Plans under way for summer at Rockport

ALPENA TOWNSHIP – The Friends of Rockport/Besser Natural Area met Wednesday to discuss plans for a summer open house and a possible stargazing event, both to be held at Rockport State Recreation Area.

On June 22, the group is looking to bring a variety of outdoor events to the recreation area, much as they did in 2012 for its grand opening, friends group President Carol Dodge Grochowski said. Along with an informational booth about the friends group, they’re hoping to have numerous activities for visitors to try.

As part of the Department of Natural Resources Recreation 101 program, Erin Riopelle will bring her kayaks to the park, Grochowski said. Riopelle owns Adventureland Sports, a business that rents kayaks and surrey cycles in Alpena’s Duck Park. Joe Sobczak, who owns Thunder Bay Scuba in Alpena, has agreed to teach a basic snorkeling class, and Friends of Thompson’s Harbor State Park member Bill Grigg will lead a birding outing in Besser Natural Area.

Mike Theut, who owns most of Middle Island and the lighthouse on it, once again will give boat tours to the island, Grochowski said. There also will be tours out to the 13 sinkholes in the recreation area. Eric Ostrander, DNR unit supervisor, said the tours were extremely popular last year.

Other activities include fishing, geocaching and possibly scuba diving with Thunder Bay Divers, Grochowski said. The friends group would like to expand its collection of historic photos and information of the quarry operations and company town at Rockport, and the Michigan Karst Conservancy will be there to tell visitors about how Karst formations have shaped the area.

As the day coincides with the National Wildlife Federation’s Great American Backyard Campout, the friends group would like to see at least one of four backcountry campsites completed by June 22, Grochowski said. The DNR approved funding for the campsites, now theyjust need to be sited and built.

Ostrander told the group these campsites must be placed according to the recreation area land management plan, then approved by his supervisor and the DNR Stewardship Division.

“The funding’s there, the big thing is just deciding where to put them” he said.

Rockport Recreation Area also presents an opportunity for a Dark Skies event, where stargazers gather with their telescopes in a place far away from the city’s light pollution, Grochowski said. She’s talking with Christine Witulski, Besser Museum director, as well as the museum’s planetarium director about setting up a date for this.

“Rockport would be perfect,” she said. “Other than one utility light, which I’m hoping is on a switch, it would be the perfect place to do this.”

In other business:

  • Helen-Ann Prince, an AmeriCorps member with Huron Pines, told the friends group about the current progress with a project to turn two conveyor tunnels into bat hibernacula. Al Kurta, a professor from Eastern Michigan University, checked out one of the tunnels and found only one bat there. The other has its entrance blocked with a large pile of gravel. Volunteers will need to clear gravel away from one of the holes in the tunnel to make it easier for bats to get in and out, and pile up gravel on top to insulate it better in the winter months.
  • Friends of Rockport members are making progress marking the recreation area’s trails with GPS, Grochowski said. While discussing the options for marking a trail to the sinkhole, some asked Ostrander if it would be possible to put parking on property owned by the state, part of which is currently occupied by a repeater tower for Michigan State Police radios. Ostrander said he would look into it.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5688.