For eight years, Terri Alberts has traveled north from Marion, Mich., to the Two-Hearted River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for the trout fishing opener, the fall salmon run and any other time she needed to escape to what she called her “happy place,” the campground at The Rainbow Lodge.

She had not been back since the devastating Duck Lake Fire tore through 33-plus square miles of northern Luce County and destroyed her camper at the Lodge campground. Last weekend, the first time the state forest campground at the rivermouth opened after the fire, she decided it was time to come up, the Sault Ste. Marie Evening News reported

“I cried buckets of tears over this,” she said Friday night after returning from trout fishing the river with her husband, Steve. “I knew our camper was gone. But all those people at the campground, I know I’m never going to see most of them again.

On a normal summer weekend, especially one with as perfect weather as this one, the campground is at full capacity with fisherman, ORVers, paddlers and agate hunters pouring in to get the premium riverside spots. On Friday night, less than half of the 16 available sites on the western loop were taken. The eastern loop remains closed indefinitely due to heavier tree and infrastructure damage, as does Culhane Lake and Pike Lake state forest campgrounds, and the Two Hearted ORV trail east of County Road 414. The Culhane Lake boat launch is open.

Alberts was up with her husband trout fishing on a pair of kayaks and said they caught two small rainbow trout that they released back in the river. “When I heard about the fire, I was like, ‘Oh no, my fish are boiling,'” she said. “But they’re still there.”

The familiar tableau of sky blue, deep blue to brownish water and green trees was replaced with the dark amber of burnt jack pine needles and black, charred tree stumps. Trees damaged in the fire were cut down and turned into free firewood and wood chips. The smell of campfire was replaced by the distinctive odor of burning birch.

“I actually expected worse,” Alberts said. “We saw a deer on the way in, and that was so nice to see, that there’s still life in here.”

Signs of life are already returning throughout the fire area, with a bright green layer of ferns covering the forest floor. Anticipation of next year’s morel mushroom and wild blueberry crops is growing, said Jackie McInnes of Galesburg, who had a waterfront site.

McInnes’ campsite was a lesson in how fickle the fire was in picking its targets. To the east were luscious green trees, untouched and full of life; turn around and the trees were burned and charred.

“There’s more life than I thought there would be,” she said. “Out of all this devastation is life. That’s the natural process. We knew it burned up here; we wanted to see the new growth. I can’t believe how quickly everything has come back.”

The river flows the same. The fish are biting the same. Lake Superior washes ashore prized agates as always. The bridge still stands. The Lodge is gone, but not all is lost. Not by a longshot.

“This is my happy place, my godsend, my most beautiful place on earth,” Alberts said.”