For those getting antsy and in search of the outdoors, the message from Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources is simple: Do it close to home.
While state park trails, beaches and boat launches remain open, the DNR has closed campgrounds, ceased snowmobile grooming operations and ordered charter captains to stop fishing trips.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has encouraged residents to get outside, walk and ride bicycles, but state officials aren’t encouraging long trips.
“We’re encouraging people to recreate near their home,” said DNR spokesperson Ed Golder. “The same social distancing requirements in the governor’s executive order applies when you’re recreating. If you come into a crowded parking lot, find someplace else to go.”
Like most industries, charter fishing company owners are feeling the hurt due to the governor’s stay-at-home order this week that closed nonessential businesses on March 23. While snowmobiling season got cut short in the Upper Peninsula, Lower Peninsula anglers are already out on rivers and lakes due to the lack of ice coverage this winter. That’s good news for hobby fishermen, but charter captains received notice this week that charter trips are not permitted. All charter fishing and guide operations on boats, canoes and other marine vessels should cease immediately and not resume until at least April 13, according to the DNR.
Early spring is the peak steelhead run in West Michigan rivers. It’s also a busy time for fishing guides who take clients from all over the world on the Grand, Muskegon, Pere Marquette and Manistee rivers.
Ken Clark, owner of Fishmas Charters in Whitehall, answered the phone Friday while out fishing on the Detroit River. He decided to go fishing solo since he canceled his upcoming charters, and his teaching position at Ferris State University has shifted to online courses.
Clark understands the reasoning behind the order. He said many charters draw people from across the state and country, and it’s hard to maintain proper social distancing on a boat. He offers charters on 20 different lakes and rivers — one-third of his charters are in April and May.
“I wish it wasn’t going on or that it didn’t apply to charter captains, but it is and it does, so I guess we are a very small part of the big picture,” he said.
Greg Knapp of Getting Bit Guide Service also took advantage of Friday’s sunny weather to go out fishing with his wife on the Grand River. He is a year-round charter guide and usually books trips seven days a week this time of year.
“I kind of can see both sides on it,” he said. “If it is that contagious, it’s probably not a good idea that we’re running trips, but then again we need to make a living.”
Knapp owns three boats, offering spring trips for steelhead and smallmouth bass on the Muskegon and Grand rivers and booking Lake Michigan salmon and trout charters in the summer.
“I hope it doesn’t last too long because this is the time of year when we make a good chunk of our money,” he said. “I guess you have to play it safe too. … Hopefully they can get a handle on this deal and get us back to work and everybody healthy.”
Some charter captains do run illegally, or tell passengers to say they are friends, Clark said. In a Facebook post, the Michigan Charter Boat Association also notified captains they should stop operating on the water, and that any law enforcement agency — including the DNR, state, and local law enforcement — has full authority to enforce the provisions of the order.
DNR ISSUES ADVISORIES
State parks, recreation areas, trails and other state-managed lands remain open, but all visitors should adhere to social distancing and keep at least 6 feet from another person.
The DNR may close state-managed properties if parks become overwhelmed or people are not practicing effective social distancing, Golder said.
“Our first priority is protecting the health and safety of the public, so everything we’re doing is through that prism,” he said. “As soon as this emergency was declared, we closed down our high-traffic facilities like the Outdoor Adventure Center in Detroit and visitor centers and customer service centers.”
The advisories are changing daily. Golder advises people who have questions on what is permitted and what is not to visit the DNR’s website at michigan.gov/dnr and click on the COVID-19 link.
The DNR has closed public access to many facilities and canceled all group events and programs until further notice. In addition, customer service centers, state park visitor centers, field offices and museums open to the public are closed. Some closures include the Michigan History Museum, Outdoor Adventure Center, the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory and the Belle Isle Aquarium.
Some other key closures and announcements:
- DNR-staffed shooting ranges are closed.
- A Recreation Passport required for entry into state parks and recreation areas has been suspended.
- All Michigan state park campgrounds, state forest campgrounds and dispersed camping on public lands are closed through at least April 13.
- Mini-cabins, cabins, yurts, shelters and lodges are closed until May 15.
- Boat launches and parking lots at boating access sites remain open.
- State harbors are closed through at least May 15.
- All bathroom buildings and vault toilets are closed.
- Playgrounds in state parks and recreation areas are closed until further notice.
- ORV trails are currently open, but visitors should maintain social distancing. Silver Lake State Park ORV Area has been delayed until May 1.
- Snowmobile trails are not being groomed.
Snowmobilers across the Midwest head to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to ride, especially late in the season. Grooming operations stopped on March 23 because it is not considered an essential service, Golder said. DNR leases for snowmobile trails officially ends March 31, so people can still ride the trails until then. Some trails through state forest land remain open as long as the snow is driveable or turn into ORV trails.