grill and deep-fried turkey.
“The more you eat, the warmer you stay,” said Rick Tank, 52, of Cedarburg.
The campers started their annual ritual 31 years ago, and have weathered snow, mud and below-zero temperatures – including wind chills on their recent visit that plunged to around 35 below.
“You bring the equipment for it, you dress for it, we keep a fire going,” said Gregg Baumann, 46, of St. Francis, a Sheboygan native who has been part of the winter camping group since the trips began.
Charles McBride, an outdoors instructor who’s been teaching a camping class for 24 years at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said it’s important to prepare for winter camping conditions.
“Definitely common sense, and I think good planning,” said McBride, 61, who will be bringing a class of about 20 students to Kohler-Andrae during the upcoming weekend.
“Plan ahead, you plan a good menu, you plan the gear you’re going to take. Make a list.”
McBride says to eat a diet rich in carbohydrates, drink lots of water and avoid alcohol, which can dilate blood vessels and cause one to lose heat.
“The brandy keg on the St. Bernard is a misnomer,” he said.
At Kohler-Andrae, Buchholz said campers bring their snowshoes to walk and skis for cross-country skiing on the park trails. Wildlife is easier to spot in the winter, he said, and the lakefront is snowy, but picturesque.
“It’s beautiful, even when it’s cold,” Buchholz said. “You get those ice formations along the lake and they’re interesting to see. A lot of people just come out to tube and sled ride. A lot of bird watchers this year (are) coming out.”
At Mauthe Lake, a state campground at nearby Kewaskum, about 50 sites are open for winter camping, said Corin Groth, a visitor service representative at the Kettle Moraine State Forest-Northern Unit. Business is steady, as many regular campers come for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, though the campground has plenty of spots each week during the winter. People have to bring their own water onto the site.
“It’s pretty much like backpacking; it’s not like the just-for-fun camping that you do in the summer,” Groth said.
To deal with the chill at Kohler-Andrae, Tank said he’s learned to dress in layers and in loose fitting clothes, and he added there’s an allure to the campground that only winter can bring about.
“We like the snow and it’s nice to wake up in the morning and it’s covering things and everything looks fresh,” he said.
Other people, not in his group, bring their campers to Kohler-Andrae in the winter, but Baumann said, “We think that’s cheating.”
Instead, Baumann sleeps inside his tent, on a mattress atop a layer of foam, safely ensconced in a couple of sleeping bags.
“I like to sleep on the ground, I’ve always done it … I think when you’re sleeping on a cot, you get cold air circulating underneath and I don’t like it as much,” he said.