Thursday, November 6, 2014

Curiosity Along the Roadside

When I was a child we took car vacations every year. My parents were not people of high monetary means, so we stayed at cheap motels and ate of lot of fast food. But the one thing I remember the most is always on the first day of vacation we ate a packed lunch at a roadside park.


Also every summer we spent a day in Ludington at the City Park and Beach. I remember these trips so fondly. The highlight of those days was a picnic lunch of Kentucky Fried Chicken, then an afternoon spent playing on the beach alongside Lake Michigan. 

In the early days of our marriage we also had little monetary means so I continued the tradition of packing a lunch on the first day of vacation and we would eat at a roadside park. These days we seek out local restaurants instead, as does most of the traveling population. 


When we travel I still get a nostalgic feeling when I see a roadside park and feel a little sad when I don't see any cars at them. Is the death of roadside parks imminent? 

Then last week Scout, our golden retriever, and I had an adventure day. Obviously I can't bring him into a restaurant with me and I am not a fan of leaving my dog in the car. So we sought out a roadside park. I had stopped at a Subway to pick up some lunch for me and I had his food packed in his travel bag.


I began thinking maybe the roadside park can be brought back by us, or at least we should take advantage of them while they still exist. Scout did great, quietly sitting by my side while I ate my lunch, this is the perfect solution for us.

This week we had another adventure day planned so I began looking for a roadside park on our route where we could enjoy lunch. There is actually a map you can print out of all the roadside parks in Michigan, they are more plentiful than I would have thought.

This got me curious about the history of roadside parks, so I did some research.


Herbert F. Larson started the idea of the roadside park. History records that the idea goes back to 1918 in the early days of auto touring. Larson was then a history-minded highway engineer just out of the University of Michigan School of Engineering. After school he returned to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to manage the highway department in Iron County.


The inspiration of the roadside park idea came from a disappointed Sunday outing to a nearby Wisconsin lake county for a picnic. In 1919 Northern Wisconsin lake resorts were growing rapidly. On that particular Sunday, Larson tried to have a cookout with a group of friends. Everywhere they went the property caretaker asked them to not have their picnic on the property and escorted them off the grounds.

Larson wrote:

"In Upper Michigan we could go where we 
chose with no one to bother us."

He did not want the nearby Upper Peninsula to suffer a similar loss of the much-loved past time of picnicking. This is where he was inspired with the idea of a wide right of way road spot as a roadside park. Larson's roadside park idea quickly spread all over the United States, they were in most states by the 1920's. His roadside park idea soon attracted large gatherings and became a trend-setting phenomenon.


A roadside park will generally be found in a rural setting. Of course back in the 1920's when these were created everywhere was rural. The roadside park with the use of picnic tables is the predecessor of the modern rest area/travel plaza. 

I love the fact that a guy from Michigan created these lovely pastimes.

Do you have memories of picnicking at a roadside park? I would love to hear.

*Historic information gathered from Wikipedia

Joining Kim for Friday Finds


26 comments:

  1. There's nothing quite like a picnic when out on a trip. I don't know much about roadside parks, I'm not sure they exist here as most people prefer to get away from the sight and sound of the road to have their picnics. I like the sound of yours though, they look as if they're really in the countryside in beautiful surroundings.

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  2. Very interesting history and super photos to go with it. When I was kid our family never had a car. So I have been making up for it my adult life. The wife and I travelled with our kids the same your parents did with you. Now we are down to just the two of us and our vacations are still done with the picnic and cheap motels. One nice thing is that a lot of the roadside parks now have flush toilets.

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  3. How very interesting. I've always loved picnics, and these picnic parks are great favourites with us as we drive through France with Maxi-the-wonder-dog to get home to Spain. They appear regularly on the French motorways, and you quickly learn that the toilet facilities will be much better in those parks that also have a restaurant complex (!). The French are wonderfully tolerant of and enthusiastic about dogs so we often find that we can take him inside with us, but when we can't we buy some bread, and feast outside on fresh bread, cheese and pâté with some fruit chasers. All the best, Bonny

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  4. nice photos. We try eat at roadsides often when on a road trip.

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  5. We enjoy eating outdoors...nothing like fresh air and food flavors mixed. Memories of roadside picnic areas are still vivid in my mind, as a child and an adult. Very interesting to read about the history of the official roadside parks and Mr. Larson. A wonderful post today Sarah!

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  6. I always enjoy your blog posts, but this has got to be my favorite of all time! You combined your personal story, historical background, and scenic photos to tell a story that is certainly magazine worthy. I do remember stopping to picnic at roadside parks as a child (mostly bologna sandwiches, chips, and a soda), and we still stop a these sweet little parks when we travel now. To save money and save my sensitive stomach from fast food, we often pack our lunch and stop to eat at any picnic table we can find. Your story has given me a great idea. I often meet friends for coffee - next time I'll pack my thermos of hot chocolate, a healthy egg wrap and meet at the nearest roadside park - like a mini-vacation from the daily routines of life.

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  7. Such lovely images --especially of the one with Scout! We don't have roadside parks around here, but if we do, I would be there often. I love the calm and peace in your images.

