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.
Sales figures from the first three months of the new Michigan Recreation Passport show increasing participation by motorists who are renewing their vehicle license plates through the secretary of state, according to a news release from the Department of Natural Resources and Environment.
Participation rates steadily increased from October 2010, when the Recreation Passport was first offered, through December.
The Recreation Passport Program went into effect on Oct.1. Resident passenger vehicle owners were offered the opportunity to purchase a $10 Recreation Passport ($5 for resident motorcycles) when they registered their plates with the secretary of state. The Recreation Passport enables a resident vehicle/motorcycle to enter all Michigan state parks, recreation areas and boating access fee sites for 12 months. The passport also will provide funding for state forest recreation programs, such as state forest campgrounds and non-motorized trails and pathways.
“The Recreation Passport appears to be off to a solid start with Michigan residents,” said Department of Natural Resources Director-Designate Rodney Stokes. “We are encouraged by the steady increase in sales, and plan to continue building upon it.”
The participation percentages of Recreation Passports sold against eligible participants at Michigan Secretary of State offices, online and at state parks were:
- October, 17.2% participation.
- November, 19.3% participation.
- December, 20.6% participation.
Through Dec. 31, a total of 318,035 Recreation Passports were sold to Michigan residents renewing motor vehicle license plates through the Michigan Secretary of State; 6,968 were sold to residents renewing motorcycle license plates; and 6,590 were sold at state parks and recreation areas.
Non-resident visitors must still purchase the traditional non-resident motor vehicle permit at the rate of $29 for an annual permit, or $8 for a daily pass. On average, 28,000 non-resident annual permits are sold annually.
The Michigan state park and recreation system has over $300 million of deferred infrastructure repair needed in the 98 state parks and recreation areas. The previous motor vehicle permit sales model did not generate enough revenue to address infrastructure needs.
“We are pleased that sales are increasing despite the fact we had a very small budget to do any kind of promotion or paid advertising to support the Recreation Passport,” said Ron Olson, chief of the DNRE Recreation Division.
“We encourage Michigan citizens to make this easy $10 investment in outdoor recreation to help our state’s tourism economy and small businesses that benefit from the nearly $650 million state park visitors spend in our state every year.”
Olson said the DNRE is working closely with Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to find ways to encourage residents to purchase the Recreation Passport and to save time by renewing their plates online through the Secretary of State’s website at www.michigan.gov/sos.
Information about the Recreation Passport can also be obtained online at www.michigan.gov/recreationpassport, or by calling the information line at (517) 241-7275.
Michigan-based General RV provided a Class A motorhome (shown at left) which has been decorated and will be used in a three-month tour to promote Michigan’s new $10 Recreation Passport.
The $10 will buy each resident a Recreation Passport, and the program is Michigan’s solution for funding recreation destinations. It begins Oct. 1.
As explained in an article in Great Lakes Camper, instead of spending $24 for an annual motor vehicle permit or boating access permit, Michigan residents will now be asked to support the Recreation Passport with an optional $10 fee when renewing their vehicle registration with the secretary of state. The license plate renewal sticker received from the secretary of state will have a designation that indicates the Recreation Passport payment. If an individual purchases their Recreation Passport fee at the park, the park will provide an identifying sticker.
The current system brings in $11 million. But if just 25% of residents pay the $10 Recreation Passport, $18 million is generated. If there’s 50% participation, $36 million is generated; $55 million for 75% participation and $72 million if every resident buys the Recreation Passport.
But, for the plan to work, people have to choose to pay the tax. So the state is about to embark on a whirlwind tour to convince its residents the $10 is money well spent.
This will not be an easy thing to do. Not the RV tour, that’s easy. But convincing people to dig deeper into their wallets will be a tough sell. Look no further than the recent August elections. How many local millages were successful? Not many.
Regardless, the state can’t afford for the Recreation Passport to fail. That’s why the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) is launching the “Road to Recreation” RV tour, a three-month tour of Michigan’s festivals, concerts and best destinations.
At the heart of the tour is a 32-foot recreational vehicle completely wrapped with inspiring images of wildlife, beaches, outdoor activities and smiling faces, thanks to the financial support of Merrell, a Michigan-based shoe and apparel company, and General RV.
“This is a great new way to support our state’s most important natural resource — our park and forest land,” said Dennis Anderson, spokesman for General RV. “The Michigan state parks are a big part of why so many people vacation in Michigan and it is important we adequately fund them for the future of our state.”
The RV will make stops along the tour to share information about the $10 Recreation Passport, which — starting Oct. 1 — will replace the current state park sticker and provide easy access into all Michigan state parks, recreation areas and boat launches. The Recreation Passport will also preserve state forest campgrounds and trails, historic and cultural sites in state parks and local parks, too.
Husband-and-wife team of 43 years, Eliot and Naomi Haycock — residents of Chassell in the Upper Peninsula — happily volunteered to drive the RV. A retired state of Michigan employee, Eliot and his enthusiastic wife, Naomi, said they are up for the adventure. Both are longtime park enthusiasts, having camped in many state and national parks over the last 30 years.
“I think it’s been 30 years,” said Eliot. “We’ve been (camping) so long, we’ve kind of lost track.” The two have been campground hosts for the past five years at Fort Wilkins State Park in the Keweenaw Peninsula.
“We love Michigan and, as campground hosts, have been able to help share our love for camping” said Eliot. “We love to travel and we love Michigan state parks, and we thought this would be fun to try something different for the summer.”
The Haycocks are responsible for getting the RV to each event during the three-month tour. Once on site, it will be staffed by local DNRE employees who will be on hand to explain the Recreation Passport and how it will benefit Michigan in many different ways.
Facing a mounting fiscal crisis, the state of Michigan is seeking help to decide how to best begin to divest itself of some of its state campgrounds.
The state has already closed some campgrounds to meet reduced funding levels. Looking to the future, if funding cuts continue, as expected, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in Lansing is looking for public input on how to further shrink the cost of state campgrounds, according to examiner.com.
The DNR has created a questionnaire <http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153–220003–RSS,00.html> for the general public to help it establish which criteria should guide decision making on reducing expenses to meet the expected revenues.
“The campground evaluation process includes an opportunity for the public to provide their thoughts on what criteria should be considered when evaluating the state forest’s 145 campgrounds and two cabin facilities for downsizing,” the DNR stated. “The public will then be asked to rank each criteria in their importance for making this evaluation.”
The DNR has identified six criteria to be used in this effort as outlined on this questionnaire. They are:
- Campground quality.
- Renovation needs.
- Associated recreation activities.
- Proximity to other campgrounds.
- Use and occupancy.
- Financial sustainability.
There is space for the public to add other criteria. The form <http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153–220003–RSS,00.html> on the website asks respondents to rank which criteria are most important. All responses are due to the DNR by close of business on Sept. 14.
There are two PowerPoint presentations <http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153–220003–RSS,00.html> that provide a history of the campground funding and a description of the evaluation process.