Northern Michigan lawmakers propose solution to state forest campground closures

LANSING – Twelve northern Michigan lawmakers are seeking an alternative to a Department of Natural Resources plan that is closing 23 more state forest campgrounds throughout the region.

The legislators, whose counties have been affected by the announced closures, have formed a coalition asking local units of government to consider owning the campgrounds.

State Sen. Tom Casperson, who chairs the Senate Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes Committee, says the plan is a sensible, long-term solution.

“We know that local units of government could do a spectacular job managing these campgrounds,” said Casperson, R-Escanaba. “This could be a great opportunity for them to create and enhance recreational attractions in their own backyard, while providing them with a potential source of revenue.”

Casperson added: “The closure of these campgrounds is a prime example of the DNR not being able to manage the property that it currently owns. It speaks to the need for a better plan for state ownership of land. If the state cannot afford to manage the land it owns, the state should not be adding to its acreages. It is time to look at strategies to make sure the land is owned by someone who can care for it, increase recreation opportunities and help revitalize Michigan’s economy.”

The coalition includes Casperson and Sens. John Moolenaar, R-Midland; Darwin Booher, R-Evart; and Howard Walker, R-Traverse City; and Reps. Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo; Frank Foster, R-Pellston; Matt Huuki, R-Atlantic Mine; Greg McMaster, R-Kewadin; Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan; Peter Pettalia, R-Presque Isle; Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac; and Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City.

The group is developing legislation that would transfer the management responsibilities of the state forest campgrounds as well as the land rights for $1, if the locals agree to keep the property open for campground purposes.

"With the Department of Natural Resources indicating it is unable to properly manage these campgrounds, local governments deserve some options," said Sen. John Moolenaar. "If the DNR is unwilling or unable to handle this assignment, then local units may be the answer. Their involvement could provide needed services to the public and attract visitors to northern Michigan."

Moolenaar said that the program is voluntary.

“It’s up to the locals,” he said. “If they want to take ownership of the campground they can. If they don’t want that responsibility, then there would be no obligation to do so.”

The coalition is working at several levels to seek input from the local governments affected.

“These campgrounds are precious resources and we are eager to hear from the people most directly impacted,” Casperson concluded.