Family camping trip on hold
By Greg Seubert
The unexpected closure of Boulder Lake Campground isn’t sitting well with campers trying to reserve a site at the popular destination.
One of them is Perry Merckx of Combined Locks, who has camped at the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest campground since the 1970s.
He logged on to the forest’s website in early January to reserve a spot in the campground’s group camp area and found out the campground, located in northwestern Oconto County and about 80 miles north of Waupaca, would be closed until further notice.
The forest recently posted the following message on its website, but offered no other details:
“The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest plans to temporarily close Boulder Lake Campground for the 2018 recreation season and no reservations will be accepted until further notice. Reservations already made will be cancelled and refunds generated. In the interest of public safety and reasons outside of the forest’s control, the Boulder Lake Campground will be closed until further notice.”
Officials at the forest’s headquarters in Rhinelander did not return messages seeking additional information on the closure.
“We’ve been doing the Merckx camp trip,” Merckx said. “This would’ve been the sixth year. We usually have 20 people that go camping there. We get there Friday and leave Sunday.
“I went on to their website to (reserve) a weekend up there and it wouldn’t let me do it,” he said. “It said the campground was closed until further notice. I know from the past that if I don’t book this site within the first month, it’s usually filled up.”
Merckx then called the forest’s office in nearby Lakewood to find out why the campground is closed.
“I don’t know the ranger’s name that I talked to, but he told me that it was going to be closed until further notice,” he said. “I said, ‘Well, is it the lake?’ and he said, ‘No, it’s not the lake, it’s something that’s beyond our control.’ I’m like, ‘What could it possibly be?’ He would not tell me, he just tried to get me to go to a different campsite. I’m like, ‘Well, I want to go to Boulder Lake.’ He was going to transfer me over to another guy that would tell me what campsites were around that area. I just hung up on him.”
Boulder Lake Campground includes 89 campsites and a separate camping area for large groups that Merckx and his family uses.
The forest recently made several improvements at the campground, including electricity at some sites; an RV dump station; three shower and flush toilet facilities; and an expanded beach and amphitheater.
“I’ve been camping there since the ‘70s,” Merckx said. “It’s a nice campground and you’re out in the woods, no matter what campsite you get. The campsites are well-cared for. They just updated their bathrooms with flush toilets and showers. That’s nice, especially when you’re up there for three or four days.”
Anglers fish for walleye, northern pike, largemouth bass and panfish in 362-acre Boulder Lake and the boat landing and parking area are plowed during the winter for ice anglers.
The campground is close to several trout streams and is only a few miles from the Wolf River, which offers fishing, rafting and canoeing opportunities.
Not only is Boulder Lake the forest’s largest campground, it’s also one of the more popular since it’s just over an hour away from Green Bay and the Fox Cities.
“If you want to go up there on a weekend during the summer, you might not get a campsite if you don’t go on a Thursday,” Merckx said. “If you go Friday, you don’t have many to choose from and if you get there later in the afternoon, they’re filled up. That’s every weekend during the summer.
“My parents brought us there,” he added. “My kids are going there and hopefully, their kids will go there. We’ve gone camping there at least once a year for the last 40 years.”
The forest’s website directs campers to other federal campgrounds in the area, including Boot Lake Campground, about 15 miles north of Boulder Lake.
“My brother has a friend that has a cabin on Boot Lake,” Merckx said. “He said we could camp there, but it’s not the same. It’s a tradition. We’ve been camping there a long time.
“I’ve never camped at any other campsite around there and we like it there,” he said. “It’s pretty sad that the guy couldn’t give me a reason why they closed it.”