The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has issued roughly $4 million in refunds for camping and lodging reservations through June 21 due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to state officials.
Camping and lodging revenue typically brings in $39 million a year for the state. While state park campgrounds have started to reopen in neighboring states, Michigan’s state park campgrounds — and some state park beaches and parking lots — remain gated due to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s extended stay-home order now set to expire on June 12.
All campgrounds, overnight lodging and shelters in Michigan state parks are closed through June 21. State harbors also remain closed through at least June 9.
“Right now, our target date to commence the camping at the modern campsites is June 22,” said Ron Olson, chief of the DNR’s Parks and Recreation Division. “That is a targeted date, presuming everything as we know it today stays the same.”
DNR officials are preparing state park campgrounds and lodging facilities, and rustic campgrounds in state forests are slated to reopen June 10. Tippy Dam Recreation Area and dispersed camping on state forest land reopened on May 29.
Along the lakeshore, snow fencing still remains at Muskegon State Park’s beach and both of its campgrounds are closed. The park’s channel campground may be indefinitely closed this summer due to high water and the construction of a new shower building, which was scheduled to be completed by spring. The reopening of select state park campgrounds across the state also will be delayed due to delayed construction projects, Olson said.
The channel campground won’t be open for advance reservations during the 2020 season. The DNR may allow walk-in campers on a first-come, first-served basis if flooding subsides.
Grand Haven city and DNR officials closed Grand Haven State Park’s main beach parking lot May 3 due to high traffic and a lack of social distancing. The main beach parking lot remains closed, but the Channel parking lot — known as Fisherman’s parking lot — reopened May 22.
Silver Lake State Park ORV area is set to reopen June 3, and public parking at Holland State Park has been reduced by about 40 percent due to delayed sand relocation work.
In addition, all events and shelter rentals have been canceled or postponed through July 1. Reopening efforts are ongoing, but Olson said camping and recreation will feel different this summer.
“Hopefully, people will take responsibility when they come out and stay in small groups, do the social distancing,” he said. “When they come to a park, it will be different. They won’t be able to have traditionally large picnics at this time.”
Ready to camp
Despite the governor’s stay-at-home order, some private campgrounds elected to reopen before the Memorial Day holiday.
And it appears people are ready to camp. In advance of the long holiday weekend, Roger Bergman, chairman of Ottawa County Board of Commissioners, said he received 27 emails from residents frustrated over campgrounds not reopening.
With unanimous support from the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners, Bergman wrote Whitmer on May 26, saying there is a “growing loss of credibility and belief” in her stay-at-home order. Bergman said the commissioners continue to field complaints from constituents and business owners about the extended closures.
“There is a demand for camping,” he said. “That was in response to a lot of those (complaints), especially people with campgrounds. They are outdoors, many of those folks, they understand they need to do the social distancing. And I think it’s about trusting that the people will be smart about going camping, for instance, or eating out or shopping.”
For now, the DNR continues to waive the requirement for a Recreation Passport, meaning additional revenue loss for the DNR from residents who do not purchase a passport with their license plate renewal and out-of-state visitors.
The DNR suspended entrance fees in mid-March to limit transactions and cash handling and collection and to encourage people to use the parks for healthy outdoor activities. The passport, which is $12 annually, is required for vehicle entry into state parks and recreation areas, state boat launches, state forest campgrounds and state trail parking lots.