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Michigan State Parks are getting overdue maintenance work thanks to federal funds

Improvements at Michigan state park campgrounds, facilities, roads, and trails are underway.
Lester Graham
Improvements at Michigan state park campgrounds, facilities, roads, and trails are underway.

Michigan’s state parks have been deteriorating over the past couple of decades because of deferred maintenance. It’s estimated there’s $300 million worth of repairs are needed.

American Rescue Plan Act funds are being used to fix some parks and more will be fixed in the near future. The federal money for park repairs amounts to $250 million.

Ron Olson, chief of Parks and Recreation at the state Department of Natural Resources, gave some examples of what the money will pay for: “Repaving or rebuilding roadways and campground roads to make them more sizable for the changes in the sizes of RVs, but also to fix up pavement," he said. "We have some paved roads that were ground up and returned to dirt roads because they got crumbled up."

Campground bathrooms and toilets are also being updated along with the necessary infrastructure.

“That would be sewer and utility systems. Many parks have wastewater systems that are outdated and needed to repair or replace water supply systems that are old and need to be fixed up,” Olson said.

You can see which parks have already benefitted from projects here.

Despite increases in fees for recreation passes and camping, the DNR’s budget has not been able to keep up with necessary repairs.

According to the DNR, recreation passports for residents and non-residents only amount to 26% of the state park system’s revenue.

The state-owned gas and mineral royalty revenues have been declining. Part of that goes into an endowment fund which used to be used for operations, but a 2020 statewide ballot proposal requires at least 20% of expenditures got to capital improvements to catch up on deferred maintenance. The biggest part of state park funding, 51%, comes from camping fees and lodging reservations. Only 3% comes from general tax dollars.

The federal dollars to help put the Michigan park system in better repair will slow, but not stop, the increased user fees.

According to 2018 data compiled by Ballotpedia, Michigan was then among the lowest annual fees for state parks, at $11. The current rate is $13, which is far lower than states such as California, Alabama, and Kansas, which charge fees around $200.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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