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Written by JOHN MORTON   
Wednesday, 06 September 2017 18:30

Peaceful, beautiful, clean, inexpensive and home to the only county-run campsites, it’s a hidden Fredonia treasure that more and more people are discovering

Did you know that Waubedonia Park is the only Ozaukee County-owned park that offers camping sites?
Shelly Keller, a Milwaukee resident who took in the campgrounds’ splendor on Labor Day, wants to keep that fact on the hush-hush.
“Shhhhh,” she said as she loaded up canoes after a weekend stay. “We want this to be a well-kept secret.”
But the word is out. The park, which  features 11 rustic campsites at point-blank range along the tree-lined Milwaukee River, is gaining in popularity. Part of it is the setting, another is the price.
“We had no idea about this,” said Milwaukee’s Ken Hess, who with camping partner Suzanne Manyon turned an impromptu visit into a five-day stay. “We Googled campsites in our price range and this is the only one that came up.
“I can’t believe that for $11 a night you can be right across the road from a river — what are we, about 100 feet away — and catch some real fish that you can put right on your campfire for cooking. And we’re talking bass and northern pike. You can never leave here and survive just fine.
“And again, $11 a night? Nothing’s cheaper.”
Several of the campsites feature electric hookups, and a few have been recently equipped with water hookups. All of them have a robust fire pit. You can reserve them or, if one is open, just pull in and pay up.
“They don’t even need a deposit,” said Appleton’s Philip Krier, who was camping with Keller. “They’ll take your word.”
The park is located on the border between the town and village of Fredonia on Highway A/H just east of County Road I and is part of the Ozaukee County parks system.
Krier knows about the hidden gem thanks to a job he got at the park as a county grounds worker back in 1980.
“I’ve come ever since. This is one of a kind,” he said.  “The convenience to the river is unmatched.”
Beyond the campsites, the sprawling park features canoe and kayak launches, grill and picnic areas, an open-air pavilion, tennis courts and ball fields.
Then there’s the hospitality.
“That’s what keeps us coming back — the feeling of family you get from (park caretaker) Dennis (Peterson),” said Milwaukee’s Don Gaspardo, who has been a regular at the park for 25 years. “Beyond keeping the place immaculate, he gets to know everyone who’s here and makes you feel at home.”
Peterson’s partner Suzy Betz and their 3-year-old daughter also play a key role as hosts.
“Suzy leaves messages on your tires when you’re not looking — we got ‘happy campers’ and some hearts on ours — and little Abby will pitch her little pink tent right next to you,” Gaspardo said. “The other night she said, ‘I think I’ll camp with you’ and that’s what she did.”
“That’s what we like hearing,” said Betz, who with Peterson and their daughter live in a small log house on the park’s grounds. “We love doing it, making people smile. Sometimes I’ll even leave a bouquet of flowers on the campers’ table.”
Peterson also enjoys the interaction with his guests.
“Customer service — that’s what it’s all about,” said Peterson, who has served in his position for nearly nine years. “It’s a job I love to do and the people I meet always seem so happy to be here. I’m pleased we have such a good reputation. I see the same people come back time after time after time after time.”
Gaspardo knows the feeling.
“Once you come here, you get hooked,” he said. ‘I came here every-other weekend this summer.”
And Krier knows about the incredible dedication displayed by Peterson.
“He brought us our firewood and even started our fire,” Krier said. “Then, when we got caught in the rain the other night, he drove us back to our car which we left down the road several miles. We wanted to canoe to our campsite.”
Gaspardo wasn’t surprised to hear that story.
“I told you — it’s like one big happy family,” he said. “The only problem is when I have to leave. If I didn’t catch enough fish, Dennis will call me when I get back home and say, ‘Don, you should have stayed longer. They started biting right after you left. I swear.’
“So I always have to come back.”

 
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