A woman and her dog are spending five to six months on the road, visiting each of the state’s 77 rustic state forest campgrounds, and gathering information to help travelers plan their own adventures. Learn more about Paige (and Willow!), and find out what inspired Project Rustic and how you can follow along.

If you could spend your summer exploring rustic state forest campgrounds all across Michigan, would you jump at the opportunity? Paige Lackey, a Traverse City resident and Huron Pines Ameri-Corps service member spending 10 months with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), is doing just that. She came up with the idea for Project Rustic, hitting the road in May on an RV trip to collect info, such as GPS locations and campground and trail descriptions, for a DNR database. We caught up with Paige to learn more about this dreamy outdoors excursion and how her work will benefit all campers.

Q. First, tell us a little about your background and your passion for the outdoors.
A. At school I studied environmental studies and sustainability, so I’ve always been drawn to natural resources work. I didn’t know what that was going to look like, so having this opportunity to get some real career exposure and professional experience through this AmeriCorp program has been beneficial. This is actually my second term. I also served with the DNR last year and was lucky enough to be able to come back this year to work on this really awesome project.


Q. Speaking of that really awesome project, how did you come up with the idea for Project Rustic?
A. Last year, I was serving with the DNR and most of my work was focused on the forestry division, but I did get to do a little work within the parks and rec division and that is where that idea came from. I was sitting in on a meeting last year where we were discussing updates to Recreation Search, which is a database for people planning a trip. [Recreation Search allows visitors to filter for amenities and activities such as beaches, equestrian trails, cabins, hiking, mountain biking and more, www2.dnr.state.mi.us/parksandtrails.] And some efforts were being made to update the database. After the meeting, I called my supervisor, Maia Turek, and just pitched this wild idea. I felt that the best way to capture all these details was to experience them myself. By taking a boots-on-the-ground approach and traveling all around Michigan, I could visit all these rustic state forest campgrounds that were being worked on and updated and I could get all the information by seeing them first hand.

Q. You’re traveling with Willow, your dog, and staying connected virtually with your team. What will your days look like as you stop at these campgrounds?
A. There are so many people I’ll be working with as I’m traveling. And honestly, I think every day is going to look different. Each [campground] I’ll be tackling in a new way. And while I’m in the area, I will be meeting with the supervisor of that campground. My mission is to collect GPS data for mapping and update the DNR photo library. The information I gather on this tour will help us provide a better rustic camping experience for all campers, both in planning and making the most of your visit.

Q. How can people learn more about your travels and your progress?
A. Follow us on our Michigan State Parks, Trails and Waterways Facebook page and Michigan State Parks Instagram page. You can also learn more about Michigan’s state forest campgrounds and trails, and plan your adventure, at michigan.gov/stateforestcampgrounds.

Photo(s) by Paige Lackey