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History of Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping

History of Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping, established in 1964 by Richard and Rose Rogala and still run today by the Rogala family.
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"The Story of Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping"

Photo of Richard and Rose Rogala's Family at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
Check out the story of Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping which is also the story of Richard and Rose Rogala.

Wedding photo of Richard and Rose Rogala, founders of Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
Married in the early 1950s in Allenton, MI near Detroit, Richard and Rose set off on a vigorous life together.

Photo of early 1960's Chevy Green Brier Van.
Imagine Rose, Dick and three children, two in diapers, in this Chevy Greenbrier van traveling 10,000 miles across the US and Canada. At night the seats folded down and everyone slept in the van.

Photo of Rose, Frank, Chris and Vince Rogala in front of a giant sequoia.
Rose and her sons Frank, Chris and Vince with a giant Sequoia in California in the early 60’s.

Photo of the classic Disneyland park that Richard and Rose visited with their children in the early 60’s.
Rose and Dick were enchanted by Disneyland and considered buying a tract of orange trees near the park to start their campground. Finally deciding it would be too far away from family in Michigan.

Historic 1800’s artwork depicting logging sleds as the great Pines of Michigan are harvested.
Historic 1800’s artwork depicting logging sleds as the great Pines of Michigan are harvested.

Historic photograph evidencing ice fishermen on the lake near Mackinaw City, MI.
Historic photograph evidencing ice fishermen on the lake near Mackinaw City, MI.
Photo of Richard Rogala in military uniform; founder of Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
Seeing Italy and Europe as a soldier in the army during World War II, instilled a wanderlust in Richard that lead to him discovering his love of camping.

Photo of Richard Rogala as a carpenter before starting Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
Richard was a skilled carpenter & expert bricklayer whose skills included metalwork, welding and electrical.

Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping was established in 1964 by Richard and Rose Rogala. The campground is still run today by the Rogala family.

Many of our campers are children or grandchildren of guests who originally stayed with Richard and Rose (our mom and dad) and have expressed an interest in learning more about the history of the campground and Rogala family.

Photo fo RV camping in the 1950's.

Campers were much rarer in the late 50's than they are now. Residents of Armada and Romeo Michigan (near Detroit), Richard and Rose had already discovered the lure of the road and were avid campers before their children arrived.

Rose, who was raised on a farm, vowed to never live on one ever again. Having explored many of the camping areas in the Great Lakes, we found camping receipts from the mid 50's in my mother’s meticulous records from campgrounds that no longer exist, such as the one that used to be under the bridge in Mackinaw City.

The young couple dreamed of striking out and exploring the newly opened highways and the hidden back roads of the huge and mysterious country that they had only seen in magazines, movies or on TV.

Richard started working with Rose’s brother, Alfred, on a business that cleared condemned houses out of the way so that the great freeways of Michigan could be built. Dad then situated the houses in new locations and built new neighborhoods, refinishing and modernizing the transplanted homes.

Soon the Rogala’s had three sons and they loaded up a 60’s Chevy Greenbrier Van (which Richard had converted into a camper by building a stove, sink and beds) and with two boys still in diapers (in the days before disposables!) set off. The 10,000 mile journey took the Rogala’s through Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Canada and the western states including Washington, Oregon, the Giant Sequoia Redwoods, Yosemite and National Parks such as Mt. Rushmore and of course Disneyland. Not to mention the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam, Las Vegas, The Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Photo of article from the Romeo Observer 08/29/1963,

Photo of historical artwork of Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island.
Historic 1800’s artwork depicting Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island.

Photo of historic 1800’s artwork depicting Arch Rock on Mackinac Island.
Historic 1800’s artwork depicting Arch Rock on Mackinac Island.

Having experienced such wonders, the bar had been raised for Richard and Rose as they decided their dream campground needed to be located near a world class attraction.

Rose and Richard had large extended families based in Southern Michigan, so a location that allowed frequent visits and that allowed them to attend family events was important.

After traveling across much of the North American continent, Richard and Rose initially set their sights on the Castle Farms property in Charlevoix, Michigan. Mom and dad were shocked when local residents refused to allow them to build their campground there. Property owners showed up at a raucous zoning meeting and voiced their disapproval of having a campground in their community. At the time, residents feared it would affect their property values negatively.

