There's a new sight greeting visitors at Lake Shetek State Park. Orange construction fencing winds its way around trees, temporary roads and what used to be the park's lakeside campsites. Across the road, about eight acres of land waits for paving equipment and grass seed.
"It does look different," said park manager Kerry Christoffer. "The fences are there to protect the trees from the heavy equipment."
Several acres of former brush and farmland was cleared at Lake Shetek State Park in June to make way for a new 32-site campground. Construction of toilets and picnic shelters is complete, while stakes mark the locations of electric, sewer and water hookups.
The landscaping and construction is all part of an extensive revamp of the park campgrounds begun this summer, Christoffer said. The project will leave the former Wolf Point Campgrounds with fewer, but bigger, campsites, and add a second campground featuring full electric and water hook-ups.
It's an arrangement that's good for the lake and the campers.
"The needs of people after 50 years have changed," Christoffer said. Campsites with electric hookups are more in demand now, he said.
The redesign of Wolf Point, which will be renamed Oak Leaf Campground, brings in 50-amp electric hookups at the campsites. Three more camper cabins will also join Shetek's current rental cabin. "The camper cabin is always popular," Christoffer said.
Christoffer estimated the total cost of the project at just under $2 million. Funding for the project comes from 2008 state bonding and funds from the 2010 Legacy Act.
Another important feature of the redesign is that it leaves more elbow room between campsites. The total number of sites will go down from 78 to 42. Fewer sites on the lakeshore means less congestion for campers, but also less runoff and erosion, Christoffer said.
"One of the big concerns here is that runoff will get into the lake," Christoffer said. "We also want to protect the trees as best we can." The redesign will also include some drainage improvements meant to prevent runoff, he said.
Construction on the Wolf Point/Oak Leaf campground began this month, Christoffer said, but it's actually the second phase of the construction project. In June, land was cleared and developed for a brand-new campground, Sunrise Campground, that will have 32 sites with sewer, water and electric hookups.
"Pretty much the only thing left after this is to get it seeded, and put the tar roads in," Christoffer said. The area was once a stand of new-growth ash trees.
"It was actually what a lot of people would call brush," he said. "And the land used to be farmed, so it's been disturbed," and developing it would have less of an impact on the ecosystem. The location is also conveniently close to the other campgrounds and shower facilities. "It worked out real good."
The Sunrise campground is laid out in two "pods" of campsites, each with a central picnic shelter. Christoffer said solar panels will be installed on the shelter roofs, which would help generate electricity for the campgrounds.
Construction at the park means that campers' choices are more limited for now. The drive-in campgrounds are closed, as is the park's camper cabin. (Christoffer said he's even taken the campsites off of the DNR's online reservations system.) But the Zuya Group Center is still available, as are cart-in and rustic campsites.
There has been a dip in park visitors since the Wolf Point campground closed, Christoffer said - both in campers, and day visitors to some extent.
"I think a lot of people would come to visit folks at the campgrounds," Christoffer said. "You can see the difference it makes."
Christoffer said there isn't a set date for completion, but the goal would be to have at least the Sunrise campgrounds open for reservations sometime next summer.