The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is lowering fees at state forest campgrounds, The Associated Press reported.
DNR Director Rodney Stokes announced the rollbacks last week during a meeting of the Natural Resources Commission. He says the changes will align fees for state forest campgrounds more closely with those at state parks and recreation areas with similar features.
The per-night charge at most state forest campgrounds will be $13, down from $15 previously.
The rate will be reduced from $20 to $17 for equestrian state forest campgrounds, those associated with ORV trails and the semi-modern Houghton Lake state forest campground.
Michigan has about 270 state forest campsites in 11 counties.
Users also must purchase a Recreation Passport for their vehicles, which is required at all state parks, recreation areas, and state-administered boating access fee sites.
Michigan’s state forest campgrounds will stay open this summer after all, according to state officials who say the controversial plan to permanently close 23 sites is being sent back to the drawing board.
“The director wants to evaluate whether there is a better way to manage them,” said Mary Dettloff, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
The Grand Rapids Press reported that DNR Director Rodney Stokes was expected to approve the closures this week. He is instead “withdrawing the closure order” according to Dettloff and is asking staff to further examine what is needed to make the program run.
The agency proposed closing 23 campgrounds in April due to budget constraints. The campgrounds slated for closure either generated little revenue and cost too much to run or were close enough to other similar campgrounds that savings could be accrued by closing one.
DNR staff is expected to return with a new plan by October, the start of the new fiscal year.
That plan may include better marketing, funding, management or more involvement of local partners or cooperative management by the state parks program.
The agency also announced its first local partnership with Clinton Township, which offered to lease McCollum Lake State Forest Campground in Oscoda County. McCollum was one of the 23 sites slated for closure.
The township will get a special “use-permit” for this year, according to Dettloff, while provisions of the lease are worked out.
“We expect that we will be able to realize enough savings under our management, that this facility will break even and possibly even turn a profit,” said Ken Troyer, the township supervisor in a press release.
Lynn Boyd, Michigan’s state forest chief, said she will be working up a cost estimate to keep the rustic campground program going this year. The decision to close 23 campgrounds came after the legislature reduced the program’s general fund appropriation by $314,000. The agency closed 12 rustic campgrounds in 2009, also due to budget constraints.
DNR staff said they do not yet know where the money will come from to make up for the general fund cut.
The original decision to close the campgrounds caused a frenzy of activity around the state, including the introduction of a bill by Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, in April that compelled the DNR to offer any closed campgrounds to local townships for $1 within 30 days of the bill’s passage, or the county if a township declined.
If neither were to take it within 60 days the DNR would have to put them up for sale or public auction.
Casperson later said he introduced the bills to just slow the DNR closure process down. He then worked with Sens. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, and John Moolenaar, R-Midland, to get a supplemental spending bill passed to keep the campgrounds open, but that part of the bill was vetoed by Gov. Rick Snyder.
It called for taking money from the state’s forest protection (firefighting) fund to pay for rustic campgrounds and replacing those funds with money from the state’s Forest Development Fund.
Snyder said he vetoed it because DNR staff was “already able to identify alternate sources of funding to keep the campgrounds open.”
Casperson, apparently unaware of the veto, issued a press release six days after Synder’s action, claiming to have saved the campgrounds with that funding.