Richard and Rose were both shaken by the reaction their campground had received from the Charlevoix locals. To my parents, a campground was a wonderfully magical place where people came to spend time with their family, cook meals under the trees and rests on a sandy beach. What could be better?

The setback, however, was a blessing in disguise. Soon afterwards in early 1963 Richard found a small plot of land for sale a few miles from Mackinaw. He walked the property and fell in love with the beautiful sandy beach. He and Rose made the offer and their dream was born. Mackinaw Campground (later renamed Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping) was opened to customers the next Fourth of July in 1964.

After their adventure the Rogala's saw that the Mackinac area held its own against the great National Parks. Mackinac Island was originally the nations second national park (ratified three years after Yellowstone which was established as a national park on March 1, 1872 by President Grant).

Mackinac Island was later turned over to the State of Michigan and added to its State Park system in 1895 at the request of Michigan’s Governor John T. Rich.

Along with its spectacular natural setting the Mackinac area had a rich historical past which was recognized and actively displayed by reconstructions of the areas historic forts and yearly costumed pageants by its residents.

Historical photo of Chippewa Indians in Mackinaw City during a 4th of July celebration.
Historic photograph of Native Americans near downtown Mackinaw City from sometime in the 1800’s. Note that cars are not visible. See the large banner/flag in the upper left corner. This may have been part of a 4th of July celebration. The taking of the photograph was cause for notice by a crowd of onlookers in the background.

Photo of Richard Rogala in his shop working on playground equipment for Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
Richard Rogala pictured in his southern Michigan shop creating a spinner from a recycled car wheel (soon to be one of the most popular items on the campgrounds).

Photo of Vince Rogala on picnic table for Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
An approximately 2 year-old Vince Rogala pictured on a new campground picnic table outside dads shop at 32 Mile Road and Wolcott in Allenton, Michigan.

Photo of Frank, Vince and Chris Rogala by sign for campground.
The Rogala's children, Frank, Vince and Chris pictured in front of the family car with a new campground sign on top. Notice the Tee Pee symbol on the sign which was a fixture on all of the camps early literature and marketing. It came to an end a few years later when another campground opened up down the road and used the name Tee Pee. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?!

Photo of antique tractor for playground at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
This tractor was rescued from the scrap yard, repainted and given new life as a fixture on Richards’s homemade playground.

Photo of children at playground at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
Children loved the tractors, however years later, when the Rogala boys themselves had children, they realized that the vehicles might be a bit risky as a plaything for small children. The original tractors were replaced with wooden (child safe) versions.
Photo of the first cabin at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping to house the entire Rogala family during the first years.
The soon to be family of six moved into the one room cabin that was the only building on the property. With no indoor plumbing, the Rogala's set about the adventure of not only building the campground from scratch, but also caring for their three (soon to be four) young boys. Also known as "Cabin 1" this cabin has been beautifully refurbished and is now a popular summer rental for guests of the camp.

Photo of truck loaded with tables for Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
The pickup truck is loaded and ready to head to Mackinaw loaded with the frames for dozens of picnic tables (each hand bent on a jig, welded and painted by Richard).

Photo of brochure for Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping when it was known as Mackinaw Campgrounds.
An early campground card that shows the rate as $1.00 to $2.00 per night.

Starting hundreds or maybe thousands of years before the white man arrived, Mackinac Island was considered a sacred place for nearly all of the tribes of Great Lakes Native Americans. Resembling a great turtle from its northwest side, the Island’s name descends from the Indian name for "Great Turtle." Many Native American fables and myths are set on Mackinac not to mention the belief that all of creation started with the Island.

Richard and Rose wasted little time and with little more than hand tools and sweat they converted the raw wilderness into a beautiful camp site by the Fourth of July that same year.

Working from their home (converted from an old gas station) near Romeo, Michigan, Richard began building picnic tables and playground equipment and anything else he could prefab in his well appointed shop.

A skilled carpenter, Richard was also an expert bricklayer whose skills included welding and electrical.

