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Lake Manchaug campground: Another day in paradise

By Rod Lee

Bill Staruk with his quaint sense of humor and a smile on his face says “I like to think people are coming here to see me, but it’s the lake.”

He understands the compulsion. Lake Manchaug Camping LLC, as the family’s property on Oak St. in Douglas is known, sits astride one of the most picturesque bodies of water in New England.

With just under two hundred sites available from May 1st to October 1st, including about sixty featuring “direct waterfront” access, Lake Manchaug Camping—which is celebrating its 70th year in operation in 2017—is a most desirable retreat for people wanting a pristine and sedate environment in which to get away from the hustle and bustle.

That wasn’t always the case, however, Mr. Staruk points out.

When his parents, Joe and Janice (both deceased), bought the campground from Andy Sanborn “it was a dump, really bad,” Mr. Staruk said. “It took me five years, strong years, to clean the place. Worst you’d ever see. I took over a thousand refrigerators out of here, a thousand propane bottles, deck material and wooden shacks. Drugs and prostitution were rampant. It took me another ten years to put in new power and a water system. I did that myself. I evicted ninety seasonal families. There were school buses painted psychedelic colors. Now it’s a sparking gem.”

Bill Staruk describes himself as “a campground baby.” He was transitioning between jobs after his parents took over when his dad said to him “I need help.” He’s been on-site ever since, maintaining and managing with his wife Karen and sons Mike and Nick. He is on-call 24/7. “I’ve been called out of bed many times,” he said, ignoring a large and seemingly angry bumble bee that buzzed against the windows of the campground’s office—which is open to the outside—while he talked.

Campgrounds are in his blood. “We used to own Sutton Falls (on Manchaug Road),” he said. “That was just a little picnic grove. We turned it into a campground.”

The Sanborn family “came over on the boat, owned half of the land in the Blackstone Valley,” Mr. Staruk said, in what might be a slight exaggeration” (hard to tell because the mischievous glint in his eye suggests that he enjoys pulling someone’s leg). “When the Depression hit Andy’s dad had to sell off land, fifty dollars apiece for waterfront lots. When the Depression broke he had this left. We have seventy-five acres here. A neighbor owns fifty acres across the street, another neighbor owns another thirty acres.”

Campsites with full hookup are sprinkled to either side of the entrance/exit road at the top of Oak St. The road drops to Lake Shore Drive, which envelopes the southern end of Lake Manchaug with a number of campsites situated at the end of the water on both sides. There are restrooms and showers, a horseshoe pit, a swim dock, a boat ramp, a tent pavilion in “The Field,” laundry facilities and areas for basketball and volleyball. Live music is available to campers during the summer. “Superior fishing” is a given.

Bill Staruk doesn’t think of his campground as camping in the sense of pitching a tent and building a fire. He is proud that it is a whole lot more than that.

“I call it glamping,” he said. “Glamour camping.”

Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.