There was a time when Cindy Loewenhagen was upset.
She had heard that her favorite home away from home, Boulder Lake Campground in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, would be closed until further notice.
“I was very upset because we don’t really go to any other campground,” she said. “This is basically it. I don’t care to go to any other campground.”
Instead of spending Memorial Day weekend at their Appleton home, however, Loewenhagen and her husband, Dan, were camp hosts at the campground, located about 30 miles north of Shawano in northwestern Oconto County.
The U.S. Forest Service announced in early May that the popular campground, which includes 89 individual sites and a group camping area, would open May 24. Forest officials had said in January that the campground, which typically opens in early May in time for Wisconsin’s inland fishing opener, would be closed until further notice because of a safety concern.
Although forest officials never went into detail about those concerns, they are believed to stem from the behavior of an adjacent property owner last summer.
Oconto County sheriff’s officials investigated reports that the man walked through the campground with a gun, but never charged him. The man is reportedly no longer living near the campground. He faced several misdemeanor charges earlier this year in Langlade, Oconto and Dane counties, but none of those charges are related to the campground.
The Loewenhagens camped at Boulder Lake during last year’s Fourth of July holiday.
“The camp host from Kentucky came and told us,” Cindy said. “I stopped and asked and they told us to not go up (to the group camping area) because there was a little issue. I talked to the forest rangers and police and they asked me if I had heard anything. They said there was somebody shooting up there. They didn’t know what kind of guns. I just heard there was somebody up there shooting a gun. I heard they were doing something about it (last summer), but they had to get the proof.”
Cindy decided to apply to be a camp host after hearing the campground would open after all. “I got an e-mail on my phone about three weeks ago (that the campground would open),” she said. “When I got the e-mail, that’s when I called and asked how do you become a camp host. I applied online.
“We’ve been camping here for 25, 30 years,” she added. “My husband’s been coming up here longer than that. I love being up here. He sometimes wants to go home and I don’t. I’ll stay up here until the middle of July.”
Cindy and Dan met several campers that showed up for the first holiday of the season. “There are a few of them that didn’t even know what happened last summer,” Cindy said. “Everybody has their own opinion. I think people are happy that it’s just open and they don’t have to deal with him.”
“I don’t know how it all went down with him or how long it took, but they waited a long time to say it’s open,” Dan said. “Nothing was done last summer and all of a sudden, they want to (close the campground) this year. That doesn’t make sense. I didn’t get it. How can they close it because of one person?”
“Other than that, we’ve never had any issues,” Cindy said. “I’m not afraid to come here even after all that. I’ve stayed here by myself. I’ve got a lock on my door. I have a dog. If somebody walks into my campsite, I’m going to know.”
While the Loewenhagens spent part of their weekend greeting campers, Chris Doorn of West Allis and his family arrived May 25 and ended up getting the last available lakeside site before heading out to view wildlife at the Cathedral Pines State Natural Area and the Jones Spring Area Trail.
“This is our third trek up here,” he said. “The last couple times we were here, we were basically right on the water with a private little beach. It’s just a great place. We found it a couple years ago and just fell in love with it. I’ve been exploring the Nicolet for many, many years. We’ve camped at Boot Lake, Laura Lake. I’ve visited pretty much every one around here.”
Other campers reserved their sites at the campground, but Doorn came up hoping to find a vacancy. “We had other plans and they fell through two days ago,” he said. “On the spur of the moment, I said, ‘Let’s try Boulder Lake, maybe we can get in there.’ Reserving was closed because it was too close to the date, so basically, we just winged it. We got the last one on the lake.”
“The only reason I come here is my grandpa had 40 acres that went down to Gardner Dam,” Dan said. “I’m 63 years old, so I’ve been coming up here for 45, 50 years. It’s a nice campground. You go to other campgrounds and you’re out in a field with no trees. I have to have trees.”
“I think this campground is so much nicer because they have showers and running water,” Cindy said. “They have sites with electricity. When we first started coming up here, they didn’t have any of that here. We tented it. We didn’t have the luxury of a camper.”
“We stopped coming up here because the kids didn’t want to go camping,” she said. “They wanted to bring a friend with them and if they couldn’t bring a friend, they didn’t want to come. All of a sudden, I said, ‘Let’s start going camping again. I love being up here, I love being in the woods.’ To me, it’s quiet. You get to hear the crickets, the birds, the frogs. I love being out like this.”
Doorn agreed. “I love falling asleep listening to the frogs and toads and not hearing traffic constantly,” he said. “The wide-open sky at night is just incredible.” Doorn said he recalled hearing about the campground being closed, but it didn’t keep him from coming back. “I do remember reading about it because this is our favorite campground,” he said. “It just kind of slipped my mind that all of that went down.”
Cindy isn’t worried about what could happen at the campground, which is several miles away from the nearest community. “I don’t think it would happen again,” she said. “It’s possible, but I’m not afraid. I’m just happy that they decided to open and I can volunteer my services and help the forest try to make it a better place.”