Ludington State Park Improvements

State of Michigan

State Park upgrades its electrical, water, and wastewater system without missing a (summer) beat.


As one of Michigan’s most popular destinations, Ludington State Park features five miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and many attractions. Yearly, 850,000 visitors and 200,000 campers come for the trails, scenery, lighthouse, and its historic beach house.

Ludington State Park was one of the first state parks established in Michigan, and some of its infrastructure was over 60 years old. Prein&Newhof designed new electrical hookups to handle modern camping equipment, a better water supply and distribution system, improvements to its sanitary dump stations, and designed everything so it preserved the environment and did not inconvenience campers. The improvements enhance the overall experience of a weekend away in the park’s pristine natural setting. The enhancements ensure that the electrical system within the park is reliable and can handle the demands of newer and larger recreational vehicles. The showers have more pressure and the entire water system can still operate even when a well is down for maintenance. Gone is the frustration of a two hour (or more) wait to empty an RV’s holding tank during busy holiday weekends.

A concurrent project restored the historic beach house, built in 1935, to its original state, which required some infrastructure work including new water and sewer lines.

Planning

The design team met with Park staff to learn all the issues they experienced operating their water system. Their issues included low water pressures, reliability, aging pipe, leaks, corroding water tanks, recurring bacterial contamination, and a limited ability to isolate system leaks. Prein&Newhof completed a system evaluation to identify all the needs of the system.
Although not originally planned as part of this project, we strongly urged the MDNR to consider replacing some of its wells and ancillary equipment due to age and deterioration. Before completing construction, some of this equipment failed. It failed on a busy holiday weekend when the campgrounds were full. Fortunately, P&N’s initial analysis of the park’s water system allowed park staff to make some adjustments in the existing system to allow it to continue operating.

Design

In recent years, Ludington State Park had experienced increasing water main breaks in its 1940s-vintage galvanized piping system. With over 300 campsites in three separate areas, a reliable water system was critical. The State Park improved its water supply with over three miles of new water main, directionally drilled under wooded sand dunes between the three campground areas and within each campground loop; replacing one and improving two supply wells for each campground; and interconnecting the separate well systems for better reliability and redundancy.

In laying out the new water system, park staff asked that P&N’s design consider several criteria. These included the need to minimize land disturbance through very hilly and heavily wooded terrain, sand dunes over 80 feet high, and an archeologically significant area. P&N specified directional drilling so the contractor installed water pipes without disturbing any of these features. P&N’s design limited open excavation to those areas already developed.

A major issue at the park was that on holiday weekends, particularly Memorial Day and Labor Day, the majority of the 352 campsite renters left on Monday morning. This overwhelmed the area where campers emptied their waste. A line of vehicles backed up on a state highway from the main dump station, bringing traffic to a halt and upsetting campers. P&N designed a new main entrance and dump station equipped with four lanes for vehicles to dump their waste and a completely new and enlarged waste disposal system including a septic pump and drain field. The design incorporated a new traffic flow pattern and parking at the main entrance. Now, there is enough room for campers obtaining permits and for those waiting to use the dump station. We worked closely with the DNR to minimize disturbance and obtain permitting for the new waste disposal system, which is located in a critical dune area.

Construction

Ludington State Park’s campgrounds are the busiest in Michigan, so the construction schedule was crucial to avoid work in the campground from mid-May through Labor Day. The project team worked closely with park staff to ensure that those enjoying a long weekend of fall colors or those staying during the hunting season had at least one undisturbed, open campground.
Many of the existing utilities’ locations were unknown, yet they had to remain in service during construction. Constructing the project in stages allowed the proper location of utilities ahead of time to avoid conflicts with new utilities and minimize system shut downs.

During construction we found that an existing parking lot at the day use area was falling apart due because it was constructed directly onto beach sand with no gravel base. Thanks to cost savings elsewhere on the project, the worst part of this area was repaved as part of the project. The pavement should provide a usable parking lot for a number of years until money is appropriated to reconstruct the entire parking lot with a new aggregate base.

Operation

The original water system consisted of a well and well house at each of the campgrounds. Although these systems were connected to each other, they typically operated individually except when maintenance or repairs were required on an individual system. Buildings throughout each campground had individual pressure tanks. During peak usage, park staff opened the interconnections to provide additional capacity to the system, but during peak demands pressures in the system still were inadequate, forcing park staff to shut down some showers.

P&N’s design improved operation by specifying a new water main to within 5 feet of all existing buildings. Piping, valves and new, more accessible water spigots now serve the three main campgrounds so that each campground is served even when one supply well is down. In addition, interconnects will be included linking each of the campgrounds. Interconnects featured flushing hydrants so maintenance crews can flush the lines between campgrounds following long shutdown periods. New valves allow staff to isolate different sections of the campgrounds for maintenance.

The electrical system in the park’s Pines Campground had become unreliable and did not supply the type of electrical needs currently in demand with today’s camping equipment. Improvements included replacing buried aluminum conductors and adding access points to the lines for repairs, new power pedestals, new power feeds to the bath houses, and a re–feed to the park’s warming facility, and fish cleaning station.

The MDNR proposed that each campground have its own walk–up dump station to take pressure off the main dump station and to minimize the amount of driving in and out of the campground—an innovation that Ludington State Park Manager Jim Gallie thinks, due to its popularity, may become the norm for campgrounds in the future. They provide an easy way for campers to empty their waste disposal containers without driving to the main dump station.

Maintenance

Since the new water and electrical systems are more efficient, maintenance will be much easier. The new system was designed with valves at all water pedestals, dump stations, and building services to allow for quick connection to a compressor to blow the system out for winterization. Prior to this project, the valves were not consistent or not all present.
The main had been subject to numerous breaks per year, one of which was found during construction. The new system is more reliable as its joints are fusion welded and the pipe material does not corrode.

Awards

The West Michigan Branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers presented Prein&Newhof with the 2014 Quality of Life Award for its work on Ludington State Park.

Contact

Project Manager Barbara Marczak, PE, (231) 798-0101

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