Michigan Closing 23 Underused Campgrounds
Twenty three rustic state forest campgrounds in Michigan will close permanently in May if a proposal before the Natural Resources Commission is approved next month, The Grand Rapids Press reported.
The closures would leave 110 of the DNR’s state forest campgrounds still standing. The agency closed 12 others in 2009 due to budget constraints.
State officials said the closures are a financial necessity. General Fund support for the program was reduced by $314,700 for fiscal year 2011, and less-used campgrounds are unable to pull their weight financially.
By closing some of these campgrounds that aren’t putting money in the coffers, the state will save staff time providing maintenance at these rustic spots.
“We will come up with a plan to decommission each one,” said Jim Radabaugh, the forest recreation program leader with the DNR. That means shutting off water pumps at the sites and yanking fire rings and picnic tables.
Radabaugh presented the proposal to the NRC on Thursday (April 7). If supported, it will be enacted in May by DNR Director Rodney Stokes.
Stokes said the agency would turn management of the campgrounds over to local authorities, if the opportunity arises.
“We will be glad to work with the municipalities who want to take them over,” he said.
State forest campgrounds differ from state park campgrounds in that they are smaller, quieter, more remote and have simple amenities like a water pump rather than hot and cold showers and outhouses rather than flush toilets.
Those slated for closure scored lowest in a ranking done by DNR staff, using criteria largely provided by the public in 2009 after the agency sought camper feedback about how to decide which to close. Agency staff said then they expected a big cut in 2011 and wanted to be prepared.
“We anticipated that the General Fund would be cut again,” said Brenda Curtis, state forest campground program manager. “And we anticipate that it will be cut even more next year to the point that we don’t get anything. “
The state forest recreation program did receive $242,000 in General Funds for 2011. In 2010, its budget was $1.9 million, with $556,700 coming from General Fund dollars. The balance came from camping fees and the state waterways fund, which supports the maintenance of boat ramps at each of the campgrounds.
Curtis said camping revenue has gone up because fees were raised, but use of rustic campgrounds has declined. Price has had an effect, she said. Campers have complained about the general $15-a-night camping fee.
The Forest Recreation program is slated to receive a portion of the state’s new Passport program revenues, once a threshold is met for funds going to Michigan State Parks, but Radabaugh said it won’t change the outcome.
“Those campgrounds are still not being used,” he said. “The demand for use of the rustic facilities is not there at the level we need, so we have to reduce the program so we are leaner and can sustain the program.”
Michigan’s state forest chief, Lynn Boyd, said in 2009 that occupancy was running about 50% for the system and that little marketing had been done to elevate public awareness about the rustic campground program. That was something she hoped to turn around.
Boyd could not be reached for comment, but Curtis said marketing efforts had been sidelined by the uncertainty of not knowing which site might be closed.
Stokes, the DNR director, said there is not enough information available to determine why people are not coming to the less-used rustic campground: whether they do not like them, think they cost too much, or simply do not know about them. Stokes said the agency needs to have more information about its prospective customers.
Meanwhile the lowest-producing campground generated only $306 in camping fees last year. Radabaugh said the average cost to manage a campground is about $8,060 per year. One campsite at the campground costs on average $309 to manage.