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  8. OH Sarah,,,,, I so enjoyed your visit to the parks,,,,,love your stories and pics,,,,,my fondest memory of having picnics at a roadside park is with my in-laws.... (both gone now),,,,, We would visit them in Quebec during the summer and grandpa would always want to have a picnic .....grandma not so much,,,it seemed like too much work for her :-) We would all help pack a lunch and off we would go,,,,it always had to be the same roadside park near a little covered bridge. So many happy memories there,,,,, thanks for sharing ,,,,

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  9. Through the south many 'rest areas' have incorporated picnic tables for folk to stop and eat. I can not tell you how many pictures of my early childhood include photos taken from a Sunday road trip, picnic fashion at a wide-spot in the road or a roadside park. We carried the tradition with our children when they were really young and very picky eaters - we simply got fed-up with paying for food they had no interest in eating.
    Great memories and thank you for helping them to resurface with both your images and research.

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  10. Such great photos! We often pack a lunch for the first day if our trips. Even in the plane if we're going 4-5 hours. We didn't do this growing up though.

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  11. I so remember as a child going out and stopping somewhere to have a cup of tea that was brewed on a little paraffin stove. I can still smell that paraffin smell. Nowadays it's a motorway service station en route, but Mark and I are now going back to the idea of a Thermos as it is so expensive to have coffee on the road. Thanks for sharing your memories Sarah...

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  12. We used to picnic every Saturday in the summer, somewhere 'up in the mountains.' AND we did yearly road trips, AND we ate every day a picnic lunch, usually at a rest stop along the interstate. Thanks for bringing me back...

    xoxo

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  13. Love your remembrance of this as a child. I too had memories of picnics at roadside parks. When I was little my grandfather was quite ill for several years, and ever friday, my mother and I would leave our town to drive to where my grandparents lived to help out for the weekend. My father would follow on the train in the evening, and then we would drive back on Sunday to our home. We always packed a picnic in a basket similar to yours, and stopped at a roadside park on the way. I remember lots of fun family converstions and times at these roadside parks. Thanks for sharing. Love your photos.

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  14. This definitely brings back memories! My childhood vacations always included picnics at roadside parks. We've even thrown up a tent or slept in the back of a station wagon at a park a time or two! That's the only way mom and dad could afford to take us on vacation. We didn't always have money for even a cheap motel! Enjoyed your thoughts and your images!

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  15. Yes - soggy cheese sandwiches on white bread and slightly warm orange squash from a plastic container which always had an odd smell ! Happy memories though! A great post - I love that you're taking Scout on your adventures.

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  16. Yeah... I finally got an update. We used to take long drives to Florida when I was a kid to visit my grandparents. There were so many of us my parents could not afford to take us out to a restaurant so she would pack food and we would eat at the roadside parks. I remember eating cold chicken... not to bad at the time.

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  17. my kids LOVE when I pack a picnic and head to the park!!

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  18. thank you for the trip down memory lane...I definitely remember eating picnic lunches in the park growing up in Wis - we had a family of 8 so we never ate at a restaurant! Your historical information is fascinating...appreciate your research...now when we travel, we almost always stop at the roadside parks along the way, especially if we have Calvin with us...always better out enjoying nature!

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  19. Wow Sarah, this really hit the hearts of so many - and me, too! Always fried chicken and potato salad! Yum! Now no one eats fried anything and heaven help us is the potato salad sits out too long. How ever did we survive? Thanks for the memory. I love seeing Scout. I'm so glad you're spending time with him. This post is just one more reason why I love your posts! Thanks!

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  20. Such a fun trip! Yes, we used to stop at roadside parks to picnic both when I was a child and early in our marriage. We never do it any more. I can't wait to see what other beautiful roadside parks you and Scout find!

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  21. I'm very familiar with rest areas (and quite thankful for them), even though for YEARS in California, they were sometimes rather sketchy places to stop at. I am happy to say that is no longer the case. My first trip to Michigan showed my what rest areas could really be like - beautiful places for rest and photography. This past summer we were driving through Kansas when I noticed a sign for a Roadside Picnic area. That was the first time I heard of one. Hubby, being from Michigan, explained them to me. His memories were much like yours, too. Enjoyed your post and photos - as always.

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  22. We used to picnic at roadside parks all the time! Maybe people are rushing from one place to the next, too busy to take time to stop and enjoy the beauty outside. Your photos are lovely and it looks like your doggie is very content :)

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  23. What wonderful memories you have shared of enjoying roadside parks. It makes me want to pack a picnic basket and just find a park to enjoy nature. I love the photos you have shared, I can just imagine the smell of the fresh air!

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  24. Enjoyed your post, hearing some of the history of Roadside Parks . . .
    I liked seeing Scout too . . .

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  25. What a wonderful post! I enjoyed both your memories and the history lesson very much. You've reminded me of how much I enjoy taking a thermos and packed lunch - or even just a snack - when hitting the road. I'd forgotten that lately.

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  26. Loved reading the history of your roadside parks:) I have definitely noticed them disappearing here in RI and those that remain are not used much as far as I can see. My husband and I were just recently talking about this!

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Thank you so much for visiting today and taking the time to read my thoughts on life. :)