What do you envision when you picture a 102-year-old building? Do the words “dilapidated,” “run-down,” or “barely standing” come to mind?
Michigan’s state park system is 102-years-old.
In fact, the first state park in the U.S. is Mackinac Island State Park, dating back to 1895. This rich history is appealing to visitors, but with infrastructure in serious need of repairs, will visitors continue to flock to the state parks in Michigan?
Recently, with relief funds from both the state and federal government, more attention has been given to the state park system.
Let’s take a look at how Michigan’s state parks may finally get the attention they so desperately need.
How Many State Parks Are in Michigan?
There are 103 state parks in Michigan, but there are even more historic sites, recreation areas, marinas, and campgrounds. Michigan is home to 138 state forest campgrounds and more than 13,000 miles of state-designated trails.
Belle Isle and Holland Park are two of the most visited state parks. Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in the lower peninsula is Michigan’s largest state park at about 60,000 acres. About 28 million people visit Michigan’s state parks each year, but that number has jumped 30% since 2019 to hit more than 35 million.
The park system could certainly use the financial help to fix the aging roads and campgrounds and create a more positive experience for visitors.
Pro Tip: Looking for a unique Michigan experience? Check out these 7 Underrated Michigan Tourist Attractions.
Where Will the Money to Help Michigan State Parks Come From?
Michigan’s American Rescue Plan Act could provide $250 million to help the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Parks and Recreation Division.
Their current maintenance to-do list is around $264 million. The stimulus money must be allocated and spent by the end of 2026.
In June, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sent the plan over to the Michigan Legislature for approval. In October, lawmakers introduced additional bills that would allocate $968 million to state and local parks. Michigan still has $5.8 billion in unspent COVID-19 funds.
How Would COVID Funds Affect Michigan State Parks?
One of the biggest complaints about the parks comes from campers. The roads are full of potholes, which can damage tires carrying heavy loads like motorhomes and fifth wheels.
The bathhouses and electrical services are outdated and don’t just need repairs but complete overhauls. Allocating the funds properly could help decrease the frequency of these kinds of complaints.
Another upgrade would be to make the state parks accessible to people with disabilities. Since improvements haven’t been made since the 1960s and 1970s, many of these facilities aren’t wheelchair accessible.
These upgrades will undoubtedly create a more favorable impression on visitors.
How Will the Money Be Allocated?
Most of the money will go toward upgrading facilities to meet ADA standards and addressing preventative maintenance, repairing the roads, and repairing damage caused by storms. Senate Bill 703 designates $30 million to Mackinac Island State Park.
Senate Bill 704 designates $150 million for grants to help local parks. Because the Michigan Recreation and Park Association serves small local parks, this bill would transform the state park system and the local park system.
A third bill, Senate Bill 702, proposes using $508 million to fully fund the State Parks Endowment Fund.
What Longstanding Projects Are First on the List?
P.J. Hoffmaster State Park’s $3.5 million road restoration project has already begun. There are also plans to buy more public land to develop additional recreational facilities.
They want to use $26 million to build a new state park in Flint. Repaving roads, replacing water and sewer lines, and updating buildings to be handicap accessible are the top projects across all state parks.
Pro Tip: While exploring the national parks in Michigan make sure to check out these 7 Amazing Waterfalls in Michigan.
When Was the Last Time Michigan State Parks Had Infrastructure Improvements?
The last time Michigan made significant improvements to the infrastructure was the 1960s and 1970s. Roads just don’t last for 40 or 50 years. With the increased traffic, the roads are taking a beating. There’s also more wear-and-tear on the facilities, with more visitors trekking to state parks.
Especially in the campgrounds, the electrical system needs an update from the 30-amp services installed decades ago to 50-amp services that contemporary campers desire. The water and wastewater system needs updating as well.
In the 1960s and 1970s, campers just needed partial hookups for the weekend, but today campers are looking for full hookups. Adding these additional amenities throughout the state parks is important to increasing camper satisfaction.
What Will Happen If the COVID Fund Approval Doesn’t Go Through?
More fee hikes are likely if the approval doesn’t go through. Recently, the DNR announced the first increase in four years. User fees and royalty revenue fund the state parks instead of tax dollars. In fact, 97% of their funding comes from these sources.
Cabin lodging will go up $10 per night starting Nov. 1, 2022, and campers will see an increase of $2-$8 per night, depending on the day and season.
Additionally, visitor dissatisfaction will increase, which may hurt tourism. Campers won’t want to come to Michigan state parks. People with disabilities will look for outdoor activities elsewhere. If the Michigan Legislature doesn’t approve the funds, it could be detrimental to the future of Michigan’s state park system.
Hope for Michigan’s State Parks
The COVID-19 pandemic brought millions more visitors to Michigan’s state parks. This increased traffic also increased the wear-and-tear on roads and facilities already in desperate need of repairs. The $250 million proposal will have a significant impact on the future of these state parks. If it doesn’t go through, these state parks may not be around in another 20-30 years.
Have you ever visited any of Michigan’s state parks? Where would you like to see the money go? Drop a comment below!
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