By Greg Seubert
WHITE LAKE – The wheels are in motion for a popular campground to open in time for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.
Boulder Lake Campground is one of more than 30 campgrounds the U.S. Forest Service operates in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, which covers more than 1.5 million acres across northern Wisconsin’s Ashland, Bayfield, Florence, Forest, Langlade, Oconto, Oneida, Price, Sawyer, Taylor and Vilas counties.
The 89-unit campground, which also includes a group camping area, will open Thursday, May 24, said Hilary Markin, public affairs officer at the forest’s headquarters in Rhinelander.
A system to reserve campsites online is up and running after the forest stopped taking reservations for the campground in January.
“We had to get recreation.gov open for reservations again, so we made that happen,” Markin said. “We did notify those that had reservations cancelled back in January. Everyone is able to go there and make reservations. I know there have been some (reservations) made. I’ve gotten some feedback from folks who were able to make reservations. We’re encouraging folks to go out there, take a look and make reservations for the season.”
The campground, located in Oconto County about 90 miles northwest of Green Bay, has been a popular camping destination for decades, but forest officials announced in January the campground would be closed until further notice because of safety concerns.
“The previous concerns that the Forest Service had have subsided,” Markin said. “We did get some feedback and we appreciate their patience and understanding as we worked through those concerns.”
Although forest officials never went into details about those concerns, they are believed to stem from the behavior of a man whose property is adjacent to the campground.
The safety concerns that led to the closure announcement involve a man who lives near the campground, Ed Janke, chief deputy with the Oconto County Sheriff’s Department, told Wisconsin Outdoor News in January.
“We did have a couple complaints of an individual walking through the campground and he had an assault rifle,” he said. “However, there was nothing illegal about what that individual was doing.”
Deputies made contact last year with an armed individual walking through the campground, according to Janke.
“Campers had made some after-the-fact reports to Forest Service personnel, who then later reported some of those things to us,” he said.
Deputies also looked into reports that the man held target practice on his property.
Three counties filed criminal charges in April against that man, Karl C. Klimes, 29, of White Lake, but none of the charges are connected to the campground.
Those charges include three misdemeanors in Langlade County in connection with a domestic incident. He posted bond and was released April 9.
Two days later, Oconto County sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to Klimes’ home for a welfare check. He told deputies he had suicidal thoughts and admitted to drinking alcohol, a violation of his bond. He was charged with bail jumping and was scheduled to appear May 17 in Oconto County Circuit Court.
Dane County also filed misdemeanor charges of operating a firearm while intoxicated and disorderly conduct against Klimes stemming from a November 2017 incident in Madison.
An Oconto County Circuit Court judge in January ordered Klimes to be committed to a mental health facility for treatment for up to six months and he was released shortly before the incident in Langlade County.
Janke’s department addressed the situation Jan. 25 with the following statement:
“The matter has been resolved through court proceedings and the threat that was presented is now stable. We no longer believe that there are significant public safety concerns.”
Several businesses near the campground rely on its campers and believe a closed campground would have a negative effect on the local economy.
One of those business owners, Thomas Kreif, operates Bear Paw Outdoor Adventure Resort with Eric Scharenbrock. The resort, located less than five miles from Boulder Lake Campground on State Highway 55, offers kayaking, tubing and rafting packages on the Wolf River, as well as food and lodging.
“Our biggest concern, if you ask any of the businesses, is there will be a lack of people,” Kreif said. “Having a lack of people means you have economic problems. You make your money during the tourist season. Yeah, there is an issue.”
Klimes has visited the Bear Paw in the past, Kreif said.
“He’s been in here before and he never was a problem previous to Boulder Lake,” he said. “Model customer, perfect customer, no problem whatsoever.”
C-NNF crews are currently preparing to open Boulder Lake and more than 20 other campgrounds May 24, Markin said.
“We’re getting in there and doing water test samples, cleaning out the shower building, blowing off the campground pads and doing a hazard tree analysis,” she said. “We walk around the campground looking for any hazard trees and having appropriate trained staff take those down. All of those things that are happening right now to get everything ready for the opening.”
The forest typically has several of its campgrounds open in time for Wisconsin’s inland fishing opener, which this year fell on May 5. That didn’t happen because of a mid-April snowstorm that dropped up to 2 feet of snow throughout the forest.
Forest officials opened five of its campgrounds – Bagley Rapids, Bear Lake, Boot Lake, Laurel Lake and Pine Lake – May 11 and the others, including Boulder Lake, will open May 24.
Reservations for 28 of the forest’s campgrounds – including Boulder Lake – can be made online at www.recreation.gov oar by calling 877-444-6777.
Information on the forest’s campgrounds can be found at www.fs.usda.gov/CNNF or on its Facebook page and Twitter account.
“Boulder Lake Campground is a great place and lots of families enjoy going to camp there,” Markin said. “We’re very proud to open that back up to campers. The Forest Service is a public service agency, so we want to do our best to serve the public and give them access to their public lands. Having Boulder Lake Campground back open is a great thing.”
Greg Seubert covers sports for the Waupaca County Post, a Multi-Media Channels publication.