Richard innovated at every turn. He created a no-mess dump station that was adopted by the Michigan State Park system and is now used by the Federal Park system. When he got tired of chasing the children of guests off of his tractor, he realized an opportunity. Soon antique tractors were rescued from scrap yards, repainted and given new life on the campground’s playgrounds. The tractors were so popular that they became an early signature of the Park, featured on the TV show, Michigan Outdoors and on the camp’s postcards.

Edward was born and the Rogala's now had 4 sons. Rose stayed downstate with the infant as Richard handled construction and child rearing duties "up north." Dad had his own style, for instance, Vince was potty trained by a few ice cold baths straight from the hand pump.

For the first few years the park had a sandy beach with a view facing the azure waters of Lake Huron, Mackinac Island, Round Island and Bois Blanc Island.

Soon after, Rose negotiated a complicated land trade deal with the State of Michigan and the property north of the camp was now theirs. This new parcel gave the camp it’s first Bridgeview lakefront and more greatly enlarged the potential size of the park. Within a couple years the park had 200 sites for Trailers and Tents. The camping fee? $1.00 to $2.00 per night!

Mom registered campers, picked up litter, looked after 3 little boys and a baby. Dad cleaned the restroom/shower building, mowed grass, dug post holes, hauled trash, trimmed brush, and always had one thing or another or several things in various states of construction.

My brothers and I all had our duties which grew as we did. Dad was a stickler about picking up litter. One thing he noticed at Disneyland is that there was no litter anywhere, not even chewing gum. Richard and Rose strove to have an immaculately clean campground, from the restrooms to the site to the lakefront strolls.

In the spring it could take Mom and the boys a month to rake all the leaves, load them into bushel baskets and then onto an old truck which they then took to a compost area to dump.

Now the camp uses leaf blower and modern farm equipment to sweep up the leaves in a few days.

As soon as Edward was born, Richard began work on a new camp office/house. The camp office still stands on that site today. The house behind the office was a Spartan two bedroom house. One room for Richard and Rose and a double bunk bed handled the four boys.

Having given up their home in lower Michigan, Richard lost his valuable workspace. Soon after the new office/house was completed Richard got back his precious shop when he was able to build a large pole barn, for years known as the Silver Barn. Welding, metalwork, woodwork, mechanical work, Richard could do it all in the Silver Barn.

This was where he designed and built several versions of a self dumping trailer for trash pickup.

Photo of an early layout of Mackinaw Campground, later known as Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
An early campground map hand drawn by Richard and Rose Rogala. Rose’s prized typewriter that typed cursive letters is in evidence. This shows the location of the new office/house. A large sandbar (which in intervening years tends to breach the surface for a few years, then will be submerged for a few years) is shown as a major feature of the camp.

Photo of Edward, Richard, Vince, Frank, Chris and Rose Rogala at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping office in the 1960's.Photo of Edward, Richard, Vince, Frank, Chris and Rose Rogala in early 1960’s.
These two shots of the Rogala family (now with all four boys) were both taken in 1966. The first one (B&W) was in front of the new office/house. You can see the patches Rose sewed on Vince’s overalls, which were probably a hand-me-down from a cousin that might have went through his two older brothers first. The household was a model of thrift. Mom darned dad’s socks. Nothing was discarded, things (including everything from tools to toys) were fixed, or used for materials to make something else. Dad led the boys on smelt runs and the frozen smelt keep the boys fed much of the year (I still can’t look at one). The second color photo is from a retirement dinner for Richard’s Mother in Frankenmuth, MI.

Photo of Richard Rogala building the shower building at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
Richard Rogala constructs the lake shower building, now remodeled, which our campers still enjoy today.

The new tract of land meant more roads, sites, and a new shower building. Not to mention a playground, dump station, basketball court and more lakefront sites. As soon as one of us boys was big enough to pick up a shovel we were taught to use it. Edward, before he learned to walk, would push himself (held upright on his tricycle) and walk miles from the office down to where the family was working on the new parcel. Dump trucks full of gravel raced past the toddler, Edward didn't bat an eye, he ventured on. Edward hated being left behind and was content to sit at home while everyone was out working (even though he couldn't yet walk).

