Campground history of Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping, established in 1964 by Richard & Rose Rogala. Still operated today by the Rogala family in Mackinaw City, Michigan.
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 Rogala family and campground history.
The Story of Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping
In 1963 a young couple took a 10,000 mile trip with three small boys across the US and Canada to learn everything they could about camping and to search for the perfect location for their own campground. This is the true story of Richard and Rose Rogala and one of Michigan's largest and most popular family owned and operated campgrounds.
Campground History - A Backstory
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.
The Adventure Begins
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, Utah, Oregon and Nevada. They traveled to the Giant Sequoia Redwoods, Yosemite, Mt. Rushmore and of course Disneyland. Not to mention the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam, Las Vegas and The Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah.
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.
History of Mackinac
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.
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.
Campground History - Building A Legacy
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!
Responsibilities of a Campground Family
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 sites 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 blowers and modern farm equipment to sweep up the leaves in a few days.
Growing The Legacy
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.
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.
Campground History of Innovations
The camping innovations continued. Garbage cans at each site gave way to asking campers to bring their trash to the bin at the office. Hundreds of trash cans all over the park were a magnet for wild animals, and by removing them, there were fewer problems with scavenging animals.
Fire pits have always been a hazard when small children are present. The incline of a traditional fire "pit" made it possible for small children to fall in. The fire pits tend to collect garbage, broken glass and food scraps, which smells and attracts raccoons, skunks and vermin of all sorts. By requiring campers to build fires in a pan, which was dumped and reused by the next camper, the hot ashes and debris could be safely hauled away. There was no longer a "pit" that a child could fall "down" into.
After both the trash and fire policies were in effect, incidents involving foraging forest animals were quickly brought to a halt. Campsites were cleaner and the animals stayed in the woods!
The Next Generation
Arthritis, Parkinson's and Alzheimers slowed Richard's ability to work. The computerization of the campground also made it difficult for Rose to participate in the operation of the campground she had helped build. Richard and Rose created a retirement home about a mile north of the campground. Jolene, their son Chris' wife, had the most time working side by side with Rose and she had handled more of the camp's office duties as Rose got situated in her new home. Chris, a civil engineering graduate of Michigan Tech University in Houghton, MI, began taking over management of the grounds.
In the spring of 1999, I returned from California to help modernize the camp office. That included not only installing computers, but also inputting the site characteristics of each of the hundreds of sites and training the staff, many of whom had never used a computer.
The small shed-like building that had been used to clean the trout years before, became my new summer home. No indoor plumbing or heat, but right in the heart of the camp. At a moment's notice I could be at the camp office when problems arose.
I also supervised the adding of 4 new phone lines. As the man who was changing everything, my popularity suffered. Campers waiting for the staff who were struggling with the new computers weren't so happy with me either.
I also created the web interface for reserving campsites online. Then the biggest change! Accepting credit cards! Initially no one in the family believed that I needed the size system that I asked for. After struggling with the downsized network that they had made me start with, they acquiesced to my request for a larger system. It was hard for even me to believe that so much computing power could be required, but in order to accommodate the dozens of site types and the growing numbers and types of cabins, the system needed a lot of muscle.