Shirley Olson keeps a photo of her husband Arnold with her when she goes camping at Dower Lake. The two started camping there regularly about 15 years ago, and since Arnold passed away five years ago, Shirley continues to come back to the campground they loved so much.

Olson enjoys camping at Dower Lake


Shirley Olson, of Brainerd has been coming back to camp at Dower Lake Recreation Area for the last 15 years. Even though her husband Arnold passed away five years ago, she still keeps coming back to preserve her memories and because she feels it is a great place to stay. “You get so much for so little,” she said. “I’ve been to a lot of campgrounds and this is as nice as any of them, with a good price and a beautiful lake.

They started camping at Dower Lake when Olson’s daughter had a friend playing in a softball tournament and told them about the campground. “We had to check it out,” said Olson.

They loved the idea of camping when the softball tournaments were being played. “Even when the campground is packed, it’s fun,” said Olson. “One year I woke up and found tents had been put up all around the camper. The noise doesn’t bother me, nobody gets rowdy, they are honest people.”

She likes the neighborly atmosphere of the campground. “Complete strangers will say ‘hi’ when they walk by,” said Olson. 

She lives in Brainerd now but had a place near Motley when they first started camping at Dower Lake.

Their love for the park showed in the ways they helped out. After softball tournaments, Arnold would go around and pick up the empty beer cans. “He thought it was so cool that they had the tournaments here and we could camp at the same time,” said Olson. 

Shirley said “Arnie was a jokester, he loved talking to the people around us. He made a lot of friends.”

 They would also pick up rocks out of the grass to protect the park’s lawn mowers. One year they placed a big rock in the crook of a tree and decided to leave it there. The next year it was still there and then the next. After a few years the tree began growing around the rock and now only a small portion of the rock is visible. “That’s our landmark,” said Olson.

The layers of tree rings growing around the rock remind Olson of the many layers of experiences they have had at the campground. “There are so many fun things,” she said, “a lot of memories.”

They enjoyed it so much, Olson said at least once a year they bring a big group of family and friends.

One year Olson and her husband were camping at Dower Lake for the Fourth of July weekend. They had six couples in their group and the women all went into to town to visit the dollar store. They came back with red, white and blue costumes and bags of candy. They formed their own parade and walked through the campground throwing candy to everyone.

“That’s what camping’s about, just loosen up and have fun,”She said.

In fact, the years they camped with their three kids, Olson said they had no rules and no bed time. “They always went to bed at a decent time because they were so tired from playing all day,” she said.

In Olson’s trips to Dower Lake, she stumbled upon a unique campground invention, the wheeled lawn chair. She has a nephew who collects old wheelchairs and he let her use a couple to bring camping. She uses them at the campfire, as the fire gets hotter or smokier, or dies down she just rolls the chair back and forth instead of getting up to move it.

Of course having a wheelchair at the campsite, it gets other uses, especially if kids or grandkids are around, like rolling down the hill in the chair. Now she uses it to carry firewood, so she doesn’t have to pack a heavy cart.

“They’re not just for handicapped people any more.”

Olson said she loves taking her twin granddaughters camping with her and last year they happened to be in town for a community celebration. “We had so much fun,” Olson said about face painting and other activities they participated in.

She still goes back and forth over the summer and stays three or four days at a time. “We are usually one of the first to camp in the spring and one of the last to leave in the fall,” said Olson. She remembers shivering around the campfire during her final camp out last year.

Olson loves camping so much, her kids bought her a small electric chain saw to help cut up firewood at the camp site. But she has other plans, too. She was disappointed that the stumps from last year’s storms had been cleared away because she was going to ask if she could use the chain saw to make a little play house for forest creatures.

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