Dust had not yet settled when a land developer who owned the tract of land on the north side of the camp approached Richard and Rose. He had begun development of the parcel for use as a subdivision some 30 years earlier, but had never sold a lot. Nearly all of the properties shoreline had a view of the Mackinac Bridge and Richard and Rose saw the opportunity.

One of the first things Richard built on the new parcel were the campground's first full hookup sites. These were the only full hookup sites in the area with a view of the Mackinac Bridge and the Straits of Mackinaw.

The boys learned how to shovel rocks and help their dad shoot grades to set tile at the proper level for the drain fields. Richard ran the bulldozer and any large equipment along with digging anything that needed digging with a shovel, pounding stakes, setting grades, etc.

Photo of Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping’s founder's, the Rogala family.
Posed in the location of the camp entrance, Richard and Rose and (L-R) Edward, Vince, Frank and Chris Rogala about the time the last parcel that makes up the campground today was purchased.

Photo of Frank, Edward (holding Rose’s hand) and Vince bringing home a Christmas tree at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
Frank, Edward (holding Rose’s hand) and Vince went out to the woods on a cold and wintery northern Michigan day and brought home a living Christmas tree for us to decorate .

Photo of Vince Rogala on a tractor at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
Recognize my brother, Chris Rogala, without that big red and gray beard? Here he is on dad's John Deere, pictured in front of the lake.

Photo of Vince helping Richard Rogala move a picnic table during a northern Michigan winter at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
At the end of the season we would help close down the campground. Pictured here is my brother Vince helps our dad, Richard Rogala, move one of the many campground picnic tables during a northern Michigan winter.

Photo of Richard Rogala building the camp with his bare hands at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
Everyone knew to pay attention and step lively when cement was poured. Richard prided himself on fine cement work and he would tolerate nothing less than excellence. Plumbing, to cement work to carpentry and electrical, Richard built the camp with his bare hands from the ground up.

Photo of hand built teeter tots, hand crafted by Richard Rogala at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
Hand built teeter totters were just one of many types of playground equipment hand crafted by our dad, Richard Rogala, for the campground's playground area.

Vintage photo of children on playground at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
Photo of the well driller getting water to the new lake shower building at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
The well driller gets water to the new shower building.

Photo of Edward helping Richard Rogala. Rose looks on as Chris runs the loader at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
Edward (in the green and black striped shirt) helps Richard. Rose looks on as Chris runs the loader.

Photo of Richard Rogala with his first loader at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
Dad finally got his own loader. Changing the tires was a major project for even him.

Photo of Richard Rogala working over his picnic table jig at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
Richard working over his picnic table jig where he built hundreds of tables, many of which are still in use today!

Photo of
Dad adopted this green color for many of his trucks and it became known to all of us as "Campground Green."

Photo of children on playground in late 1960's at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
Late 1960’s photo of children on playground equipment at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.

Photo of Richard and Vince and family friend Steven K. (standing) lower a restroom building onto the foundation at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
Richard and Vince and family friend Steven K. (standing) lower a restroom building onto the foundation.

Photo of Richard and Vince pose by a totem pole that was made for the camp by regular camper, Mr. Smith at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
Richard and Vince pose by a totem pole that was made for the camp by regular camper, Mr. Smith. Smitty carved the sculpture at his campsite over the course of a summer. Mr. Smith would arrive with baskets of flowers from his flower shop, which Rose would proudly display in front of the office.

Photo of Richard Rogala operating the wood splitter he built to help split wood for not only the campers but to heat the house in the winter at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
Richard operates the wood splitter he built to help split wood for not only the campers but to heat the house in the winter.

Photo of Richard Rogala in his 60’s laying bricks like a pro at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
I felt fortunate to have Dad build me one of his cement block walls at my house. Here he is in his 60’s laying bricks like a pro.

Photo of spinners made from car wheels fabricated by Richard Rogala at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
Dad’s spinners made from car wheels have been a sensation from day one.

Photo of vintage postcard of playground at Mackinaw campground, now known as Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.
Richard turned his lack of funds to buy playground equipment into a strength. By using his creative skills he created handmade original playground equipment from the scrap yard that was function, beautiful and, most importantly, was a hit with the children!

This page is still under construction, we will have more campground history for you soon!